17 Copywriting Resources That’ll Make Headline Writing A Cinch

headline target

In the realm of advertising copy, probably the most important element of the copy itself is the headline.  This one aspect of writing compelling copy is so important to the success of a piece that copywriters typically spend the majority of their time writing, rewriting, and obsessing over it.

In the realm of advertising copy, probably the most important element of the copy itself is the headline.  This one aspect of writing compelling copy is so important to the success of a piece that copywriters typically spend the majority of their time writing, rewriting, and obsessing over it.

The reason why the headline is so incredibly important is because there are loads of other advertisements that are fighting for your reader’s attention.

That fact was true in the days before the Internet came along and it’s very true today.

Consider the fact that there is email, social media, apps, websites, magazines and countless channels of cable television all fighting for a digital space in your prospect’s heart.

selective audience


You have mere nanoseconds to reach out from an ad or webpage and grab your audience.   Since people are more apt to merely scan a page first, you have to resonate with them at the top and center of your page in the biggest letters possible…and that’ll be your headline!

Since the success or failure of the piece and its campaign is so important, knowing the key element of what makes a headline so drop-dead gorgeous to a prospect’s eyes is paramount.

So what is the secret sauce that separates the really great headlines from the rest of the herd?

The Key Ingredient That Insures Your Headline’s Success

Very simply, your headline must speak specifically to the target market.   There’s no room for generalities, or nuance here.

If your headline says, “Our heads are cleaner!” and you’re (cleverly) talking about military bathrooms instead of shampoo, you’ll have completely missed your mark.  You must get ultra-precise about who you’re addressing.

Not only that, but the headline must speak in the language of the target audience, and it must solve a specific problem which that particular audience is having.

“50% Off All Adult Men’s Dress Shoes!” is a good example of a short, specific direct headline.

How to Find Out More About Your Target Audience

Years ago, I took Dan Kennedy’s copywriting course and I remember his words with great clarity.  He told us that we needed to get as intimate with our target market as we could.

He suggested studying the prospects as much as possible, even visiting them if we could.  He said that if we could find out how they ate their dinner and put their shoes on, so much the better.

He then told us a story about selling tarps for trucks with a direct mail campaign.   What he did to find out exactly who his target audience was very smart.  He got a list of the tarp company’s past customers and he then actually went to visit many of them.

He hung out with many of these individuals, interviewed them made notes of how they spoke, what interested them, what they liked and disliked about the truck tarps they had purchased.

After doing this several times, he had a very clear picture of his target market and how to address them in his direct mail pieces.

It’s this kind of front-end research that gave Mr. Kennedy the winning edge in writing his copy.

From the very first words in his headline, not only was he able to speak directly to specific prospects but he was able to address their biggest desires, fears and needs, but he was also able to do so using terms and language that the prospects could relate to.

It’s this kind of specific, intimate knowledge that will not only make your headlines ring with your prospects, but the rest of your copy as well.

So, to begin with, you’ll need to do your due diligence on the front end of writing and research the crap out of your prospects.  Here are a few ideas on how you can get under the skin of your target market or ideal client.


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Online Research That’ll Pay Off

If you don’t know a lot about your target market, there are several different methods of doing research on to find out more about who you’re dealing with.  It takes a lot of detective work, but it is worth it in the end.

There are two different levels of getting this research: Primary Research and Secondary Research.


Primary Research (Research you can do yourself):

Surveys – There are ways that you can conduct a survey online. One of the more popular tools that are available online is a site called Survey Monkey.

Survey Monkey will let you conduct a survey online and they will even target people in your target market segment.

determine target market

They have made it real easy for you to create your own surveys, but if you don’t want to take the time to create them yourself, you can use one of Survey Monkey’s ready-made templates.

Focus Groups – Here’s another research method that you can use to learn more about your prospects.  Focus groups are small groups of people that share an interest and group of characteristics and then get together to discuss topics.

Usually it is led by a moderator, however in the information age, it is much easier to do this online.

There are quite a few focus group sites online that you can use like FocusGroup.com that will allow you to participate and view data that will help you better understand your target market and give you inside knowledge about your target market and others by joining.

market targeting

A marketing research technique for qualitative data that involves a small group of people (6-10) that share a common set characteristics (demographics, attitudes, etc.) and participate in a discussion of predetermined topics led by a moderator.

There are opportunities to conduct focus groups with the use of focus group software.

Interviewing People – If you are selling a particular type of product or service you can access past customers to find out what they liked or didn’t like about the product.

