In working with clients large and small, I find it interesting how often they don’t realize the power of a well-written headline. I think most are in a rush to what they are trying to sell. I understand that all too well. 

I’d like to share an “insider” trade secret. 

It’s called The 4 U’s Formula For Writing Effective Headlines. The developer of this formula is a gentleman named Michael Masterson who is a colleague of Robert W. Bly – author of many books on the art of copywriting.  In his book “The Copywriter’s Handbook”, Bly talks about how short of a time you have to get a reader’s attention and hopefully draw them into the body of content you want them to read. 

The 4 U’s stand for:



As the name implies, urgency is the name of the game here. Does your headline have a sense of it? You often can create a sense of urgency by incorporating a time element, “30% off sale this weekend” has a greater sense of urgency than “30% off sale”. 


This headline is meant to be powerful and impactful. It states something new or re-states something the reader has heard before but in a new and fresh way. Bly explains “Why Japanese women have beautiful skin” was the headline in an e-mail promoting a Japanese bath kit. This is different than the typical “Save 10% on Japanese Bath Kits”.


Ultra-specific headlines are meant to tease the reader into reading further. Examples: “When should you stop eating to avoid nighttime heartburn”, “Bills it’s okay to pay late”, “Three sure-fire ways to drop inches off your belly”. 


This is where a strong subject line offers your reader a benefit to them. “Save money at the gas pump and eat healthy produce”, the benefit is savings and also a way to eat healthily. Aren’t you a little curious as to what “eat healthily” could be referencing in the headline?

There is more to this topic a whole book could be written about headlines. But the next time you are writing a headline for your email subject line or on your website, consider how your headline rates in any of these four categories. If 4 is the highest rating, try and attain as close to that in at least 2 of the 4 U’s. It’ll be sure to increase the effectiveness of your content. 


Dan Chicorel is the owner and operator of Ad-Cetera, a copywriting and social media marketing agency based near Berkeley, CA. You can reach him at 510-917-0576 or email at for a free assessment of your current marketing challenges.