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Everybody Writes: Grab Their Attention with the First Line

“Learn how to effortlessly right an intoxicatingly irresistible headline – and you won’t believe what happens next!”

Everybody Writes by Ann Handley, page 221

It has been documented that people read the headline to help decide if they are going to invest any time in reading further.

According to the advertising guru David Ogilvy, “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

Click on the book to grab your own copy of "Everybody Writes"

Click on the book to grab your own copy of “Everybody Writes”

If this is the case, and I am certain that it is, then doesn’t it makes sense to direct a great deal of thought and creativity to crafting a headline that will do its job?

The fact of the matter is that most headlines are written before the body copy has been developed. That is like the tail chasing the dog. The truth is that the headline (the grabber of attention) should be the last thing you write, and not before you spend a good deal of time thinking about it.

Here are a few tips to help you write eye-catching headlines and attention grabbing email Subject Box headings:

Use interesting adjectives like effortless, painstaking, fun, free, incredible, essential, absolute, and strange.

Use numbers. Numbers do a great job at stopping people in their tracks long enough to read the rest of the headline.  Some writers feel that odd numbers do a better job. I am not convinced this is the case, but it costs little to test this for yourself. My advice is to use the number that fits. Seven ways… 9 Tips… 27 Reminders…

The rule of thumb is to spell the numbers one through nine. The rest can use the digits.

One, two, 11, 45.  In fact, if you break this rule I am not sure you won’t get sued.

Here are a few words that can be placed after the number to get people’s attention:

Reasons, Principles, Facts, Lessons, Ideas, Ways, Secrets, and Tricks.

Asking a question in the headline also has been proven to be effective:  What, Why, How, or When.

The important thing to remember is to remain focused on the objective of your headline. Its sole purpose is to have the reader keep on reading after the headline manages to stop them long enough to investigate.

Here is a simple formula that might help you work through the process:

Number or Trigger word + Adjective + Keyword + Promise

Example: Take the subject “selling travel.” You could write an article titled, “How to Sell Travel” or “Why I Love Selling Travel.”

Or you could apply this formula and make it: “18 Unbelievable Ways You Can Sell Travel To More Adventurous Families.”

Another example: Take a bold promise like “Learn to pack a suitcase.”

Apply the formula and you get: “How You Can Effortlessly Pack For Vacation in Less than Two Hours Without Forgetting a Thing.”

In a similar vein, an email’s Subject Box holds the same influence as the article headline. Viewers will read the subject before deciding if their interest has been piqued. Spend a good deal of time on your email’s “subject.”


Mike presents a business-building webinar on the third Thursday of every month sponsored by AmaWaterways. To receive monthly invitations send Mike an email with the words “business training” in the Subject Box. You will also receive a link to the recorded version.

For information on Mike’s Fourth Annual Training Cruise, email Mike at mike@mikemarchev.com with the word “cruise” in the subject box.

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