You think you know how to write an engaging headline – but traffic to your site is slow and your email engagement is down. What are you doing wrong?
Do you remember the last email you opened? The site you chose from your last Google search? Or an ad that made you stop and take notice? Take a few seconds to think about this before continuing.
How did they catch your attention amongst the avalanche of emails, search results, and ads you come across every day?
Well, there’s a commonly-used method used in copywriting that’s encapsulated in many magnetic headlines: the 4 ‘U’s. It sounds simple yet many headlines fail to consider them:
Useful: provide information that benefits your reader.
Unique: give them something they’ve never heard before.
Ultra specific: show them through words, don’t be vague.
Urgent: give them a little push to act.
Today we’ll delve into this classic formula and see how each element of the formula causes its target reader to pause a moment — and draws them into reading more.
And you’ll love this one:
The 7 example headlines shared in this piece are headlines from million-dollar ads. Knowing how the 4 ‘U’s are present in these successful headlines will give you a simple, quick checklist to use when writing your own.
Let’s begin, shall we?
The 4 ‘U’s
It’s natural to want to tease our reader by withholding details, yet it can do the opposite. News sites are particularly skilled at highlighting details in their headlines. They know it’s not enough to write vague, generic titles for busy, information-hungry readers. People are busy and don’t want to click every headline. So they tease with specificity.
Although we might think specific headlines give away the punchline, these arouse curiosity by highlighting intriguing details that summarize findings, successes, trends, and stories. Being specific will draw attention to the right reader, rather than all readers.
Every topic you and I can imagine has been written about. So when we write the same old generic headlines as others, we fade into the background. Rather than standing out.
How do we create unique headlines from old topics?
Use stories. Surprise. Share a different perspective. Discuss latest studies with new findings. Add credibility. Provide an incredible offer.
“Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here.”
That’s the key to great SEO according to Google’s SEO Starter Guide.
If you don’t focus on anything else, aim to be useful. Think of our basic human needs: to have a roof over our heads, food, to be acknowledged, feel safe, and fulfil our potential- these are just a few. Then dig deeper to understand what your specific audience needs help with. Do a survey. Talk to people. Check Quora. Hop into industry forums.
When you discover your reader’s beliefs, desires, and fears, you’ll write headlines that speak to them. You can do this a few ways:
- Write how-to headlines (not necessarily with “how to” in the headline).
- Share a solution that fulfils your reader’s desire, explicitly mentioning the desire.
- State a fact that taps into a fear or a struggle.
- We live in a never-enough society: offer ways to help your reader be more — and get more.
Basic human needs underlie urgency: to make more money, to lose weight, to find love, to save money.
Situations can prompt urgency. For instance, Covid panic caused people to sweep supplies off shelves. And learn ways to better hygiene. An impending company restructure may lead its employees to seek CV services and use LinkedIn more than usual.
Exclusiveness and time-limits can prompt urgency. For example, knowing you can save $150 on a course you want if you buy within 7 days would get you into action more than if there was no offer. Finding a specific pair of shoes in your size that often sells out.
The need to succeed and earn more money may also prompt urgency. Discovering ways to build your mailing list quickly. Ideas to get reliable, high-paying clients. To work less while having a 6 figure income.
Now that we’ve learned about each of the 4 ‘U’s, let’s see how these are present in 7 ads that have made millions for their founders.
7 Examples of 4 ‘U’ headlines
Doctors Claim New Miracle Drug Reverses Aging Process — Can Prolong Healthy Life Up to 120–150 Years of Age.
This is ultra-specific. It’s helpful as it addresses a common worry about getting old — this would be relatively urgent for people from 40s onward, which is when many have their mid-life crisis.
The news was unique in that it’s credible, backed by doctors. And at advertising pioneer Claude Hopkin’s time, there weren’t any solutions out there that claimed to prolong life to 120–150 years of age. Even now, we don’t often hear about a “miracle drug” like this.