You can also find out a lot about the types of people you are selling to, their desires, preferences, language or slang they use, etc.  If you can’t actually interview them face to face, you can always access people online through one of these channels:

  • Forums – If you don’t know what a forum is, it is basically an online discussion group. There’s an online forum for just about every type of niche or market you can think of.

If I were selling graphics software, I’d look for a forum where Photoshop and PaintShop Pro enthusiasts gathered to discuss their passion or problems.  If I were selling metal detectors, I’d hang out on their forums as well. You can ask questions, participate in discussions and contribute articles and ideas of interest to other’s involved in that market.

  • Comment Sections – One of my favorite places to gather intel about a particular market is in comment sections in places like Amazon.

When people buy a particular type of book or item there is a section of the product page where people can comment on how much they liked or disliked the unit.

This is an awesome opportunity for gathering all sorts of insights into the mind of a customer and what they think.  And they don’t hold back either!

audience selection

I’ve seen comments on products of books and other items that are thousands of words long.  So, if you are selling a product like a fish tank filter, you can read comments on similar products you’re selling on Amazon.

Observation:  If you can actually watch someone use your product or service, you can gain a lot of valuable information from observing them.

Can you do this online?

If you have an online video link up, you could possibly be able to pull it off if you have a willing participant.  Another way to observe people using a particular item is to look up your item or a similar one on YouTube.

Check out this individual as he uses his Garrett Metal Detector:

Secondary Research (Research already compiled by someone else):

Census Data – You can easily access a ton of information by accessing data from the US Census Bureau .   The upside of using this as a resource is that there is TONS of data and material that can be of great value to someone doing market research.

The downside is wading through all of it.  Many times entrepreneurs and businesses will hire a consulting firm to access this information for them since they use it all the time and know how to gather the needed information.

Mailing Lists – Mailing Lists are a great way to find data on your target audience.  You can now go online and order up a good mailing list from companies that have been compiling all kinds of consumer information about customers.

You can select a particular market, geographic area, and other parameters that are relevant to your business and they can provide you good, quality data on just about any market for a fee.

There are loads of direct mail mailing lists on the Internet you could do business with.  To find a listing of them, simply Google “List Broker” and you’ll see scads of them online.

Here’s a listing of some of the mailing list services on the Internet:

Go Leads

Next Mark This one is my favorite mailing list company because all you have to do is type in a keyword and get some results on how they can help you.   

mailing lists

Here is a screen shot of NextMark’s Mailing List Finder:

SRDSThe Standard Rate and Data Service (aka – Kantar Media Service) is an incredible resource of information.  However, it is for very serious businesses and is expensive.

I once called them on the phone to use their services, and their representative told me about cheaper companies to go to.  So, if you are operating a business that can afford a world-class service like this, then this is the way to go because it is the Rolls Royce of data collection and resources.

Google Trends – This is a tool that was developed and maintained by Google.  It uses a search similar to its normal search function that shows how many times during a particular time period a particular search has been performed.

While many online marketers and bloggers like to use Trends for ideas on what to write about, it can also be a valuable source of information on the types of keywords are being used to create content.

You can easily plug in a group of keywords or phrases  into Trends and see what the interest level is over a period of time and how each term stacks up against each other.  In the picture below, you can see how the term “aluminum boats” compares to “fiberglass boats”:google trends 

Google’s  Keyword Planner – I don’t know why, but Google used to call this great tool the “Google Keyword Tool” instead of the Keyword Planner.  Basically, this is a way to see what keywords are being searched and how many times a specific term has been searched within a given period of time.

It will also tell you how competitive a phrase or a word is

You need to have a Google AdWords account to use it, which is real easy to do get.  The tool is supposed to be used so that you will be able to research which words to use on an Adwords advertising campaign, but everyone I know uses it for just plain, old keyword research.

So, if you want to know what terms or phrases to use on a blog post or an online sales letter, you can easily go on the Keyword Planner and see what to use.

If you want to know how to use Google’s Keyword Planner, you can learn more by reading this article on keyword research at Quicksprout.

Alexa – This site was acquired by Amazon back in 1999 and it dishes out web traffic data.  In other words it lets you know what websites people are looking at and how they rank.

As far as researching subjects is concerned, you can use this tool to check out your most successful competitors and find out what they are writing about and how they are writing it.

SocialCount.Co – This is one of my favorite ways of gathering information on what people are reading on different sites.  Let’s say that you’re writing a blog post or a sales page on a product you’re trying to sell  that teaches you how to use social media sites to promote a business.

