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This site is currently under construction. We are, however, pleased to say that the SMU 102 Digital Copywriting Unit is now open. We've also added Marketing Principles and an Intro to Public Relations. Our Content Marketing Unit is currently in development.

SMU 102 - Session 6: Digital Copywriting Headlines

Purpose/Aim of this session

This session builds upon your initial knowledge of writing headlines. In this session, we will strictly focus on wiring effective headlines for digital audiences - in other words, headlines we use on Twitter, Facebook, blog posts, web pages, YouTube, etc.

Learning Aims for this session:

  • You will explore the ways in which digital copy headlines function within the confined space
  • You will explore, analyze and develop an understanding writing meaningful headlines for online audiences
  • You will explore, investigate and assess the dynamics between digital headlines and creating a slippery slide within an online context

Learning Outcomes for this session:

At the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • Critically assess what makes a digital copy headline meaningful and effective
  • Transfer and translate industry best practice in print copy headline creation to digital/online audiences
  • Demonstrate an ability to explain how the online environment shapes, impacts and affects copywriting headlines and first sentences
  • Explain the ways in which digital copywriters use different 'lenses' when writing headlines for online audiences
  • Apply theory to practice by developing strategic approaches to writing effective headlines

How this Session Works:

  1. Read through the Overview that accompanies this session. This provides an overall context for the session
  2. Work your way through the items on the Preparatory section that accompanies this session
  3. Listen to the Lecture that accompanies this session
  4. Work your way through the branding scenarios in the "Scenario" tab. Scenarios are practical activities to develop your critical thinking and apply your knowledge to a specific component of copywriting
  5. Work your way through the template in the "Template" tab. The template will support you as you take the first steps in developing your own brand messaging copy
  6. You can browse through some carefully selected material in the "Reading Room" tab. These materials will build upon your knowledge of copywriting

SMU 102 Session 6 Study Activities

  • Overview
  • Preparatory Activities
  • Lecture
  • Scenarios
  • Template
  • Reading Room

great headlines attract the right readers image

Great headlines attract the right readers. It really is as simple as that.

The most important thing is that your headline tempts the audience to read on. That’s what good copy does. With the sole function of getting a reader to slide down that slippery slide, you know just how important a headline is.

To do this you need to attract the readers who are interested in what you have to say. So your headline must clearly articulate what your copy piece is about. It’s tempting to write a clever headline to get more readers, but if your audience isn’t actually interested in what you have to say, they won’t read on…so enticing people with a catchy but irrelevant headline is a false economy. Remember our discussion about memes, humor and fads.
The goal therefore is to write a headline which clearly explains what your email, article, thought piece, web page, blog post, Facebook post etc. is about. Without writing an essay.

I always find writing a small article summary with some key words helps me focus on what the article is about and why someone should read it.

You should always consider how your headline will be displayed. Three good examples of this are Twitter posts, search engine results and email subject lines – some people have their reading pane on, some don’t. The point is, how much of the subject line will they be able to read before deciding to opening or deleting your email? How much of that headline will appear in that Twitter post or search engine results page – and will it be strong enough and clear enough to make someone want to click the link to read more?

There are two key takeaways. The first is to write meaningful headlines in the style of ‘it does what is says on the tin’. The second is to consider character length and the order of keywords words to ensure it attracts the right readers.

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  1. The short video below provides a concise summative introduction to the subject of headlines.

  2. In the short video below copywriter Jesse Forrest teaches covers the five most popular types of headlines.

  3. The article below delves more deeply into writing headlines for online audience. While we're not concerned with blogging at this point - the article provides great information on the basics of crafting effective headlines for the internet.

    Write Great Headlines: How to quickly generate an entire year's worth of blog content in less than two hours, Bourn Creative. 2014.

  4. The next video delves into the world of digital copywriting headlines. The previous video covered the five most popular kinds of headlines. This video covers the different 'lenses' we must consider when writing headlines - or audience contexts, in other words.

