7 Killer Headline Formulas You Can Use to Boost Conversions

by John McIntyre

This is a guest post by Ryson Owens—copywriter and founder of Psychic Ape Writing. Ryson helps businesses drive sales by harnessing the extraordinary power of direct marketing and sales psychology.

Why Headlines Are So Important

In your marketing, figuring out your headlines should take up 80% of your time.

That’s right. 80%.


Because your customers are bombarded by hundreds of headlines every day.

If you don’t deliver the right message to them then they’ll click away in a hurry.

Now think back to the last link you clicked on.

Why did you choose that particular one? After all, you probably saw hundreds of other links that same day that you didn’t click on.

What made this link special?

No matter what the topic of the link was, there’s a pretty obvious answer:

It spoke directly to you.

I know this seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people try to write headlines that miss this mark entirely.

Maybe the writer is trying to be too clever, maybe they think what’s interesting to them will be interesting to the customer, or maybe they’ve simply mismatched the awareness level of the customer to the ad.

Regardless of the reason, the headline doesn’t connect with who they’re trying to reach, and they’ve lost a lead, a customer, and worst of all, they’ve lost money.

How to Stand Out in a Crowded Marketplace

To truly stand out in a crowded marketplace, you HAVE to write a headline that intimately speaks to your customers’ needs or wants (just like Halbert mentions in The Boron Letters).

I can’t say it enough:


All of the headline formulas below are simply the vehicles for you to deliver that message.

But if you don’t truly understand your customer and know how to press their hot buttons, no headline formula in the world can save you.

It’s incredibly hard to do this, and it’s one of the reasons why copywriting is a tough art to master.

But if you’re good at getting inside your customers’ heads and understanding their desires…

Then you can apply those desires directly to these headline formulas and watch as your conversion rates skyrocket.

Just to clear things up with a simple flow chart:

Understand your customers’ desires, needs, and wants —-> Plug those into headline formulas —–> Profit

Once you understand the core desires of your market, these headlines WILL make it easier to craft a winning sales message or ad.

With all that out of the way, let’s look at some headlines.

7 Headline Formulas that Work

1. The Question

Can you really eat carbs and still lose weight?

How much should freelance copywriters charge?

What is a good landing page conversion rate?

The formula: Ask the most pressing question(s) in your niche.

Why it works: This type of headline highlights the pressing needs and questions of your market. It also creates curiosity. Your prospect will click on it in the hopes that their important questions will be answered.

2. The “How-To”

How to Write the Perfect Headline

How to Make $10,000 from Facebook Ads

How to Eat on Less than $1.00/meal

The Formula: How to X

Why it works: Your niche has problems, and this type of headline offers a solution. Notice how in the last two examples I used specific numbers–when writing copy, specificity is always best. It helps your customers visualize the result in their mind.

3. Liar, liar

7 Lies about Coffee

8 Lies Your Doctor Told You

5 Questions that Will Make Your Financial Planner Squirm

The Formula: X Lies About  [   ]

Why it works: This type of headline works on a few different levels. First, it induces fear. What were we lied to about? Are those lies harming us?

Second, it inverts the typical relationship of trust. We’ve been taught to trust doctors, so when we see a headline that calls them liars, it creates cognitive dissonance. We have to investigate further.

4. Social Proof

Hundreds of Investors Have Already Made Triple-Digit Returns

Thousands of Patients Have Used This to Reverse Diabetes

Warren Buffett Believes This is the Next Big Stock: Will You Follow His Advice?

The Formula: Social proof + (optional: add a question)

Why it works: Social proof is one of the most powerful techniques in copywriting. If others are doing something, we naturally believe that it must be the right thing.

If you match the social proof to your audience, this is a deadly type of headline. For example, investors worship Warren Buffett like a god, so he’s an excellent choice in this scenario.

5. The Promise

Take 10 years off your face in 1 month!

Lose 25 lbs without dieting!

Get 1,000 subscribers to your blog in 3 days.

The Formula: Big promise

Why it works: Promise headlines work best when your customer already knows they have a problem and that there is a solution to it.

They’re also some of the most clickbait-y headlines out there, so make sure you don’t get too extravagant and make promises that are obviously unrealistic.

If you angle it right, a promise lead will offer a solution to your prospect’s pressing needs.

6. The Startling Comparison

Why Sitting is Healthier than Jogging

Why I Work From the Office Instead of at Home

Why You Should Be Building Trust, Not Traffic

The Formula: Why x [is better than, instead of, rather than] y

Why it works: The comparison is useful for dispelling major myths in your industry. Customers will always have choices they are torn between.

By pinpointing the most frequent or hardest choices, you can finally help clear up their indecision.

7. The Mistake

The 3 Most Common Dieting Errors

5 Mistakes That Are Killing Your Blog Traffic

7 Common Goofs New Freelancers Make

The Formula: X [mistakes, errors, things you’re doing wrong]

Why it works: Everyone doubts themselves and has uncertainty if they’re making the right choices. This headline plays to these insecurities–we want to find out if we’re making these mistakes too.

Also, look at the second example. Notice how the mistakes have a direct negative effect. They’re causing you to lose blog traffic.

If you can attach a negative result to the mistakes, the effectiveness of this headline will skyrocket because people will want to avoid a similar fate at all costs.

A Word of Caution

When you are writing these headlines, you need to make them congruent with your offer. The quickest way to lose customers or get kicked off the ad networks is to promise something in your ads that you don’t deliver.

So, don’t be a dick – build a quality product or produce quality information that will actually help the people you are advertising to. Ripping customers off will always come back to haunt you in the long run.

This is a guest post by Ryson Owens—copywriter and founder of Psychic Ape Writing. Ryson helps businesses drive sales by harnessing the extraordinary power of direct marketing and sales psychology.

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