3 Headline Formulas For Non-Copywriters

Posted by on Mar 18 2013

This article is for the rest of us โ€“ people who are NOT professional copywriters, but need good copy and good headlines for our websites and email newsletters.

Let’s focus in this article on writing good headlines. Or,ย in the case of email newsletters, good subject lines.

The purpose of a headline or subject line is to grab the reader’s attention and motivate them to want to read further. If you can’t get them past the headline, the rest of your copy is wasted, no matter how elegantly it’s written.

Most of the examples are funny, but you’ll get the point. When you’re done, check out my companion blog post, 6 Copywriting Steps for Non-Copywriters.

I’ll share 3 headline writing tips today:

  1. Use numbers
  2. Tell a secret
  3. Use emotion

Use Numbers


  • _____ (number) _____ (adjective) Ways To _____ (thing they want to do or to have or to become)
  • _____ (time) to Learn/Getย _____ (topic)


  • 10 Easy Ways to Wash Your Dog
  • 5 Exciting Ways to Make Spinach That Children Will Eat
  • 20 Minutes to Learn Chess Like a Pro
  • Get a Complete Personalityย Makeover in 10 Minutes or Less

Tell a Secret

Everyone wants to the learn the insider secrets of people who have been successful.


  • My Secret Formula to _____ (thing they want to do or have or become)
  • Insider’s Guide to _____
  • Easy Success Secrets to Create _____


  • I’m Drawing Back The Curtain and Revealing My Secret Formula to Buying Pencil Holders
  • 10 Secrets Steps to Finding Online Grammar Mistakes

Use Emotion

People are only motivated by two things: to go towards pleasure and to get away from pain. But pleasure and pain can be subtle. For instance, I find it a pleasure to learn something new, to increase my mastery of a subject. So if I see a headline that promises to teach me something, I will always continue reading.

Another thing that motivates people is scarcity. If you TRULY have a limited number of items available (don’t lie to people about this, folks, they can see right through a scam), then telling them how many are left can get them to read the rest of your web page or email newsletter. Also, if there is a time limit, that motivates, too.

Think about what emotion your customer wants to feel. Confident? Energetic? Free? Safe? Take a moment and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Then you can write a headline that speaks to their emotional needs. (Look at the photo above…who would respond to a Stop sign like that?)


  • _____ (number) Keys to_____ (topic or outcome)
  • Learn _____ (topic)
  • How to _____ (outcome)
  • Only _____ (number) of _____ (item) Available
  • You Have Done _____ , Now Try _____
  • Do You Have _____ (name of problem)?
  • _____ (name of problem) Got You Down?
  • Do You Want _____ (name of desired item or outcome)?
  • Never Be _____ Again!

To increase the motivation level, use phrases like hurry, last chance, and only.


  • 3 Keys to Better Prison Life
  • Learn to Buy Fresher Bread
  • Only 5 Seats Available for Seat Sitting 101 Seminar
  • Last Chance! Special 1 Percent Off Coupon Expires Wednesday
  • Do You Want a Better Goldfish?
  • Find Your Keys. Find Your Children. How to Solve Your Clutter Problems.

Plain and Simple

Don’t forget the basic, informational headline. You don’t always have to get jazzy with your headline or subject line; sometimes just saying what the article is about is motivating enough. What if you were to see these simple headlines or subject lines?

  • 50 Percent Off All Classes
  • How To Type Faster
  • The Recording Is Available Now

TAKE ACTION NOW: Now take these headline tips and write three possible headlines or subject lines for your next article or email newsletter. Play with them until they feel right. Then try them out and watch the results!

Want more information on copywriting? Let me know in the comments area of this post and I’ll create more copywriting blog posts in the future! I could write about this stuff all day. ๐Ÿ™‚


40 comments for now

40 Responses to “3 Headline Formulas For Non-Copywriters”

  1. KimberlyNo Gravatar

    GREAT article! Thanks for the tips, will put them to use immediately.

