How to Write Headlines so Irresistible that Big-Money Clients are Begging You to Write for Them

Do I have your attention now?

That headline was pretty grabby, huh. Sort of made you have to click on it to find out how to get good clients.

That’s the magic of a well-constructed headline. It works like a magnet to suck readers onto your blog — and not just any readers, but exactly the readers you wanted. The ones who’re interested in just what you have to offer.

If you know how to write a compelling headline, it can also make editors love your query letter.

It can make businesses read your emailed letter of introduction and give you call.

Great headlines get you good-paying writing gigs.

Then, when other businesses and publications see the headlines you wrote for your clients, they call you up. They can’t wait to have you bring your writing savvy over to their website.

You’re done marketing your writing business. Your strong headlines do the job for you.

Why doesn’t everybody write great headlines?

It’s sort of an art form unto itself.

Lots of us who came up through journalism and newspapers weren’t trained to write headlines. That’s an editor’s job, we were told.

Others have been grabbing titles off content-mill dashboards, where the headline is pre-written by the SEO department.

Bottom line: Lots of writers don’t have any experience or training in how to write headlines. And their careers are suffering as a result.

I have reviewed hundreds of writers’ blogs, and I can tell you, bad headlines are an epidemic. I scan a typical blog, and I can’t even figure out the topic. Nothing makes me want to click through and read more. I’m not surprised when I see there are no subscribers, no comments, and nothing is getting sold.

So if you learn to write good headlines, you can really stand out.

What’s wrong with most writers’ headlines?

Three quick headline-improvement tips:

  1. Use key words. Headlines like “Watch out for the red flags,” or “Another day” (both ones I’ve recently read) don’t tell me what the post is about, or who it is for. So search engines don’t find it when I search on what I want to know. And I don’t read it.
  2. Tell me your topic. What will I learn about if I read your post? Your headline needs to tell me, so I’ll want to click over and read it.
  3. Leave a little mystery. The headline of this post told you there’s a way to write headlines that will bring you great clients, but it didn’t tell you exactly how.  You needed to read the post to find out.

I have a confession to make.

I didn’t write that headline — Jon Morrow did.

Jon is one of the best headline writers around. He wrote the Headline Hacks report on how to create sure-to-go-viral headlines that Copyblogger uses as a guide for its writers.

His blog posts often get 1,000 retweets or more. Maybe you read How to Quit Your Job, Move to Paradise and Get Paid to Change the World, or A 7-Step Guide to Mind Control: How to Quit Begging and Make People Want to Help You. Yeah. That guy.

What’s the best headline you’ve seen lately? Leave a comment and share.

  1. Am I the only person that thinks that really long headlines that say loads but are hard to read are sort of, well, a bit annoying and make your content look gimmicky?
    Alex Bramwell recently posted..How To Get People To Like You With Subliminal Body Language Super Secret Power Tips

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Alex — I see you’re running a spoof site about make-money-fast type blogs…which this one definitely isn’t, I can tell you! I’m the original 20-year overnight success.

      But are you being sarcastic with your question? Because you used commentluv to link to a 14-word headline you wrote…which I’m assuming is a joke headline.

      Anyway…you may not be the only person who doesn’t like that long headline format, which certainly isn’t the only one Jon uses. But there’s no denying that many posts with that headline construction do very well. It doesn’t matter if one grouch doesn’t like them. Headlines are about attracting a large quantity of the people you want to read your post, and long, descriptive headlines often succeed for that.

      • My beef is with the massive amount of very samey advice that is out there. The whole blog and blog about blogging scene strikes me as a pyramid scheme. If you create a great headline, and then tell everyone else about it, it quickly loses it originality and power.

        All I want to do is highlight the more absurd elements of the industry (books of awesomeness, top five unoriginal tips, etc). People need to spend less time reading each other’s blogs, and more time being original!

        My five (very sarcastic) cents,

        Alex
        Alex Bramwell recently posted..Las Palmas Holidays: A Complete Guide to the City’s Beaches

  2. Tomorrow’s call will be an awesome resource, Carol.

    I had actually gone to his website from the previous article you wrote on headlines and downloaded his Headline Hacks report when he offered it for free.

    I’ve learned a valuable lesson from him – using his tactics doubled my pageviews.
    Mellissa Thomas recently posted..Get Noticed! Dark Elf Films Founder Valensky Sylvain Shares 4 Key Steps to Building Buzz for Your Business

    • Carol Tice says:

      Why am I not surprised? Jon is truly a headline genius. Think on the call I’m going to throw some of my recent headlines out and watch him improve them live! Can’t wait.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’ve got it too! And I’m not surprised to hear that about your pageviews.

      I was lucky enough to have a short phone consult with Jon about 18 months ago, and the advice he gave me brought me a lot more readers.

  3. I love your blog so much, Carol! You have inspired me with your six-figure freelancing so I’ve started putting how many hours I work and how much I made per hour week by week for this year on my blog. I want to show people how it fluctuates and how it increases slowly over time until you are a Carol Tice! Keep rockin’!