You could go to Social Count and drop in the URL (web address) of a website that specializes in using social media like The Social Media Examiner and find out immediately what articles ranked the highest for on that site.

social media examiner

That’s super valuable information, considering that you could “back engineer” the blog post and find out what keywords the post had in it and what the format of the page was, etc.

If you look at the example below, you can see what the top ranked pages were at a glance.

The Tricky Part of Writing a Specific, Powerful Headline

Once you’ve done as much research as necessary on your specific market, keywords, and market  in general,  you can begin crafting your headline.

You can keep a lot of your data in a spreadsheet like:

Keywords, relative sites, top blog posts, etc. so you can see at a glance exactly what words, phrases and overall direction your copy should go.

Don’t have spreadsheet software?  Use Google’s Free Spreadsheet.

Your headline can’t be JUST specific.  It also has to generate interest and present a benefit, and that’s the tricky part.  So a formula of sorts is in order:

Curiosity + Benefit + Specific = Interest

  • You must be able to generate Curiosity
  • You must be able to present the most important Benefit or Benefits
  • You must address a Specific market

 specific headlines

To drive home the point, let’s take a look at a few famous headlines used by some of the world’s most prominent copywriters:

Gary Halbert:

“How to Make Money with Your Credit Cards”

Key Headline Element Breakdown:

Curiosity: How in the heck am I going to be able to use credit cards to make money?

Benefit: Making money using credit cards.

Specific: People who want to make money or second income.


Amazing New Formula From Beverly Hills Lets You Look Younger!”

Key Headline Element Breakdown:

Curiosity: What secret formula does Hollywood have that’ll make me look younger?   (By the way the word “Lets” indicates that this product is doing all the work, because it is in control.)

Benefit:  Easily looking younger using a Hollywood secret

Specific:  Women that want to look younger using a product  and secret that everyone apparently doesn’t know about.

Jon Carlton:

“ How Does An Out Of Shape 55 Year Old Golfer, Crippled  By Arthritis And 71 Lbs. Overweight, Still Consistently Humiliate PGA Pros In Head To Head Matches By Hitting Every T Shot Further And Straighter Down The Fairway?”

Key Headline Element Breakdown:

Curiosity:  What secret method is going to be revealed to me that will allow me to gain this skill?

Benefit:  Hitting T-shots better than the pros do thus increasing golfing score almost magically.

Specific:  Golfers that want to quickly and impressively improve their scores; possibly retirees that golf a lot.

“Why Are Bigger, Stronger Taller And Meaner Multiple – Black Belt Bad Asses Absolutely Terrified Of Challenging This Mild – Middle Aged (And Undefeated) No Rules Cage Fighter From Arizona?”

Key Headline Element Breakdown:

Curiosity: What secrets of fighting, does this man have, which will make a fearless and tough fighter?

Benefit: You’ll learn the secrets of being able to defend yourself so well even bad guys will be afraid of you.

Specific:  Men that have probably been pushed around a lot and need to learn how to defend themselves

Note: The following headlines are from online blogs.  Overall, the rules of writing headlines are the same, but these types of headlines try to follow some of the rules of Search Engine Optimization (SEO); they tend to be shorter and include numbers and other slightly different factors.

Jon Morrow

“Make Money Blogging: 20 Lessons Going from 0 to $100,000 per Month”

Key Headline Element Breakdown:

Curiosity: How can these 20 lessons show me how to make loads of money blogging?

Benefit: Make money from blogging

Specific:  The numbers tell you how many lessons you’re going to have to learn to make $100,000

“How to Be Smart in a World of Dumb Bloggers”

Key Headline Element Breakdown:

Curiosity: How will this article separate me from the dumb bloggers?

Benefit: Being a better blogger than the rest of the other bloggers out there.

Specific: This is for people that want to take their blogging seriously.

Neil Patel

5 Strategies for Building a Bigger Network on LinkedIn”

Key Headline Element Breakdown:

Curiosity: What  strategies could he have that will enable me to build a bigger network on LinkedIn?

Benefit:  Building a large network  of professional contacts or prospects on LinkedIn

Specific: 5 strategies for professionals that are trying to connect with other professionals

I could go on considerably with this breakdown of headlines, but the bottom line is that  you need to study, evaluate, read about and practice headlines a lot to get really good at it.

As you can see, doing your research on the front end, before you actually start writing a post or some copy will not only make the job of writing a good, specific headline  but it will also help you write the rest of your copy.

So, take the time to thoroughly research your subject first and you will see a remarkable difference in your writing.

Please shoot me a comment on this post, I’d really like to read your comments and see if this post was helpful and a blessing to you.

To your continued success!

~ Mark



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