The three words that taught me everything I needed to know about writing headlines

Three words taught me everything I needed to know about writing headlines.

I remember it like it was 30 something years ago.

Because it was.

We were on holiday in Portugal and had taken a day to visit a market.

I remember it being busy – in every sense of the word – bustling with people, loud as hell, with everyone moving at a pace that would make Usain Bolt seem sluggish.

I think my Dad may have even got us together in a Navy SEAL style huddle and delivered a “Never leave a man behind!” style speech before we ventured in.

We entered the market, maintaining our death grip on each other’s hands – making sure to look back every two seconds, in case we were now holding hands with a strange Portuguese chap called Antonio.

All was going well until we hit the centre of the market.

That’s when it happened. That’s when we heard it…


Immediately, we all turned in the direction of the voice.

It was clear where the shout had come from – a market trader was stood on a crate, head above the throng, about 10 metres away, eyes scanning the crowd like he was playing a particularly challenging game of “Where’s Wally?”.

He spotted us.

“Ah – you…English!”, he said with the excitement of a Hyena that’s located a wounded deer.

He shouted something else, this time in Portuguese, after which a bunch of market traders pounced on us.

The battle was on…

That’s the thing about headlines – you can get as fancy as you want, but what you really need is something that grabs people’s attention.

That’s the ONLY job of the headline.

It’s not a game of “see how many benefits and objections you can cram into one sentence while still being readable”.

It’s a game of, “HEY YOU…LOOK OVER HERE!”

If your ideal client was walking through a crowded marketplace – fearing for their safety – what could you say that would make them stop to look at you?

THAT’S your headline.

Of course, from there, you still have to keep them engaged and interested, but, don’t worry, I’ll get to that in another post…