The 10 Commandments for Writing Effective Headlines

By: Dan Kennedy on: March 26th, 2016 14 Comments

The headline is the single most important element for any kind of advertising you might do.

This includes but is not limited to newspaper ads or flyers, magazine ads, sales or lead generation letters, postcards, online messages, web content and banner ads.

The headline is the ad for your ad. It forces your prospect to read the rest of what you have to say.

No matter how good your body copy may be, if your headline doesn’t pull people in, it won’t matter. The very best copywriters spend the majority of their time writing and testing a variety of headlines. By simply changing a headline, you may be able to increase your response level by as much as 300%, maybe even more.

Here are the 10 commandments I live by when it comes to creating an effective headline. I found these long ago in an old direct marketing textbook. I can’t recall the name of the textbook, but I did commit these rules to memory and let them direct me whenever I’m writing headlines. Keep these in mind, follow them, and you, too, will be able to write headlines that command attention.

1) Thou shall make the words BIG and BOLD. You want your headline to stand out and be the very first thing readers see. Make sure it is at least 50% larger than the body text. You may even want to use a slightly different font than the body text to make it stand out even more.

2) Thou shall avoid the temptation of using all capital letters in the headline. You may capitalize a few words for emphasis, but don’t resort to all caps because it’s difficult on the eyes and hard to read. Tests have shown that capitalizing the first letter of each word can increase response rates.

3) Thou shall experiment with quotation marks and other forms of punctuation. Quotation marks around the entire headline, or even bracketing specific words, sparks interest in what you have to say. Other punctuation such as question marks, exclamation points, even dashes or parentheses can increase readership.

4) Length of a headline is not important – just make sure the words speak to your prospect’s interest. A headline can be long, as many as several sentences. Or it could be just a few words. What is important is that it speaks to prospects, peaks their curiosity and contains some kind of benefit.

5) Seek guidance by imitating headline styles from National Enquirer. Believe it or not, the National Enquirer features some of the best copywriting and headlines you’ll ever find. Pick up a copy and read it whenever you can. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your target audience is too smart or too sophisticated, or that it doesn’t fit your particular “image”. This style of writing is a proven winner. Model it whenever you can.

6) Thou shall avoid being cute or clever. Your prospect should never have to guess what your copy is about after reading the headline. If they do have to guess or are confused, you need to re-work the headline.

7) Thou shall always speak to your prospect’s interests and desires. Your headline should say nothing about you. It’s all about the reader. Tell them what you can do for them, how you can change their life, make things easier or better.

8) Thou shall avoid “tricking” prospects into reading your ad. A headline like “FREE MONEY” will grab attention, but in the long run your prospect will be disappointed and actually pissed off when they read on and find out you’re trying to sell them a life insurance policy or a bag full of agitated bumble bees.

9) Always have faith and trust in a good headline. Don’t ever create or distribute any kind of printed advertising material without a headline.

10) Thou shall avoid using your name or your company’s name in a headline. Again, the ad is not about you or your company. It should never be used in your headline. Think in terms of your prospect’s interests and desires.

Follow these rules when writing headlines, no matter what kind of products or services you may be offering. First and foremost, try to get self-interest into every headline you write. Make your headline suggest that you have something the prospect wants that will definitely benefit them, improve their quality of life, make things easier and transform their lives.

PS: The wealthiest of the wealthy are mostly entrepreneurs. In 2018, 241 of the Forbes 400 made their fortunes from scratch. Another 36 made a large portion of their money even if also inheriting some wealth. Translation: 71% of the ultra-rich got there through ambition, initiative, drive, grit, ingenuity, hard work, and entrepreneurship. Their wealth was not separated from those values. Be a Doer and click here to register your spot today.


Dan Kennedy is internationally recognized as the 'Millionaire Maker,' helping people in just about every category of business turn their ideas into fortunes. Dan's "No B.S." approach is refreshing amidst a world of small business marketing hype and enriches those who act on his advice. For more money-making marketing tips, tactics and strategies, go to

14 Responses

  1. MARCO CURIEL says:

    Dan: Gracias por estar en tu lista soy un viejo periodista mexicano sin 1 un dolar de mas para poderte comprar algo tuyo. Dios te bendice.

  2. Debra Moore says:

    Dan Kennedy is a master. I love reading anything he write and I always learn from his words. “The 10 Commandments” post is exquisitely Dan Kennedy. Thanks, Dan, for continuing to share your knowledge.

  3. DH Towers says:

    Dan, how would you be??
    Dan, what if anything, can you do for a guy who has simply written a book on “Winning”, to be published late July or so by Xlibris, such that I receive only about 15% av of sales??
    Is there anything left from that for you and I to do anything n make Win-win??

  4. Jorge says:

    In this post you are not following the 2nd. rule of “Thou shall avoid the temptation of using all capital letters in the headline”, LOL =)

  5. David Hunter says:

    Definitely a great list.

    A great book (Besides Dan’s The Ultimate Sales Letter) that has 100 of the greatest headlines is Victor Schwab’s How To Write A Good Advertisement.

  6. Okon George says:

    A big thanks to my mentor Dan Kennedy. I’ve been following your post for quite sometime now. Really love it.

  7. Dennis says:

    Excellent Mr. Kennedy.

    Tell me please, in Commandment #4, did you
    mean…’piques their curiosity’ rather than
    ‘peaks their curiosity’ ?

    Be well.


  8. Jasmin Hajro says:

    Thank you for sharing.
    Is it possible to order your new members offer,
    with a credit card ?
    Kind regards,
    Jasmin Hajro

  9. Marie Jones says:

    Creating effective headline is not an easy task as i always focus very much on creating something really effective headline and generally it takes time. These are some good commandments that one can consider when it comes to creating effective headline.

  10. Thanks for this article, Dan. I know that it just scratches the surface of article writing and salesletter writing, but so many people miss it on these important basics. The headline is the first step in order to get more clients…. Jerry Kuzma

  11. I get the most valuable lessons on copywriting from reading Dan Kennedy.

    This article is no exception.

  12. Muy bien explicado.

Leave a Comment to Marie Jones