Use this checklist for better headlines, titles, and email subject lines


A friend of mine uses a checklist to double-check his titles and headlines. It can be used for emails, blog posts, articles, book titles, presentations, ads, and more.

He calls it the “ABCD” Formula:

A – Attention
B – Believable
C – Care
D – Different

[A] The first job of your headline is to get attention. It needs to make people curious or promise a benefit, to flag them down and get them to read the headline. The headline should then compel them to read your email, blog post, or sales copy.

[B] If the headline isn’t believable, if it promises too much (and isn’t obviously tongue-in-check), the reader is likely to turn the page (or tune out of your presentation).

[C] Your headline or title has to be relevant to the reader or prospective client and their problem or desire They have to care about what you’re saying.

[D] Finally, in the age of massive competition for eyeballs and dollars, your headline or title needs to be different from the competition’s. Why should they read your article or ad when it appears to say the the same thing as a dozen others?

When a prospective client sees your ad or post, they’re asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?” You need to tell them that, and the telling begins with your headline, tile, or email subject line.

Because if it doesn’t start there, it doesn’t matter how good your sales page or email or presentation is, nobody is going to see it.

To learn more about writing effective headlines, titles, and subject lines, especially for your newsletter, check out my Email Marketing For Attorneys course.


3 sure-fire ways to start a presentation


In any presentation or piece of writing, the first words spoken or written need to get your audience’s attention. Those first words are your headline. They tell people, “look at this–this is important”.

If your audience knows you and trusts you to deliver something they will value, you can jump right in and say what you want to say. That’s what I did at the start of this post.

But in other situations, you need to do more.

You can’t go wrong by promising a benefit in your headline. Tell people what they will learn or gain by reading or listening. The title of this post does that by promising to show you 3 sure-fire ways to start a presentation.

But there are other ways to get attention. Here are 3 of the best:

(1) Tell a story

Start your talk or article with a story. People like stories because they are about people and things that happen to them. They keep reading or listening to find out, “what happened next”.

Start with a story about a former client, for example. What happened to him? What did you do to help him? How did it all turn out?

(2) Make a provacative statement

Say something unusual or shocking, something people don’t know or don’t expect you to say. You might share a surprising fact, for example, or a statistic related to the subject of your talk.

If I was speaking about identify theft, for example, I might say, “Most people think identity theft means that someone has stolen your financial information. The truth is, there are five different types of identity theft”.

This gets the audience thinking about what these are, and whether they might be a victim of one of them.

(3) Ask an probing question

Questions work because they bring the reader or listener into the conversation. If you start your talk by asking, “When was the last time you updated your Will?” your audience starts thinking about the answer to that question.

Questions asked at the beginning of a presentation also make the audience continue to listen or read, to find out the answers.

With that in mind, would you like to know the best way to end a presentation? I’ll tell you tomorrow.


Take Off Your Pants (but don’t show me your briefs)


The most important task of a headline is getting the reader’s attention. You may have a brilliant article or blog post, amazing sales copy, and a powerful offer, but none of that matters if nobody reads it.

An example of a good headline is the one on a new Kindle book, Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing.

It’s for novelists who ordinarily don’t outline their books but write them “by the seat of their pants.” They are considered “pantsers” in the parlance, in contrast to “plotters”–writers who outline and plot before they write.

I saw the book when it launched and even though I’m not a novelist I was intrigued by the title. It stopped me in my tracks and made me look at the book description. It made me chuckle.

It did it’s job and did it well.

Of course you need to read the sub-title to understand that the book is for writers and not a 50 Shades knockoff. And that’s okay. The title gets your attention. The sub-title clarifies the title and promises a benefit.

Nicely done.

If you’re looking for ideas for headlines for your posts or articles, or titles for your books, don’t hesitate to borrow from what’s already out there. You can use an existing title or headline “as is” (there is no copyright protection afforded titles), or you can play off titles, especially iconic ones. My book (on network marketing), Recruit and Grow Rich is an obvious but effective play on the classic “Think and Grow Rich.”

Another example.

In the 1970’s, Dr. David Reuben became a mega best selling author with his book, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)”. Woody Allen made it into a movie with that title.

The original title is trademarked, so you can’t use it as is, but I’ve seen more than a few ads for products and services that play off it. You can do the same thing. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bankruptcy (But Were Afraid to Ask)” works.

You could use this template for many practice areas, and it doesn’t matter whether readers know the original book or movie. There are a lot of things prospective clients want to know but are afraid to ask.

