How to Write Headlines That Make Them Stand Up and Take Action

Helen Gurley Brown died this week.

In the early 1960s, Gurley Brown was one of the highest-paid advertising copywriters in the US. In 1962, she wrote Sex and the Single Girl, which became a bestselling book.

In 1965, she was hired by Cosmopolitan magazine. At that time, the publication was barely afloat. Gurley Brown helped turn it around, and continued on as editor for another 32 years, until 1997.

One of the secrets to Cosmopolitan’s success are the outrageous headlines that fill each cover, competing for space with gorgeous women in provocative poses.

This formula took Cosmopolitan from a failing publication to a worldwide phenomenon, with 64 international editions.

What does headline writing have to do with small business?

It turns out that the magazine rack is one of the best places to find inspiration for headlines you can use for your business. And the best magazines to look at are the ones that live or die by whether you pick them up on a whim.

All it takes is some imagination and creative re-writing to turn that slightly naughty — or completely outrageous — magazine headline into a blockbuster headline for your business.

Headline Frenzy: 9 Ideas You’ll Drool Over

In honor of Helen, here are some headline re-write examples straight from the covers of Cosmopolitan magazine:

Get the Life You Want: It’s Way Easier Than You Think becomes
Get the Sales You Want: It’s Way Faster Than You Think

(for a CRM software company’s landing page)

329 Beauty Tricks: We Tried Them. They Work! becomes
329 Whiter Smile Tricks. We Approve Them Because They Work!

(for a dental practice booklet)

Gut Feelings You Should Never Ignore becomes
Analytics Numbers You Should Never Ignore

(for an SEO firm’s blog post)

Why Love Makes Sane Women Stupid becomes
Why Stress Makes Sane People Foolish

(for a massage therapist’s brochure)

4 Risks You’re Not Taking Seriously Enough becomes
4 Customer Signals You Need to Notice Now

(for an in-house sales publication)

10 Subliminal Tricks That Make People Adore You becomes
10 Subliminal Techniques to Get Yourself Hired
(for a temporary agency website)

Firm Up Your Beach Body Fast: Seven Days to Gorgeous becomes
Transform Your Business Fast: Seven Weeks to Profits
(for a business coach’s blog)

7 Things Guys Talk About When You’re Not There becomes
7 Things Your Customer Complains About When You’re Not There
(for a sales training manual)

Fashion Frenzy: 245 Shoes and Bags to Drool Over becomes
(see subhead above this section!)

Question of the Week

Where do you get ideas for writing headlines? Have you ever tried the magazine rack? I want to hear about it in the comments!

Many thanks to khawkins04 on Flickr for the image in this post.

wd-15-3D-transPamela Wilson here. If you enjoyed this article, why not get the free Weekend Digest newsletter? Every other Saturday, you’ll receive one email that’s chock-full of information about the intersection of business, branding, design, and marketing. Join us.


  1. says

    In a previous role, I was tasked with writing 4-5 blog posts per week (yep, just about daily). So I would go to the bookstore at least 2 days out of the week to just sit and write post titles. The way I’d do it was simple… I’d go to the magazine rack, pick up 4-6 magazines, order a grande caramel machiatto, and then I’d sift through the magazine covers and rewrite post titles in my moleskine notebook in the exact same fashion you did in this post.

    Great tactic! Works like a charm 😉

  2. says

    I am in the throes of book promotion, so your article is perfect. No, I’ve never used magazines, but what a great idea! I will now. Thank you, Pamela!

  3. says


    Love, love , love your ideas for creating attention grabbing headlines from attention grabbing headlines. Why reinvent the wheel? I’m in the process of naming a tele-seminar about how to steal time from your day to have the life you want – so your title about “Have the life you want, it’s easier then you think” is inspiring me! Thanks!!!!!!!!!

  4. Ami says

    I write a daily post for a sports website. The post is a daily digest of all the related news and general college football stories out there. Right now the title/headline is basically the date, but I want to write creative ones to really draw the reader in. It is difficult since the post doesn’t center on one specific theme. Any ideas would be appreciated. :-)

    • says

      Hi Ami,

      Can you find something to comment on for the lead story in the bunch? Highlight the one that will draw the most attention? That would be more compelling than the date.

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. says

    This is one of my faves — it’s where I got the idea for “50 Things Your Customers Wish You Knew” and “Feel Great Naked: Confidence Boosters for Getting Personal” (which was about being more comfortable sharing your personality in content).

    • says

      Cosmopolitan is especially good for this, isn’t it? And actually, the headline for this post is inspired by one I saw on a Cosmo cover, too. Except theirs was about getting your guy to stand up … and I’m pretty sure it didn’t have anything to do with conversion, at least not in the marketing sense. 😉

  6. says

    You outdid yourself with this post, Pamela. What makes each of these headlines effective is they speak to specifics. You can instantly tell that the content they’re leading you in to contains cold hard facts and useful information.

    Since the core component of my marketing pieces are usually the offers, I like to use the headline “Guinea Pigs Wanted for Evil Experiment.” I’ve used this headline in a few direct mail pieces, combined with a killer offer and a reasonably easy to meet requirement, it can work pretty well.

  7. says

    Hi Pamela,

    I love the headline examples you have shared in the post. It goes to show how simple and easy it is to write them if you just know what you want to write.

    I often use Magazines like the image you used and also newspapers to get ideas for blog post headlines. The press and the printed media are great at this.

    Wriiting headlines that convert is one of the great ways to get higher click through rate on blog post. I will be mentioning this post in one of my upcoming articles.

    To Your Success,
    Eddie Gear

  8. says

    Fabulous post Pamela! I have to write a couple of blog posts for my clients today, your timing is impeccable ;). I tend to write the post first then change the headline 4 or 5 times but this will make it SO much easier! And drastically improve the quality of my headlines I might add. I often feel like the quality of my post is good but the headline doesn’t convey any excitement. Thank you for another great tip!!

  9. says

    And you can follow up the headline research by visiting Amazon to research your copy. Go to books on the subject matter you’re writing about, then read the reviews to see how regular people talk about the subject, and what they care about most.

  10. says

    Browse around some of the internet marketing pages, sign up for their “free offers” to get on their lists (might be a good idea to use a second email address) and then put the best ones in your swipe file / Evernote account.

    • says

      That’s a great idea! Especially if you can find companies who are trying to appeal to the same kind of customer you want to reach with your own business.

  11. says

    One of the smartest things I’ve ever done was to pay attention to tabloid headlines. They grab attention like crazy PLUS they’ve spent millions in testing subject titles. Great post!

  12. says

    I’ve found that the best way to write online headlines is to give your readers some sort of news that they will benefit from but also make them feel as if you’ve left something out so they want or need to find out more.