Whether you are writing titles for blog posts, subject lines for email newsletters, text snippets for social media posts or headlines for print advertisements, brochures or direct mail, your objective is to get potential customers to stop and pay attention to what you have to say.

You have just a moment to capture someone’s attention as you compete with hundreds (or thousands) of marketing messages directed at your prospective customers every day. There are many techniques for creating effective headlines, but one of the simplest techniques is to simply answer the question “What’s in it for me?”

There are two approaches to answering this question; positive (The Gain Headline) or negative (The Pain Headline)

The Gain Headline

How will your reader benefit from spending time with your content? Make it clear. This type of headline makes a promise to the reader they will be able to improve something after they read your article.

The best gain headlines follow a simple formula

Get [desired result] in [desirable time period]

Here’s an example of how this works.

  • “Increase your open rates by 50% today” is more appealing than “How to increase open rates.”  The desired result of 50% makes the first version of the headline extremely compelling. Couple that with the time line (today) and you have an irresistible combination. Just remember not to over promise or readers won’t come back.

Phrases like improve, increase, outperform, upgrade, lift, more and better all work well in this type of headline. So do phrases like record time or just a few hours. Stuck for a word? Check out for some more interesting positive action alternatives. Example:

  1. Become Debt Free in 90 Days or Less
  2. Improve Your Golf Swing Just Two Hours

The more specific and quantifiable the result and the shorter the timeline the more likely people will be to read your newsletter, article or advertisement.

The Pain Headline

People want to avoid pain. It is human nature. The drive to avoid an unpleasant outcome is actually stronger than the drive to reach a positive one. That’s why these headlines, which essentially promise a way to protect yourself from disaster, work well. Like the Gain Headline there is a simple formula you can use to create the Pain Headline.

[Threat] + [Promise of a solution]

These types of headlines will only be effective if your readers perceive the threat as real. Phrases like avoid, eliminate, reduce, escape, destroy, deflect and dodge present a clear course of action.

  • Five Simple Steps to Avoid an IRS Audit
  • Sidestep A Leaky Basement In 5 Easy Steps

An interesting spin on the Pain Headline is the negative reverse. The reader knows you aren’t really encouraging them toward the negative outcome. They believe if they read the article they can avoid the pain you are promising.

  • How to Ruin Your Carpet
  • How to Go Bankrupt in Just Six Months
  • Lengthen Your Recovery Time

These are just a few subject and headline writing tactics. Looking for more? Download our new white paper.