For more on writing effective titles and headlines, get this and this


Marketing a law firm like a strip club


One of the biggest challenges in marketing a law firm is getting prospective clients to see how you are different or better than other lawyers who do what you do.

It takes a lot of thought and wordsmithery to come up with the right benefit statement. I don’t have any shortcuts to offer, but I can give you a place to start.

Imagine that instead of an office you work from a retail store in a big shopping mall. All of the other attorneys in town also have stores at the mall. The lawyer next door? He offer the same services you do. The lawyer across the hall? The same.

In fact, the entire mall is filled with your competitors. The shoppers in the mall are your prospective clients. They came to the mall looking for a lawyer to hire and they walk through the mall trying to decide which one to choose.

Will it be you? Or the guy down the hall?

You don’t want to leave it to chance, do you? You want to get them into your store.

What will you do? What will you put in your store window? What signs will you put up to entice them to stop?

Hold on. We know it’s only a matter of time before one of the other lawyers starts standing at the entrance to his store calling out things to passing shoppers. Yeah, like those guys who stand on the street in front of strip clubs encouraging passers-by to come to see their show.

You’re not going to let them get all the business, are you? Hell no. You’re going to stand outside your store, too. Whatcha going to say?

Before you know it, all of the lawyers in the mall will be standing outside their store hawking their wares. It’s going to get extremely noisy in that mall. You’ll need to be really clever if you want clients to choose you.

Yes, this is a picture of a nightmare. But it’s also a decent analogy for the real world. You don’t stand outside a store shouting at passing clients, (at least I hope you don’t) but you do something similar on the Internet, in ads, and at networking events.

Use this exercise to brainstorm ideas for headlines you can use to get the attention of prospective clients who are scanning lawyers’ ads, web pages, or listings in a directory.

What could you say to get their attention? What could you offer? How can you stand out from the crowd?

Here’s a hint: Your name or your firm’s name is not a good headline. It’s not going to get anyone to come into your store. Nobody but your mama cares about your name.

The good news is that all of those ads and web pages your competitors use with their firm name as the headline make things much easier for you. You can say almost anything else and get more clients than they do.

Write a headline that promises benefits. What do you do for your clients that other lawyers don’t do (or don’t say they do)? What makes you unique or better? Why should they come into your store?

The Attorney Marketing Formula helps you choose a benefit statement for your practice. Go here.


What’s wrong with this attorney’s newspaper ad?


An attorney’s newspaper ad just appeared in our local paper. Take a look and tell me what you think.

Here’s the ad:

Law Offices of

7 lines of information about the attorney’s (30 years) civil and criminal trial experience and his recent move to our area.

“For more information regarding the law in your specific case, please contact my office for a free consultation by phone or at my office.”

Law Offices of

The ad includes the attorney’s head shot.

So, what do you think? What’s good? What’s bad? What’s missing?

Let’s start with the good.

He does present an OFFER (Free Consultation) and a CALL TO ACTION (“Call my office”).

That’s good.

He could improve his offer by telling the reader the benefits of the consultation (i.e., “Find out your rights and options, so you know what to do. . . get all your questions answered,” and so on). He should also let them know that there is no cost (yes, even though it is a “Free Consultation,” tell them again) and no obligation.

He could improve the call to action by writing his phone number BIG AND BOLD in the same sentence. “Call my office at [phone]. . .”. Even though it is spelled out below in his contact information. Don’t make people look for it.

He mentions his experience and that’s good. Including his photo is also good for this type of ad.

Now, what about the bad.

There are two things missing from this ad and they are big. Really big.

First, the headline. Or rather, the lack thereof.

You can’t use your name for a headline. Well, you can, but it’s a mistake. Why? Because unless you are famous and your name is something that people will recognize and be drawn to, your ad isn’t going to catch anyone’s attention.

Nobody cares about you. They’re busy and have their own problems and lives to lead. They’re not going to notice your ad.

Okay, some people will notice it. The ones who read the paper cover to cover every week will probably glimpse at the ad because it’s new. But most people won’t. More importantly, most of the people who need a lawyer won’t. And if they don’t notice the ad, they won’t read it and if they don’t read it, they’re not going to call.

What should be in the headline? Well, the attorney does civil and criminal litigation, so how about something that speaks to people who have been sued or arrested and don’t know what to do.

Like this:

Sued? Arrested? Find out your legal rights and options–FREE!

Okay, not brilliant, but can you see how this identifies the people this attorney is targeting? And promises a benefit?

