Headlines are arguably the most important words in any piece of copy you write. If you don’t grab a reader with a headline, they won’t click on your link, read your blog post, open your email, or sign up for your list (just to name a few).
Those few words can make or break the success of a particular piece of copy, whether it’s a blog post or a sales letter. And with digital copy, you’re constrained even further, with only perhaps 60 characters to grab attention in a Google search result. (That’s the length at which Google cuts off a title in search results.)
How to Get Better at Writing Headlines—Instantly!
In copywriting, as with so many other skills, one of the best ways to improve your own abilities is to study the greats. Marketers and copywriters of all levels keep what are known as “swipe files”—files of great headlines and other copy that worked for someone else—to study and rely on for inspiration.
Contrary to the name, these aren’t meant to be copied directly, but rather used as jumping off points for your own creative brilliance.
But using these swipe files can improve your own headlines almost immediately. Mentally run your topic through a few of the examples in any given list, and you’re practically guaranteed to come up with a winning headline backed by some serious testing historical clout.
Of course, you’ll get better and better at writing headlines the more you practice. Try out several headlines for every piece you write instead of just going with the first one that comes to mind.
6 Swipe Files to Dramatically Improve Your Headlines
There are surely hundreds—if not thousands—of headline swipe files available online; a quick Google search will show you that. Here are a few that I believe give you the best information for the time you’ll spend reading them.
- The ultimate swipe file is Who’s Mailing What? – here are simply the best direct mail samples archived anywhere.
- One of the best resources I’ve found is Jon Morrow’s “52 Headline Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Writing Blog Posts that Go Viral.” You need to opt-in to his list to get it, but he gives out solid advice, so it’s a win-win. In it, he goes into detail about why his 52 favorite headlines work. A solid crash-course in effective headline writing.
- Chris Garrett, founder of Authority Blogger, released a free list of 102 Headline-Writing Formulas in a useful fill-in-the-blank format. I find this one particularly helpful in generating new blog post ideas—with ready-made clickable headlines.
- ProCopyTips published a list of 117 Tested Advertising Headlines that Made Money—as discussed in the classic copywriting book, Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples. It’s useful to look at when you need a little inspiration, but you may find, as I do, that some of these are less useful for “swiping” directly, and more useful for understanding the triggers that make people read more.
- I highly recommend Copyblogger’s free ebook, “How to Write Magnetic Headlines.” It’s definitely worth the opt-in for the education you will receive—plus, they breakdown 39 headlines that really work and why.
- And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer you my own suggestions. You may download “12 Pointers for Writing Attention-Getting Headlines and A Baker’s Dozen of Fill-in-the-Blank Templates You Can Use Right Away” by clicking on the link (no opt-in required).
3 Tips for Creating Your Own Swipe File
In addition to these resources, I suggest starting your own swipe file. It could be a:
- Document on your computer where you can copy and paste exciting headlines you find online.
- Folder in your e-mail program where you tuck away e-mails with headlines that compelled you to open.
- File for those direct mail pieces you received in your mail box (yes, good ‘ol “snail mail”) that grabbed your attention.
Finding the styles that speak to you, in these swipe files and elsewhere, helps you develop your skill with writing headlines that get read — and better yet — acted upon.
Do you have a favorite headline-writing resource or a great headline that grabbed your attention recently? Please share it with us in the comments below because I’d love to hear from you.