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  • Adapted by Laura Schaefer

8 Essential Tips for Writing Effective Headlines from the Master of Marketing Copy, David Ogilvy

I’ve been studying the greats when it comes to copywriting and marketing content, which is why I spent a good chunk of the weekend reading Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy. Yes, it was published in 1983, but the wisdom contained in the book is still incredibly relevant and helpful. I recommend the entire book to anyone who is looking to become a better copywriter. His tips for print advertising are useful to today’s bloggers and web copy gurus.

One of the biggest takeaways from the book, for me, was the absolutely crucial role a good headline plays when it comes to marketing copy. Ogilvy explains that five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. If your headline doesn’t do its job (or worse yet, if you don’t have a headline at all), you’ve wasted a ton of effort. A blog post or any kind of copy without a headline is nearly pointless.

With this in mind, here are Ogilvy’s eight essential tips for writing great headlines:

  1. The best headlines promise the reader a benefit. Specifics with numbers or statistics work better than generalities.

  2. Headlines which contain news are good. Don’t bury your news in the body copy.

  3. Offer readers helpful information. Helpful information is read by 75 percent more people than copy that deals only with the product. Think big when you’re conceiving of your content: how can you help a reader? How can the product or organization help the reader? What expertise can you offer?

  4. If your content is directed at a specific demographic like millennials or golfers or people with diabetes, address them in the headline.

  5. On the average, longer headlines are better than shorter headlines. Try to hit around 8-10 words. It doesn’t hurt to put a headline in quotes if it is a quote.

  6. Do not be tricky or pretentious – headlines are not the place for double meanings or obscure words. Clarity rules. Headlines and copy should be written in the language people use in everyday conversation.

  7. Consider asking a question to engage the reader or pique curiosity. When people read your copy, they are alone. Write a headline – and the content itself – as if you’re talking directly to one person. Because you are.

  8. Avoid analogies. They are often misunderstood. Also, avoid superlatives such as “best.”

Do you have any tips to add to this list? I'd love to hear them!

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