Keep Away from Cute & Clever


A common mistake many make when writing headlines (or really any sort of advertising/marketing copy) is to make them cute or catchy.

Avoid gimmicks. According to successful freelance copywriter and professor of the online San Francisco School of Copywriting, Amy Posner, ‘cute’ is forgettable and it does not deliver the results you need.

The most important thing to remember when writing copy – and we will explore this concept at length in a future piece – is that it is not about being original, creative, or funny. It is about sales and achieving a return on your investment (ROI). Losing money for your client or your business is no laughing matter so stay focused on your objective.

Keeping in mind the following questions when writing headlines will help to focus and guide your writing.

1) Who am I writing to? Always write your headlines – and all of your copy for that matter – as if you are addressing it to only one person. Visualize that person. What does he need? What are his problems, desires, and challenges and how are you going to help him meet those needs? You are not writing to everyone. You are writing to a target audience. According to Robert Bly, author of the Copywriter’s Handbook, selecting an audience is your first step.

2) What problems are you solving?

3) What are the key benefits and features of this product or service?

4) What action do I want the reader to take? Be specific.

It is also very important to make sure your headline draws the reader into the body copy, especially if the product you are marketing is not something that can be quickly explained in a brief headline.

Some people strongly advocate writing your headline before writing the rest of the piece. Others write the rest of the piece and write the headline afterward. Still, other copywriters advise it is best to come up with a few possible headlines, write the body copy, and then go back to the headline. Personally, I think the second or the third approach works best for me. No doubt passionate arguments can be made for all three options. It is really up to the individual copywriter to discover what works best for him or her.

According to Posner, headlines should be specific and intriguing, but never tell the whole story. Rather, a headline should build anticipation and lead up to the big idea. This brings to mind one of my favorite quotes written by Voltaire: “The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” If Voltaire were a copywriter, he no doubt would have added the phrase “in the headline” to that quote. We copywriters and marketers are not in the business of boring people! We are storytellers of the highest order. We inspire people to care about whatever it is we are writing about.

Headlines must capture attention and interest. They must engage readers and draw them into the body copy. The purpose of the body copy is to prove and support your headline.

In the next post, we will examine several types of headlines.

Class dismissed!

How to Write a Great Headline – The 4 U’s

When writing copy for an advertisement it is extremely important to begin with a sterling, attention-grabbing headline. How important is it to have a good headline, you ask? Well, according to David Ogilvy, author of Confessions of an Advertising Man, “on average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. If you haven’t done some selling in your headline, you have wasted 80 percent of your client’s money.” Those are some powerful words which should motivate us to crank out killer headlines. In today’s environment of rapidly shrinking attention spans as well as numerous advertisements and various forms of content competing for our attention on the web and in other forms of media writing effective headlines is more important than ever.

In what will be the beginning of a brief series about headlines, I will present to you an excellent formula known as the Four U’s. This strategy was developed by Michael Masterson and it is explained thoroughly in “The Copywriter’s Handbook” by Robert Bly – a must-read for copywriters, advertisers, and marketers. For a more comprehensive treatment of this subject and many others that arise in copywriting, please get your hands on this book. Here, I will summarize some main ideas, which should start you off on your journey of headline writing mastery.

The Four U’s

1) Urgent. Urgency encourages your prospect to act now rather than later. There are many different ways you can create a sense of urgency in your headline. Adding words like “this month” e.g. ‘Start making money from home this month’ is one effective way to do it. Other phrases that are helpful include: ‘while supplies last’, ‘for limited time only’, and ‘today’. You can probably think of many more. Time-limited special offers such as a discount or premium by a certain date also create a sense of urgency. Urgent headlines often promise a reward to readers who are quick to take a specific action.

2) Unique. A powerful headline should either say something new or communicate something the reader may already know in a fresh, new way. An example would include “The reason you are not losing weight” rather than simply advertising 10% off of a dietary supplement.

3) Ultra-Specific. Bullet point phrases that tease the reader into reading further and ordering the product. Think juicy newspaper headlines. For example: “What not to do at a restaurant,” “Bills it’s ok to pay late, ” and “Why your kids might not be getting the nutrition they need”.

4) Useful. A strong headline should appeal to the reader’s self-interest by offering a benefit. When writing a headline (or any piece of copy really) it is always important to keep in mind the WIM – the ‘What’s In it for Me?’ For example, ‘Look Younger without Surgery’ or ‘Experience world travel and save money’. Readers do not care to listen to you talk about yourself. All your reader cares about is how she can benefit from what you are telling her. This is such an important thing to keep in mind and will be the subject of a future post.

Assessing the Strength of your Headline:
According to Robert Bly, when you have written your headline, you should ask yourself how strong it is in each of the 4 U’s. Grade yourself on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 = weak and 4 = strong) to rank your headline in each of the four categories. It is rare, he explains, that a headline will rate a three or a four on all four U’s. But if your headline doesn’t rate a 3 or a 4 on at least three of the U’s, it’s probably not as strong as it could be and you should consider doing a rewrite. Stay tuned for more helpful advice on headline writing!

Work to live, don’t live to work

The link below is a news story about a woman who literally sacrificed herself for her craft.

This tragic story should be a reminder to all of us to remember to put life in perspective. Do we live to work or do we work to live? Personally, I think it is much better to work to live. It’s great to love what we do, but it should not completely define who we are or be the measuring stick by which we determine our self worth. My only hope is that this woman died doing what she loved.

Work hard, but be careful and remember to take a breather now and then. You will then return to your work energized, refreshed, and with even more zeal and creativity than before. Working non-stop until you drop is not worth it. I believe having a life outside of your work will not detract from your ability as a copywriter. If anything, your hobbies, passions, family life, spiritual life, travel etc. will only serve to enhance and enrich the quality of your work.

Copywriting and the Purpose of this Blog

Welcome to my blog about copywriting and other aspects of marketing!

On this blog you will learn how to better market yourself, your businesses, and your clients through producing high quality content that establishes wonderful relationships between brands and customers.

On this blog I will share what I have learned as a copywriter who works as both a freelancer and on several creative teams. This is a forum where we will analyze what makes for compelling, persuasive, and effective copy.

What I hope you learn from this blog:

1) How to market yourself, your business, or your clients successfully through inbound and outbound marketing

2) How to write good copy

3) How to differentiate between good marketing copy and bad marketing copy

4) How to find your target audience and get them to do what you want them to do

5) How to successfully compete for your customers’ attention in today’s age of mass digital and social media

Whether you are a novice copywriter, a small business owner or professional who wishes to enhance your marketing skills, or simply someone who strives to improve your mastery of persuasive writing, this blog is for you. It is my sincere hope that the information that I post here will be able to help my readers in at least some small way.

Enjoy! 🙂