Have you ever had the feeling that you just can’t seem to master the art of headlines?
Perhaps you’ve thought to yourself, “I have all this useful information available, but how do I turn this data and technique into a masterful slate of high-converting headlines?”
I hate to break it to you, but you’re doing it wrong.
There is fairly little “art” involved in writing headlines. It’s a science.
The decidedly boring reality of it all is that there is nothing new under the sun. What worked 10 years ago is the same as what worked 50 years ago—and what works today.
Over the years, the same basic headline techniques have been utilized to rake in millions upon millions of dollars, and I’m going to list them out for you right here. You don’t have to be original. You just have to convert. And if you do it right, you’ll end up with something I call the “X-factor,” which I’ll explain in just a minute.
1. Make Your Headline See-Through
Your headlines should be as clear as a flawless pane of soda-lime glass. This isn’t the place for ambiguity.
Get super specific.
Readers have an endless amount of content to choose from these days. They are always a click away from interesting new information. Flirting around the point isn’t going to convert.
And even if you are utilizing a curiosity-based strategy, your headline should frame a specific question that simply must be answered.
For example, let’s take a look at the following headline:
“Increase Your Email List With This Simple Method”
It isn’t as bad as it could be. It’s relatively straightforward, but it also leaves a lot of questions on the table.
Potential readers will ask: Will this method increase my email list size via subscriptions or other, less-above-the-board methods? Simple, yes, but does it take a long time to implement? Has it worked for someone else or is it just theory?
Think about your personal learning experience. You’ve seen these articles before. You’ve read about this stuff. You probably feel like you know the common tactics the top guys use to increase their email lists. Why waste the click?
And then you come across this gem from Bryan Harris:
“How to use a giveaway to get 2,239 email subscribers in 10 days”
Now that is intriguing. It offers me something extremely specific within a specified amount of time. I can’t NOT click that headline. And guest what? Surprise, surprise… I clicked that headline and read that article.
Headlines aren’t the place for ambiguity. Get specific. Get REALLY SPECIFIC.
2. Highlight The Benefits
So we know we need to be specific. But “Jump 5 Inches On The Count Of 3” is specific, and that’s probably not going to be a winning a conversion contest for your website.
What exactly should our headlines be specific about?
Readers want a payoff. Whether it’s a business solution or a guaranteed chuckle, they want to know that converting your headline will give theme a defined benefit.
If you are selling a product, buyers want to know how they will benefit.
If you are asking for email sign-ups, subscribers want to know how they will benefit.
If you are simply wanting to drive traffic to your website through social media, viewers want to know how they will benefit.
Let’s look at an example.
I was recently working with a startup that focuses on coaching tutorials. They offer a platform for world-class coaches to sell courses to young athletes, and their front page headline looked like this:
“Train with a great coach from anywhere.”
What is that?
It’s accurate. But it doesn’t communicate a compelling benefit.
These guys have sports legends offering courses on their site, and yet their copy used the phrasing “great coach.”
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. What does a young athlete want when visiting this site?
So we reworked the headline into the following:
“Master your sport. Learn form the world’s greatest coaches.”
We focused on the benefits and communicated them to the customer.
- These courses will help you master your sport.
- These courses allow you to learn from the best coaches in the world.
It’s not rocket science. Use your headlines to highlight the exact ways in which your content benefits the user.
3. Include Numbers
In the same way that people want specifics, people really, really like numbers.
I mean seriously, people LOVE numbers.
It’s such a guaranteed win, you can utilize it with these 3 simple steps:
- Take a headline
- Throw some numbers in
- Watch your conversion rate increase
As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s fairly close to the truth.
You’ll notice that numbered list articles don’t just do well. They are head and shoulders above the rest.
But you don’t need to write a list article to take advantage of headlines. Let’s look at this example from Highrise.
As you can see, there are no numbers in the primary headline. Let’s try adding some numbers.
It’s not a list article, but adding “30-day free trial” increased conversions by 30%.
Simple yet incredibly effective.
The way we use numbers in our headlines can also have a profound effect. In his research on the psychology behind numbers in marketing, Hans Villarica discusses a few fascinating insights.
- Size matters – 2,000 miligrams sounds like more than 2 grams. 600 minutes sounds better than 10 hours.
- Units matter – In contrast to point #1, certain measurement units can be more influential than the quantities used. For some people 3 weeks has a much longer feel than 21 days. 2 years might seem better than 24 months.
- Order matters – The first number leaves the biggest impression. $35 for 100 unites is less attractive than 100 units for $35.
You get the point. Numbers are extremely influential.
4. Extend The Hook
So at this point, we are writing up super specific headlines that highlight the benefits and utilize numbers whenever possible.
Time for the finishing blow.
The “X-factor” of any headline is the hook. It’s the curiosity gap, the sense of urgency, or the deep psychological resonance that compels the viewer to action.
For example, I recently pitched a dream client of mine about optimizing his online marketing efforts.
I could have simply said “I will increase your online revenue,” but instead, I mentioned that while he is doing well, he is “leaving a TON of money on the table.”
No one likes leaving money on the table. The imagery conveyed communicates missed opportunity. Everyone knows they could be “making more money,” but leaving money on the table is a much a more powerful use of wording. It hooks you in—and consequently, I landed a meeting with the client.
In his headline-writing guide, Neil Patel offers the example of Trunk Club, a men’s clothing company. Spot the hook.
This headline conveys a specific benefit, but it also goes so much deeper. It hooks in the reader by tugging at a root desire.
Most men don’t dress nice simply for the exercise of it. It’s a part of the hierarchy. It communicates much more than your fashion sensibility or taste in style.
It’s a means to an end, and this headline speaks directly to that end. Hook. Line. Sinker.
Another option for your hook is a use of time-based urgency. Email marketers make extensive use of this one.
You’re not having a sale. You’re having a 1-day sale that expires in 2:12:23 and counting.
You’re not offering a discount, you’re offering the “last chance ever to secure this incredible product at this rock-bottom pricing!”
How many tools did you buy this last Black Friday because you’re never going to get a chance at that price again?
I’m as conservative a spender as they come, and I bought 3.
Urgency works. It’s another type of hook that adds the X-factor to your headline.
5. Deliver On Your Promise
It’s tempting to get into a click-bait mentality. After all, making outlandish promises won’t directly overdraw your bank account.
But think about this.
The secret to great marketing is helping connect people who want something with people who can give it to them.
It’s not always an efficient system, and yes, there are those who will successfully game that system, but is that really your goal?
Here’s how I personally respond to organizations that over-promise.
I return their products.
I unsubscribe from their mailing lists.
I check for their URL to ensure I don’t click through to another one of their disappointing articles.
I tell my friends, family members, and business associates that the value isn’t there with that brand.
I’m the least spiteful person you’ll ever meet, but when a company promises me something and then fails to deliver, I don’t go back for more.
If your headline promises access to the world’s greatest coaches, it better not be Little League Bob from Scranton. If you are promising a method to land 2,000+ email subscribers in less than two weeks, that method better be reproducible.
If I wasn’t 100% confident that I could increase my dream client’s online revenue, I wouldn’t have made the pitch.
Headlines are the effective tool of great value providers. If the value isn’t there, fix that first, and you’ll see much better long-term results with your exceptional new headlines.
Your turn! What proven headline techniques have had the most impact on your conversion rate?
Read other Crazy Egg articles by Jacob McMillen.