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Writing for the Internet > Sales Copywriting > Great Headline: 5 Components To Writing Headlines

Great Headline: 5 Components To Writing Headlines

There are many things that go into a killer sales copy. One of the most important is a great headline. Michel Fortin walks you through writing the perfect headline. He says there are 5 core components to writing the headline and he outlines them for you.

Want Better Copy? Go On A Quest!

Writing copy is usually the easiest part of my work. But figuring out what to say is often a whole lot harder than knowing how to say it. That requires a lot of research, creativity and, of course, "sales detective work," as copywriter John Carlton calls it.

But when I know what to write, then the question I'm often asked is...

"Mike, do you start with the headline, or do you work the headline last?"

When I write new copy, I tend to start with the copy itself, then create the headline and headers (some people call them "subheads").

With existing copy however, it's the other way around: I start with a better headline (after reading the copy and questionnaire replies from my clients), then the rest.

Why? Because sometimes (in fact, a lot of times), my client's copy is already pretty good. The culprit for a poor response, almost 9 times out of 10, is a poor headline. (And it's often the one element I test the most, too.)

So I tend to try to find a good hook for the headline.

After a little bit of detective work, this usually comes to me after tinkering with the headline a bit, sometimes writing several of them.

(Or I rewrite it several times until I come up with the one I think will pull best. You've probably seen me do this on my critique videos at as an example. Or check out this brief 15-minute video sample where I reconstruct a headline.)

The headers are usually parts of the copy -- either pulled out from the copy where they make sense, create curiosity, and force the reader to stop scanning and start reading.

With new copy, I usually start with an outline, but I really don't write the actual headers. I often start with the concept or idea I want to introduce in specific sections of the letter, but then write copy and use headers at that point, all based on the flow of ideas.

Here's how I do it. Most of my salesletters focus on 5 core components. What I usually do when I write or rewrite copy is follow this format. It's my 5-step guide, if you will.

It's sort of my own take on the AIDA formula. (Well, it actually complements it, as I still follow AIDA.) I'm sure you've heard of AIDA (i.e., grab their Attention, arouse their Interest, build their Desire and ask for some kind of Action).

My formula is this: I call it going on a "QUEST."

  1. Qualify
  2. Understand
  3. Educate
  4. Stimulate
  5. Transition

It's like traversing a mountain, so to speak, when you start climbing the mountain on one side, reach the summit, and start climbing back down on the other side. Almost all my salesletters take on this quality. Here's what "QUEST" means:

  • Q = ualify the reader and/or disqualify non-prospects, tire-kickers, etc. That's why it's good to ask questions at the beginning, or talk about how terrible things are with "this" or "that" problem, or how nice it would be to solve "this" or "that" problem.

    You also try to denominate who usually has this problem (I often incorporate this into a story), who this solution is for and/or who it is not for. The aim is not only to create awareness, but also and more importantly to qualify the reader.

    This is especially true where there's a bit of an education involved -- where the prospect doesn't really know (or is not fully aware) there is a problem. In fact, this is why the next part is crucial. Because, the next step is to...

  • U = nderstand the reader by reaching out to them. You empathize with them. You expand on the problem. You not only get the reader to identify themselves with you, but also magnify the problem by making it more real and vivid. You "add salt on the wounds," so to speak.

    In other words, you share their pain, and tell them how more painful it is either because there is no solution, or because competing or previous solutions are not as good for whatever reasons.

    You can also use this section to tickle their curiosity about a potential solution, and insert specific benefits other solutions don't have, but without fully introducing or disclosing "your" solution yet -- i.e., a unique selling point, superior "nice-to-have" benefits, something new or different that will be linked with the offer later on, the story behind the product, etc.

    (In fact, if the creator of the product used to be in the same situation, I would include a story behind the product based on that fact. It's also a great place to build credibility and give the reader reasons why they should keep reading.)

    When you introduce the solution later on, you can tie it in with all of these. It's like telling the reader: "Wouldn't it be great, if..." (And later on, "Well, there is a solution that...") And that leads to the next step, which is to...

  • E = ducate the reader on the fact that there is a solution. Your solution. And that your solution is unlike all the others, as well as the reasons why it is different. This is where you introduce the product or service (but not the offer). Usually it's in the middle of the copy. It's "the summit of the sales mountain," if you will.)