If you’ve been sued or arrested and you’re turning pages in this newspaper, a headline like this is going to flag you down. It says, “Hey, you there with the big hairy legal problem, here’s something good for you.”

Because your lawsuit or arrest is very much on your mind right now, you stop turning pages and look at the ad.

The headline did it’s job. It got your attention and promised a benefit. So now you read the first line of the body copy. If that grabs you and promises a benefit, you keep reading. Then you see the offer for a free consultation and you might call.

Without a headline, it doesn’t matter how compelling the body copy or how great the offer because nobody will see them because they never stopped to read the ad.

Your ad is only as good as your headline.

Okay, what else is missing? Take another look and see if you can spot it.

Of course. No website.

Not having a website is unacceptable today. Guaranteed disqualification in the eyes of many prospective clients. Why? Because all they have to go on is a few self-serving words in an ad. No proof. No details. No reason to trust.

There’s no helpful information that might begin to answer their questions. The only way to get more information is to call.

If you are the only attorney in town, they would have no choice. But you’re not. A quick visit to Uncle Google or Auntie Bing reveals that there are hundreds of attorneys who do what you do, right here in my area code. And they have websites. I can go read all about my problem and their solutions, and find out things I want to know before I call.

So, prospects see your ad without a website and either (a) cross you off the list because you are a dinosaur, or (b) go online to search your name and, finding nothing, cross you off the list.

In other words, the only ones who might call are fellow dinosaurs, a species that is quickly dying out.

Actually, there are two additional clues in the ad that this attorney is living in a different century. They are both in his contact info.

The first is the word “Facsimile”. Go ask your 25 year old neighbor if he even knows what that word means.

The second is the attorney’s email address, which I didn’t include. It’s Yes, Netscape. Didn’t they help Al Gore start the Internet?

Obviously, the attorney doesn’t realize how antiquated this makes him look. Somebody should send him a telegram and let him know.

Marketing for 21st century attorneys. Click here to upgrade.


Steve Jobs’ resignation: what it means for your law practice


Steve Jobs’ abrupt resignation yesterday had social media buzzing about the news and what it means for Apple (which saw its stock immediately drop, and then rebound) and for the tech world. Every news channel and blog had something to say and the tweets and wall posts abounded.

But what does his resignation mean for attorneys? How will this affect your law practice?

Well, unless you work for Apple or one of their affiliates, it won’t affect your practice at all.

So. . . why the tease? Was my headline a gimmick to get more clicks?

Well, yes and no.

It’s true that I don’t have anything to say about how this news story will actually affect your practice, and while that smacks of gimmickry, there is a lesson in this.

The headline that brought you here illustrates an important marketing technique: tying your message–blog post, tweet, post, email–to something already on the minds of your readers or followers. According to a new Kindle ebook by Dan Zarrella, about the science and metrics behind social media, this is called “priming”. Zarrella says,

“If a subject is exposed to something related to your idea before he actually encounters your idea, he’ll be more sensitive to it, and this makes it easier to catch his attention. . . .

“The easiest way to make priming work for your idea is to create timely content. If there is a topic or news story currently making the rounds in your target audience, relate your idea to that topic, and the zeitgeist will do the priming for you.”

And so, primed as you were by the news of Jobs’ resignation, you were more inclined to click through to read this story. Yes, I cheated a bit with my headline and yes, it would have been better if I had something to say about how the resignation affected the legal profession, but then this would have been a very different blog post.

Zarrella’s book is brief, not at all dry, and has some great insights and data, such as the most and least re-tweetable words and the best times and days to tweet, blog, post to Facebbok, and send email. “In many cases, the most effective times to send are the less popular times. Because your messages have less clutter to compete with, they break through.”

Zarrella also says that people share on social media not for altruistic reasons but because the information they share reinforces their reputation. People prefer to share breaking news, for example, because it is scarce, rather than humor or opinion which is all too common.

Some might say that putting news in your headlines to piggyback on what’s already on the minds of your readers isn’t a new idea, and they would be right. I’m sure this post, with the headline, “Man Accidentally Impregnates Goat,” is getting lots of traffic. Like my post, the lesson is in the headline, not the story. (Be sure to download the free ebook he mentions, “How to Write Headlines That go Viral with Social Media”.)

So, not a new concept. What’s new is that now, social media metrics let us quantify what we always suspected, while leading us to discover ideas that never crossed our minds.

Zarrella’s book is also free, through August 27.