    28 Sep 2010 at 7:58 am

  2. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Glad you liked it, Kimberly! I hope you’ll post some of your sample headlines. ๐Ÿ™‚

    28 Sep 2010 at 8:14 am

  3. kathyNo Gravatar

    Thank you for your Generosity there is a program on the radio at the moment analysing the Hymn “My God How Great you art” and with that your email pops up and it is great. So when I give thanks for my blessings I will give thanks for you twice.
    Take care,
    Kathy S

    28 Sep 2010 at 7:59 am

  4. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    I’m glad you found the blog post helpful, Kathy. Blessings are everywhere.

    28 Sep 2010 at 8:15 am

  5. Val HeartNo Gravatar

    Hi Karyn!
    LOVE the article – great advice I can use right now. Keep it coming!

    28 Sep 2010 at 9:30 am

  6. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Is there any particular part of copywriting you’d like to learn more about, Val?

    28 Sep 2010 at 10:11 am

  7. NatalieJoNo Gravatar

    Perfect timing for me too I’m just starting to write some articles and these title ideas will come in very handy. Loved the photo too.

    Thanks for sharing.


    28 Sep 2010 at 10:49 am

  8. Susan KleinNo Gravatar


    Thank you for this article. It is concise, with “follow the bouncing ball” steps that can be immediately taken.
    I appreciate you sharing your vast knowledge and expertise with clear examples.

    28 Sep 2010 at 11:13 am

  9. SharonNo Gravatar

    Write more blogs regarding copywriting. You write down to earth about the subject. Supply to the needs of the people.

    28 Sep 2010 at 12:36 pm

  10. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Will do, Sharon! ๐Ÿ™‚

    28 Sep 2010 at 1:05 pm

  11. CandaceNo Gravatar

    Thank you for the article… I have printed it off and will refer to it often when creating the title of my articles.

    29 Sep 2010 at 10:06 am

  12. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Good luck with writing your new and improved article titles, Candace! ๐Ÿ™‚

    29 Sep 2010 at 12:04 pm

  13. Cynthia HatcherNo Gravatar

    Thank you Karyn,
    This is definitely one of the areas in which I struggle. The examples were simple which helps me to work with my own ideas.
    Please keep us informed!

    30 Sep 2010 at 7:37 pm

  14. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Will do, Cynthia! I have found copywriting to be easy if 1. Someone explains it simply and give examples, and 2. You take time to practice it and pay attention to the results you get.

    30 Sep 2010 at 7:56 pm

  15. […] Last month I gave you some ideas about formulas you can use to write good headlines for your sales pages and newsletters. (If you didn’t see the post, you can still read it on my blog: 3 Headline Formulas for Non-Copywriters.) […]

    01 Nov 2010 at 10:46 am

  16. Karen HughesNo Gravatar

    Very timely information for me. Good, quality “stuff” here! Thanks!

    03 Nov 2010 at 8:07 pm

  17. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Glad you liked it, Karen! ๐Ÿ™‚

    04 Nov 2010 at 8:14 am

  18. Miki StrongNo Gravatar

    I LOVE shortcuts Karyn … and I love simple … these formulas are both. And great tip on using emotions in the headline … we make decisions based on our emotions and use logic to back it up, right?

    06 Aug 2012 at 5:12 pm

  19. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    I think it’s a cycle of emotion and logic, Miki:

    1. “I feel bad, what could be wrong?”
    2. Find out what’s wrong
    3. “Great, now I’ll never fix it and I’ll be broken forever”
    4. Search for a solution
    5. “Too many choices! How do I know what’s the one, perfect, right, guaranteed solution?”
    6. Read the marketing copy
    7. “Will it do everything I want?”
    8. Read the marketing copy again, this time paying attention
    9. “Oh, this sounds great! I’ll buy it!”


    06 Aug 2012 at 5:24 pm

  20. Helga MatzkoNo Gravatar

    Thank you, Karyn, as much as ever.
    I am presently re-writing my website “again” and will certainly be able to use some of your wonderfu, as always, suggestions.

    I hope that you’ll never develop Alzheimer!!!