FILM A Dangerous Coating That Robs Teeth of Their Whiteness
The words “dangerous” and “robs” give the headline a sense of urgency. By mentioning what is dangerous — “FILM”, the “dangerous coating” — Claude Hopkins tells the readers specifically what the ad is about. It’s a new revelation, which makes it unique news. Implied in the headline is a helpful solution that will avoid robbing teeth of their whiteness.
10 Ways to Generate Income in Retirement
This headline taps into the fear of not having enough money in retirement to enjoy life. The article promises to be helpful in 10 ways — eyetracking studies have found numbers typed out as numerals literally stop the wandering eye.
The uniqueness of this headline is that it addresses a common topic for a particular niche. It’s one of the ads that have made millions at the time of writing this piece.
Amazing Secret Discovered By One-Legged Golfer Adds 50 Yards To Your Drives, Eliminates Hooks And Slices… And Can Slash Up To 10 Strokes From Your Game Almost Overnight!
This long headline by copywriter John Carlton promises a fascinating, unique, ultra-specific story about a one-legged golfer. It promises an appealing benefit to golfers who want to improve their game by slashing “up to 10 strokes”. Adding a time element, “almost overnight” adds urgency — if they keep reading, they’ll discover how to quickly be a better golfer.
3 Veggies that Fight Abdominal Fat
Looking good and losing weight are fundamental human desires. This headline is a simple and short statement that promises a specific, useful solution and states it upfront: 3 veggies. The word “fight” conjures a strong visual element to the reader’s mind, which adds to urgency: there’s a battle happening and the fight can be won with these veggies.
The headline suggests a unique solution for a common battle — it doesn’t tell people to eat less carbs, exercise more, and other popular recommendations for losing weight.
They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano But Then I Started to Play
This headline tells a specific story with a useful benefit for aspiring piano players: the ability to play the piano even if you’re the last person your friends and family think can play. The headline, a classic by legendary advertiser John Caples, is an intriguing story that makes it unique from other headlines.
Its urgency comes from appealing to the reader’s desire to play an instrument that typically takes years to learn. The image of playing countless scales and sitting for hours trying to figure out how to glide easily up and down the piano adds to the urgency of this headline.
“At 60 Miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”
Analysis: This ultra-specific fact was gleaned by David Ogilvy, known as the “Father of Advertising” as he scoured through pages of engineering statements and technical details about the car over 3 weeks. The statement was useful and presented a unique point of difference.
Ogilvy acknowledges this as “the best headline I ever wrote” and “the most famous of all automobile ads”. The urgency behind the headline came from the appeal for a car that runs fast yet quietly. Of all the key selling points, these were the most enticing to the market.
5 Extra tips to write 4 ‘U’ headlines
There are many great ways to start writing headlines — and tweak them — so you never feel stuck. Here are 5 ways I use often — complete with links to detailed resources so you can learn more about these techniques if you like:
- Write more than 1 headline: your 3rd or 5th headline may be better than your first, so don’t stop at your first.
- Power words: words proven to capture attention such as ‘free’, ‘easy’, and ‘quick’.
- Sensorial words: proven words that evoke our senses such as ‘hunger’, ‘love’, and ‘outrage’.
- Templates: using proven headline templates that consider the 4 ‘U’s is one of the fastest ways to come up with a powerful headline.
- Avoid clickbait: write genuine headlines without sounding like the front cover of a gossip magazine — don’t exaggerate or deceive your reader.
In a nutshell
Today you’ve learned about the classic copywriting formula, the 4 ‘U’s. You’ve seen how the 4 ‘U’s are present in 7 proven successful headlines. Headlines from some of the most legendary advertisers of all time.
There are never any guarantees about headlines. Yet you’ve got a better chance of enticing your reader with a headline that considers the 4 ‘U’s. It’s a powerful yet simple, quick way to write headlines.
Give it a go… and if you’d like to share a headline you’ve written using the 4 ‘U’s, share it in the comments section. I’d love to see it.
Now read this