Whether you’re a copywriter or a marketer, conversion is ultimately your business.
My goal as a direct response copywriter is to persuade as many readers/viewers/listeners to take the next step in the buying process. Your job as a marketer is to maximize ROI for your company or client. And that means maximizing conversion.
How does this play out in copywriting? In more ways than you know. But today, I’m going to start at the top—with your headlines.
Why your headline matters
The headline is the advertisement for your advertisement: the attempt to persuade the reader to keep reading.
You can create the most perfect body copy with the most sumptuous offer and the most elegant graphics, but the copy and body will ONLY work when the headline stops the reader and persuades him or her to pay attention to you.
You can only convert if people read your offer. And your headline is key. Research by Eyetrack III found that dominant headlines most often draw people’s eyes first when they enter a Web page—especially when the headline is in the upper left.
Now let’s look at some headlines that tend to draw attention…
Headlines that work
You see headlines every day on your favorite websites and, if you still get one, your newspaper. A couple of famous examples of newspaper headlines.
For the record, Freddie Starr is a well-known entertainer in the United Kingdom. Here’s a beauty from New York City.
It’s perhaps the most famous New York Post headline ever. Yes, these headlines are a touch extreme, but they certainly grab your attention and encourage you to keep reading. They have to. They appear on the front cover of tabloid newspapers, sold by a street vendor.
But you also see headlines in less obvious places.
An AdWords ad is a headline. That subject line in your email inbox? That’s a headline. Strangely, very few emails have a headline. Take a look at these… from famous marketers.
The example above is from Dan Kennedy’s group. The headline is the subject line, “Five ways to get more referrals.”
Here’s an example with a big offer in the headline.
You’re not going to find the world’s top digital marketers sharing their precise testing data with the outside world. However, you can be totally certain they are testing like crazy. So, when you’re creating headlines, take some cues from the world’s largest and most successful marketers. Emulate their headlines.
How to create headlines that convert
While many aspects of digital marketing can be crazily difficult and confusing, headlines are the easiest element to test. They’re also the easiest to create.
Here’s why. There’s absolutely nothing new about headlines. The same basic headline formats worked 100 years ago. They work today. And they’ll work in 50 years.
When it comes to headlines, you simply take a long look at what’s worked and recreate the headlines based on your product or service. Don’t panic, it’s not plagiarism.
I wrote a detailed blog about headlines in April last year. But let me quickly summarize 8 popular templates.
1. Are you…
“Are You Looking for a Way to Save Over $10,000 off the Price of a New Car?”
2. How To…
“How to Solve the AdWords Puzzle in Just 30 Minutes”
3. Secrets of…
“Secrets of the World’s Most Successful Pest Control Business Owners.”
4. Give Me XXX Minutes
“Give Me 10 Minutes and I Will Show You How to Save Thousands on Home Repairs.”
5. XXX Ways to…
“6 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Table Manners By Dinnertime Today.”
6. The news headline
You’ve seen a couple of examples above from tabloids. A marketing example…
“New Technology from Silicon Valley Makes it Easier to Grow Grass.”
7. The testimonial
“Finally! I Found the Bed I’ve Been Looking For!”
8. The offer headline
“33% Off Every Product in the Store.”
8.5. The FREE headline
How could I forget this one?
“Get a FREE engine with a set of new wiper blades.”
Here’s what they all have in common
If there’s a commonality in the headlines, it’s the inclusion of a benefit. I always try to include a big benefit in the headline because the benefit answers the most important question the reader is asking: “What’s in it for me?”
Need more help?
You’ll find at least 20 additional templates in use all over the Internet, direct mail, and TV.
The marketing world provides ample clues when it comes to super-effective headlines. Let me give you two guides I use regularly.
Million Dollar Mailings is a compilation of direct response pieces that generated over $1 million in sales. It’s by Denny Hatch. It can be a difficult book to find but you’ll get well over 100 headline variations you can test. Most of them focus on the offer.
Robert Boduch’s book about headlines is easier to find and less expensive. Each headline was used successfully in a direct mail or online promotion. The book is titled Great Headlines Instantly.
Again, it’s difficult to find an abundance of raw data about headline testing. I wish I could share some recent data from a client, but my NDA keeps me from revealing all. But here’s what I’ve discovered from several years of headline testing.
- The “how to” headline and the main variation, which simply leaves out the “how to,” wins at least 70% of the time.
- Test variations on the “how to” format, but test at least 10 different templates.
- Sometimes a shorter headline works. Sometimes a longer headline beats the control.
- Check your ego at the door. You might fall in love with a headline only to discover it fails miserably.
- There’s no need to spend hours obsessing over headlines. Keep them simple.
Now let’s look for some testing data…
It helps to know what other marketers are doing. In an article about headline testing, Michael Aagaard discovered that a headline combining something free with the opportunity to earn money provided a 41% boost over the control for a betting service landing page.
Control headline (Question): “Passionate about Betting – We are Too”
Treatment one (Benefit): “Make More Money on Your Bets – Get Free Betting Tips”
Treatment two (Loss aversion): “Stop Losing Money on Your Bets – Get Daily Betting Tips”
Treatment one was the winner but treatment two provided an 11% boost. So satisfying people’s greed still works.
Some final tips
Take these steps to improve the quality of your headlines and set up testing… without spending hours working on headlines.
- Really get inside the head of your potential buyer. What do they really, really want? If you’re selling a product to help vegans maintain healthy protein levels, you have a good sense of what they want. Include this core desire in the headline.
- Develop and maintain an arsenal of core headline templates.
- Start with the “how to” headline. You’ll discover it’s tough to beat this template.
- You can test 2-5 headlines at a time, depending on your testing software.
- Try a short headline with a longer sub-head. You can also try a longer headline with 2-3 bullets under the headline. I give myself a 3 second limit for headlines: it must take less than 3 seconds to read aloud.
The perfect headline is a moving target. You may enjoy some success with a headline then discover it becomes less effective over time. A news headline needs to be timely. Competitors may imitate your headline, forcing you to try another version.
But keep your headlines simple and keep testing. You’ll find those conversion-boosting headlines.
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