  4. Cathie Ericson says:

    I recently got a new assignment where I am writing headlines, subheads and ‘teasers’ for a Web site that offers weekly Web privacy lesson plans for educators and parents. It has been lots of fun to devise copy that is simultaneously clever and grabby.

    The newspaper I write for does its own headlines, but I have been working to improve my headline-writing skills by including a variety of samples for each story anyway. It is a good self improvement exercise and also helps me see what editors prefer (though of course it is subjective!)

    • Carol Tice says:

      Cathie, I was very fortunate in that at my first staff-writing job, we were NOT allowed to turn in stories with just a slug like “healthcare story.” Every piece had to have a proposed headline.

      Little did I know how much writers would need headline-writing skills in the future! I’m so grateful we were made to do that. Now that we all need to write headlines for our blogs, it’s been a real plus that I had so much headline experience.

  5. Sabas Chapa says:

    Hi Carol,

    This is my first comment on your blog. I’d like to give a sincere thank you for giving me the ideas I needed to boost my freelance writing gigs.

    On this post, I cannot agree more. If a client has reached your website, then they have most likely realized that they need to get into the content marketing game. They have read a few blog posts and they know that headline writing, email subject lines, etc. are a big deal.

    Writing a killer headline not only draws them in, but it also shows them that you will do the same for their business/website.

    Unfortunately I will not be available tomorrow for the session with Jon. Do you know if there will be a video. audio, transcript available?
    Sabas Chapa recently posted..Warning: How Your Competitor’s Blog Is Stealing Your Customers

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Sabas, and welcome to my blog!

      Ordinarily, my podcasts are members-only for members of Freelance Writers Den…but this one is kind of under Jon’s control. Haven’t decided how and to whom I’ll make it available yet, but if you’re interested I highly recommend signing up on the registration list, so that you get notices on how we might release it afterwards.

  6. Mike L. says:

    I’ve been trying to find my own clients on linkedin and by going to the big sites ir blogs like 9to5mac, gizmo do, TechCrunch, etc. And none of them ever respond or give me the time of day. I have a xouple stories of over 1k words just waiting for someone to read them and publish them, but they won’t even look. These stories are unique as well and not covered bynall sites. Whats so said is that many of these sites don’t even have contact info or tell you whe to or who to pitch to or any submission guidelines. How do they ever recruit new talent? One guy on linedin was so selfish he stated that he wanted me to get him some apple code ir images that are secret and only employees know. It was all abot him and me me me. He want an editor but some PR drone though I was hoping would be a bridge.
    Mike L. recently posted..Offering Press Release Services for iPhone/iPad Developers

  7. Mike L. says:

    Sorry for some typos, I’m on an iPad. This isn’t an indication of my actual writing skills on my iMac with a real word processor.
    Mike L. recently posted..Offering Press Release Services for iPhone/iPad Developers

    • Carol Tice says:

      Maybe if you…pitched them stronger headlines you’d get better responses? ;-)

      Not sure why you’re focused on a lot of unpaid or low-paid websites…there are lots of other good-paying markets out there.

  8. Mike L. says:

    The good paid websites related to technology that don’t require you to have an ITT degree, years in the IT industry, tech writing experience related to instruction booklets, or history developing programs, don’t even respond or have submission guidelines on their sites. I’m sure the writers on Mashable, TechCrunch, 9to5mac, MacRumors, Apple Insider, all make a killing but they are their own little niche circle where they don’t take any outsiders in or give anyone else a chance. The less popular tech sites use pro blogger and stuff like that to advertise when they do hire, but they get like a thousand applicants for each position.

    I write for Trainsignal as well:
    http://www.trainsignal.com/blog/author/mike-lata

    But it takes them forever to respond to me via email or publish anything or pay me despite the fact they pay $100 per 1k article and have a huge budget, they don’t seem to respect their writers very much. Itsnso depressing because i still live at home due to how little per month I make and these start up sites constantly closing down, changing ownerships, or not wanting anymore content.
    Mike L. recently posted..Offering Press Release Services for iPhone/iPad Developers

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hint…your ideal client may not be a website.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Mike, I’d love to answer all this in a blog comment…but there’s just too much here! I taught a 4-week bootcamp with 4 hours of material and accompanying handouts on how to avoid scams and find legitimate online markets, how to identify editors on masthead-less websites and online pubs, how to market yourself in social media and connect with editors…you might want to check it out in the Den.

        But 60 days isn’t a terrifically long pay cycle for a magazine, BTW. But writing without a contract, I wish you the best of luck ever getting paid, since they’re under no legal obligation to pay you anything ever. And they’re based in Brazil? If they pay you in February you should thank your lucky stars, since you’d never be able to pursue it legally.

        I’ve had ones that pay in 5 months, a schedule I like to call “half-past when the messiah comes.” And I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear I dropped them.