  5. Headlines written for online audiences have to be strong enough to stand on their own. And by that, we mean they will appear separated from the rest of our copywriting text - kind of like a head appearing without its body. In other words, our headlines will appear on their own in places like search engine results, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, news feeds, press release distribution services, email subject lines, and a host of other popular online spaces.

    The article below covers the basic questions every copywriter needs to answer when it comes to crafting effective headlines for the internet. Think about your own headlines as you read it. This article provides an excellent introduction to the scenario and template activities for this session.

    Thompson, M. 2011. 10 questions to help you write better headlines, Poynter.

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The principles of writing copy for online audiences are the same as those for print, which we've extensively covered. There are important considerations to bear in mind when it comes to online brand messaging formats like social media, websites and blogs. These considerations form the basis of the short, formal lecture for this session.


When watching the videos below, bear in mind the main points raised in the formal lecture for this session, applying what you've learned to the points raised in the two supporting videos.

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The scenarios below have been prepared to develop your knowledge around writing effective brand message headlines for online audiences.

Writing Effective Headlines Scenario by SocialMediaU-USA

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Part 1: Background Reading

Before completing the template which accompanies this session, read the section about writing headlines from the Copywriting Phrase Book guide. Work through the questions and the prompts with the brand you are developing/working on. You will be applying the knowledge you gain from this activity to the template which follows below.

Harrison, A. 2010. The Copywriting Phrase-Book: 501 short cuts to compelling content, Harrisonamy Copywriting.

Part 2: Template Activity 1

The template below has been prepared to develop your knowledge around writing effective brand message headlines for online audiences.

Writing Effective Headlines Template by SocialMediaU-USA

Part 2: Template Activity 2

Here's your chance to put the headline you've just created in Part 2 to the test.

The Advanced Marketing Institute's Headline Analyzer calculates the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) of a headline. Emotional triggers is a theme we keep stressing - and will continually emphasize - throughout the SMU study units. This activity obviously stresses the link between strong headlines and emotional triggers...the grease for the slippery slide. Chances are, if your headline lacks a strong emotional trigger - your copy will too!

While remembering the importance o keeping your headline short - this tool is designed to make sure you have the right balance of common, uncommon, emotional, and power words in your headlines. This structure makes sure your headlines are readable while commanding attention from your audience. The more of these elements you have, the better your headline will score.

Just as a note, most professional copywriters' headlines will have 30%-40% EMV Words in their headlines, while the most gifted copywriters will have 50%-75% EMV words in headlines.

This analytical tool will also describe the kind of emotion most applicable to your headline: either Intellectual, Empathetic or Spiritual.


  1. Open the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer website in a new window:

  2. Copy and paste the headline you created in Part Two into the EMV Analyzer.

  3. Select the most relevant industry this headline relates to from the dropdown menu on the EMV Analyzer.

  4. Click the Submit for Analysis button.

  5. If your headline scores less than 30%, keep amending it with strong and/or emotional words (but still keeping it relevant and short!) until your headline receives a score of at least 35%. A score of 50% is preferable, however, for now, aim for 35%

  6. reflecting on what it took to achieve a score between 35% - 50%, reflect on the power words / trigger words / emotional words you had to use. Now, assess the body of your copy. Does the body of your copy still reflect your new and improved headline? If not, amend / re-write your copy to make the body of your copy just as strong as your new headline.

    Here's three examples we did for fun fro SMU:

    Don't be a copywriting coward. Rock your copy with Social Media U. - Score: 50% (Intellectual)

    We want you to succeed. Invest in yourself. Invest in your copy - Score: 58.33% (Intellectual)

    Learn how to start the perfect business conversation. Craft seductive and targeted copy for free.
    Score: 46.67% (Empathetic)
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The Reading Room for this session provides carefully selected resources for you to further explore copywriting concepts, elements, issues and practice.

Bak, JK. Copywriting Basics: Your Guide to Copywriting for the Web. pp 15 - 21 only (Chapters 7, 8, 9 and 10).

Eisenberg, B., Eisenberg, J. and Davis, L.T.2006. Persuasive Online Copywriting: How to take your words to the bank, Future Now, Inc., New York.

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