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!

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I'm a writer and digital marketer. Communicating your brand's message and helping you to connect with the right audience is my specialty. If you are interested in: branding, marketing, copywriting, social media, search engine marketing, inspiration, success, and enjoying life, then my blog is the right place for you.

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