    God bless, Helga

    17 Oct 2012 at 7:36 am

  21. Susan KleinNo Gravatar


    This is very helpful. Some of this I know, but forgot, other suggestions are just what I needed to hear right now.
    Thank you.

    17 Oct 2012 at 9:32 am

  22. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Admittedly, I have to be reminded, too. That’s why I wrote the list! ๐Ÿ™‚

    17 Oct 2012 at 9:37 am

  23. CherriNo Gravatar

    Hi karyn,

    Thank you so much for these tips! I will put them to good use immediately. Please share more on your knowledge on these copywriting issues:)

    17 Oct 2012 at 9:40 am

  24. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Will do, Cherri! I have so many copywriting tips and ideas to share!

    17 Oct 2012 at 9:43 am

  25. SandraNo Gravatar

    Great tips – thanks so much. Now I just need to figure out what would work for my audience – primarily HR professionals to whom I’m selling training programs – any tips there?

    17 Oct 2012 at 9:49 am

  26. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Why not try a test, Sandra? Split your mailing list into two lists (temporarily, of course) and send one email with Subject Line Test 1 and another email with Subject Line Test 2, and see which gets the better response.

    17 Oct 2012 at 9:55 am

  27. Cathy MillerNo Gravatar

    Love these ideas, Karyn. Thanks for sharing them.

    17 Oct 2012 at 9:51 am

  28. Wimannerel Personal Life CoachNo Gravatar

    Thanks for these clear & simple tips, ready-to-use!

    17 Oct 2012 at 10:09 am

  29. Lori HOwardNo Gravatar

    I appreciate your pragmatism SO MUCH. And YES, I’d love more copywriting tips for non-copywriters. ๐Ÿ™‚

    17 Oct 2012 at 10:35 am

  30. RLee DavisNo Gravatar

    I am the first to admit that I am not a professional copywriter, but I certainly know how words can make a person react, and feel, so any information that I can learn about how to use words in the context of my work is both desireable and appreciated! And this is fabulous! Thanks Karyn!


    17 Oct 2012 at 11:31 am

  31. Zola de FirmianNo Gravatar

    This is great, Karyn… I esp. appreciate the simple email test suggestion: split in half; watch results with 2 test headlines. Simple and SMART!

    17 Oct 2012 at 5:44 pm

  32. Amy HarrisonNo Gravatar

    You can never have enough copywriting shortcuts – especially with headlines. Love how you’ve broken this down Karyn! ๐Ÿ™‚

    18 Oct 2012 at 8:25 am

  33. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    Ah, Amy, you could teach us a thing or two, eh? ๐Ÿ™‚

    18 Oct 2012 at 8:38 am

  34. DebbieNo Gravatar


    Thank you for this important information! I am currently preparing to launch a new product and the webinar introducing the product will utilize this methodology!

    23 Oct 2012 at 10:14 pm

  35. […] Title:ย  something catchy but simple.ย  Here are some pointers from Karyn Greenstreet and her article: 3 Headline Formulas for Non-Copywriters […]

    25 Oct 2012 at 9:47 am

  36. TinaNo Gravatar

    Saving this! Gold! Thank you.
    Much appreciated.

    21 Mar 2013 at 2:49 am

  37. Karyn GreenstreetNo Gravatar

    You’re welcome, Tina. I’m glad you found it helpful.

    21 Mar 2013 at 9:00 am

  38. DonnaNo Gravatar

    Great article and I appreciate you sharing it for free!
    I am already thinking of ways to use your suggestions. I love the examples they really make it sink in.
    Thanks! I’m off to read more of your website now!
    Donna, Founder of More Than a Review

    24 Mar 2013 at 12:22 pm

  39. pravin badheNo Gravatar

    Thanks Very Much
    Great Ideas For Marketing

    01 Jul 2013 at 11:52 pm

  40. MosesNo Gravatar

    It is a great formula here that you have just given out for free. Thanks.

    02 Aug 2013 at 8:13 am

Category: Internet & Social Media Marketing, Marketing