What is your thinking process when writing headlines?

This question is from Charlotte, who took my course on How to Write Better Headlines.

She asks, “What is your thinking process as you brainstorm, formulate, play with, and analyze your headline creations?”

After writing headlines for 35 years, it’s quite the challenge to deconstruct the process I go through.

But here’s a broad outline of what I do…

A practical note… I work with a pen and pad of paper first. Don’t ask me why, but I do. Just for the headline.

OK… the process and sequence…

First, I get clear about the PURPOSE of the page.

What am I trying to achieve?

  • Is this about maximizing shareability through social media?
  • Is this page part of a sales funnel? Am I pre-selling?
  • Am I optimizing for the search engines?
  • Am I trying to create a sense of value and permanence for an evergreen page of content?
  • And so on…

Without being clear about the purpose, you’re never going to get it right.

Second, I give myself plenty of time, with long breaks between bursts of work.

Third, with my early best effort in place, I then start on the body copy.

Fourth, once I get into the body copy, I’ll ALWAYS find ways to improve on the headline. Sometimes I’ll totally change it.

Truth be told, however good I think the headline is early on, that first effort never survives.

Ultimately, it’s always just a placeholder.

For me, it’s the process of writing the full page that finally reveals the best headline.

That doesn’t mean that first hand-written version isn’t important.

It is.

It establishes the purpose of the page, and provides the starting point from which everything else follows.

But by the end of the process, it’s always replaced with something better.

OK Charlotte… I hope that helps a little.

NOTE: I have a whole course on mastering the craft of writing great headlines, called How to Write Better Headlines – For Content, Email and Social Media


Course on headline writing


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