        It also sounds like maybe you’re writing a lot of articles and submitting them rather than getting them assigned. The latter tends to work out better.

        You also seem like you have a basic problem: You want to write about what you want to write about…which is a good thing to do on your own blog. But writing for pay is about writing what the client wants written. That’s how you get articles accepted.

        • Mike L. says:

          Well the thing about it is that I have missed feelings. I mean if the magazine wasn’t legit wouldn’t one of the writers have by now pouted a negative blog somewhere or a review or even a whole site exposing it? They have been around for a few months now. Also, the editor who I talk to does have an editorial or opening remark in every issue that is very professional sounding. However, why would Apple and amazon not approve them and only Zinio? Also, why no agreements or contracts (avoid taxes?). Also, why no Linkedin page and why none of the writers I found on Linkedin ever mention the publication. I only found one guy that did:
          http://bakarichavanu.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/im-now-writing-for-apple-magazine/

          When I tried to add him on Linkedin he refused for some reason. Again I have real mixed feelings. Also the rate is 10 cents per word which is fine for now ffor me as long as I get paid.
          Mike L. recently posted..Offering Press Release Services for iPhone/iPad Developers

          • Carol Tice says:

            Thinking you mean mixed feelings?

            If a business has only been around a few months, there just may not yet have been time for them to screw everyone and for the negative comments to start circulating. This is why I don’t write for startups (unless I’ve just seen their press release about the big venture-capital money they just landed), especially ones from another country. Unless they’d like to send a 100% up-front deposit. Then I’m all ears.

            But I feel like we’ve gotten off the topic…of how writing awesome headlines will help you move up from these bottom-feeder and low-pay type situations. Hopefully I’ll see you on the call today!

  9. Cathie Ericson says:

    Could NOT resist sharing this one from Business Insider today: Tanning Salons, Like Teenage Boys, Will Completely Lie To Get Teenage Girls Into Their Beds

  10. Marjorie says:

    Maybe these sites will be of some help if you are an experienced writer. But i cannot guarantee that they will pay more than text broker, they are on the same level there. Anyway you could try to check out the associatedcontent, constant-content and demandstudio. The pay usually ranges between $5 and $50 per article depending on the site. All the best in writing,
    Marjorie recently posted..Shelterbox Uganda

    • Carol Tice says:

      Marjorie, those aren’t my idea of “big-money” rates…and you don’t need to know how to write headlines for them, as the site’s SEO department usually does that for them. We’re talking about getting $1 a word type markets…which aren’t available on a mass-content site anywhere, but is the type of work you get when you actively prospect for your own clients.

  11. Lois Mazza says:

    Hi Carol:

    Thanks for another wonderful, informative blog post. I, like so many others, wish to ‘Make a Living Writing’.

    I am planning to go to Jon Morrow’s site and sense I will be adding my email yet again to another blog site as I am quite keen to ‘quit my job,move to paradise and get paid to change the world’. :) Even one of those would surly make my soul sing with glee. I can’t wait to read his advice.

    I am one of the many who claims they want to write for a living but my day job interferes, eating up all my energy and leaving me bereft of energy and inspiration when I land back home late in the day. I have done a small amount of part time writing (for which I got paid) for a professional web site. I got this job when I attended a conference at which there were sponsers who had set up booths, like a trade show. I asked a couple of the booths if they ever used free lance writers and one said yes, We exchanged cards, emails were exchanged after I got back home, a topic was chosen and I was on my way. (I need to replay this story in my mind when I start thinking its too hard to find writing work.)

    Again, my intense fear of not having a ‘regular’ paycheck and the (false, I know) security of a ‘real’ job, holds me (and many other talented and skilled writers) back.

    However, I am hearing rumbles in the jungle at my workplace and the paycheck and job security may be at risk. So, the time may be near to do more then read your good advice. One thing I am pretty certain of is that writing work will not seek me out. I need to get out there and find it.

    Thanks again for all your wonderful articles. You are a wonderful inspiration to me!

    Lois Mazza

    • Carol Tice says:

      I know other writers who’ve gotten freelance gigs from going to a job fair, Lois!

      With the economy remaining so sluggish, I worry for everyone with a job. To me freelancing is such a better way to go, as no one client holds the power to deprive you of all your income at once.

      This event with Jon already took place…hopefully you were able to register! If not stay tuned on the blog…I’ll probably run an excerpt in the coming weeks.

  12. Jonathan says:

    Thanks Carol. I really enjoyed the tips of writing better headlines. The famous advertising guy, Caples said, “that the headline is 90% of your ad.” or something along those lines and I think you can easily apply that to your blog posts or articles too. If it doesn’t get grab attention and pull readers in… they aren’t going to read it. It’s as simple as that.

    Thanks also for the link to Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks. I’ve just downloaded it and will dig it later. Between the two… who knows, I might actually produce some gripping headlines. :)

    Jonathan
    Jonathan recently posted..4 Simple Keys To Article Marketing

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