    Also, it's a great place to add a lead-capture form. (We tested locations, and this seems to be the highest pulling one.) It's also a great place to build on and emphasize credibility introduced in the "U" portion of the formula. You should include a lot of proof, here, and build on the believability element.

    (I tend not to add any testimonials until this section. Why? Because testimonials too early tend to scare off people. Of course, this depends at what stage of the buying process the market is in. But in tests, removing testimonials early in the copy actually increased response.) Once they know, the next step is to...

  • S = timulate the reader on the offer. This where the offer is made and the value buildup really starts. You list and expand on the benefits. (In "E," I start to talk about features and describe the product. But in here, I talk benefits, benefits, benefits... And I link them to the features described in "E.")

    It's the place where the offer really starts taking shape. Also, it's a great location to add value to the offer, such as offering premiums, making guarantees and inserting value boosters, such as adding scarcity and making apples-to-oranges comparisons.

    ("Apples to oranges" means to compare the value of your offer not with the value of a similar or competing product but with the value of all possible alternatives, including potentials losses, value of unique benefits, "true" costs of not using the product, etc.)

    And you use this section to link the offer to the rest of the formula. That is, you restate some of the problems mentioned in "Q," how the solution answers the greater problems talked about in "U," and how it links to all to the features and benefits described in "E." Once you build enough value, you then...

  • T = ransition the reader from prospect to customer. The famous "let's wrap this up" or "call to action" section. The close, in other words. This includes the order form, the price, a special offer, the P.S.'s, additional testimonials (especially results-based testimonials), making the reader feel as if they already own the product, etc.

    It's a great place to summarize the offer, and perhaps introduce new points not discussed to this point to spur action, such as adding an as-of-yet undisclosed benefit or bonus -- also called "pot sweeteners."

    (I also tend to add a liftnote in this section, usually a linked pop-up window, which says, "Click here if you decided NOT to order today," and so on. Take a look at how I did it with John Reese's, for example.)

Now, I don't follow this formula precisely as I just explained.

I usually start with QUEST as an outline first, and refer back to it later.

Once the outline is made, I expand on each point and "go with the flow" of what I think is best for the offer throughout the salesletter.

I also write header ideas in that outline, too. But first, I expand on the copy, and if needed, I re-arrange ideas around for better flow. And then, I write the headers as I see how they fit in the QUEST formula, all keeping the following in mind:

  1. The header introduces a new piece of information. It's specific and descriptive. Best of all, it has a benefit inherent in it -- whether it's a benefit of the offer or a benefit in reading what follows. (Usually, it's the latter.)

  2. It helps to introduce the following section in the copy. In fact, it should read as if the person never read the preceding copy. So, it somewhat explains it as to not confuse and push people away. (But it doesn't explain it entirely, as the next point reveals.)

  3. More often then not, it also piques their curiosity in order to force them to stop scanning and go back to the beginning of the copy (as people usually scan and read the headers when they hit a salesletter for the first time).

The third one is the one I use the most.

The header introduces a portion of an idea (like a half-statement), or some kind of "newsy" statement that pulls them into the copy.

It's like using headers as "knots" or "hooks" in rock-climbing rope, so to speak. Why? Because it forces people to stop -- and ultimately pulls readers back into the copy (or keeps them reading and clinging throughout the copy).

For example, in the copy for Lou Vukas at, I wrote a header that said, "(I tried everything. I felt...) Hopeless... Frustrated... Broke... I Said to Myself, 'There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This'!"

The copy that followed slowly introduces the "wouldn't it be great" concept, until the next header, which says, "I Found It!" "I Cracked The Code!" "It Hit Me Like A Ton Of Bricks!" And so on.

About the Author

Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter, author, speaker and consultant. His specialty are long copy sales letters and websites. Watch him rewrite copy on video each month, and get tips and tested conversion strategies proven to boost response in his membership site at The Copy Doctor today.

> Recommended:  Make Your Words Sell: This ebook is GUARANTEED to increase your bottom line. Written by Joe Robson, professional web copywriter, it's packed (really packed) with solid advice to turn your website into a profitable venture.


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