Having worked as a copywriter in the advertising industry for 5 years, I learned quite a bit about writing headlines.

Those short little buggers, just like subject lines, are extremely hard to craft, even for the Don Drapers of the world. They can also be the difference between a conversion and a missed opportunity because they are often the first thing a reader sees. To say the least, there’s a lot riding on them.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret. No one knows the “secret” to writing a perfect headline.

Luckily, there are things you can do to craft successful email headlines that do what you need them to do.

Here are some best practices I learned during my “mad men” cameo that will give your email marketing a competitive edge.

Think of your headline as your hook

If you were on a fishing trip, you wouldn’t dare throw a hook into the water without bait, right?

The same goes for your headline. Your headline is your hook, and with no bait, no one will bite.

To get readers nipping away, you’ll need to hook them just enough so that they’ll want to read on. Only after they’ve read your entire email and completed the action you wanted them to take has your headline done its job.

Here’s how to write better headlines:

Stay active

Always write in an active voice, not a passive voice. Here’s an example:

Active: Small business owners write great headlines.

Passive: Great headlines are written by small business owners.

See how an active voice is much stronger than a passive voice?

Be clear

Your headlines are a lone ranger. They need to convey a single, clear message that can capture your reader’s attention all on its own. Keep your headlines clear and hard-hitting so that they’ll grab the short attention span of your reader.

Create intrigue

Reel your readers in by creating intrigue and sparking their curiosity. Try these powerful tactics with your next headline:

  • Ask a question (Want to write better headlines?)
  • State a command (Write better headlines if you want more customers.)
  • Tease the idea (A better headline could be the missing link.)
  • Allude to a list (10 ways to write better headlines.)
  • Announce something new (Announcing new headline insights.)
  • Start your headline with “How to…” (How to write better headlines.)

Speak directly to your reader

It is always better to speak directly to your reader than talk to an obscure third party. When in doubt, opt for using, “you.” It makes your headlines feel targeted and more personal to the person on the other end.

Keep ’em short

Now, I am not going to give you an exact character number because I do not think there is one when it comes to writing headlines. For me, the rule of thumb is that a headline should never break onto the second line. It just looks better.

Keep headlines as concise and crisp as possible. Delete any fluff or filler words, and use numerals for numbers rather than spelling them out. Be ruthless. Your readers are busy and they want you to cut to the chase.

While some may claim there is a magic headline formula…

Insert number + fantastic verb + flowery adjective = increased revenue!

…I call their bluff. At best, there are tips and best practices you can adhere to, but no magic formula. My advice is to know your audience intimately. Put yourself in their computer seat and write headlines that would grab your attention and make you want to keep reading. The more you know about your customers the better you can speak to them, engage them, and inspire them to act.

Happy fishing!

Let me how the headline writing goes, and please share your tips below. We could all use some extra help with those tricky headlines!