The Online Marketer’s Guide To Writing High-Converting Headlines
You’ve probably seen the CopyBlogger statistic: eight out of ten people will glance at the headlines of content landing on their desk. Depressingly, only two of those people go on to read your actual content. The bottom line is simple: natural conversion rates (moving through actions from picking up content to reading content) are low. As writers and marketers, we need every weapon at our disposal to convince that reader to keep going right to the end.
It all starts with the headline
It’s a basic statistic, but it encapsulates the bigger picture of why a powerful headline is a must-have for the success and positive ROI for your blog, copy, guest posts and articles. Prevailing copywriting wisdom suggests that each word or section of content fulfills a single function: to keep the reader moving along down the page.
The stakes are highest of all when dealing with your headlines. Of the eight people that read your headline, they’ll use those few words to determine whether or not the following 500, 1000, or even 40,000 words hold any value for their life and business. The good news is that there’s a powerful body of work and research for people addressing these very issues.
Some of the world’s most talented copywriters have shared thoughts on headline writing. Here’s the distillation of all their courses, commentaries, and seminars — a selection of the best, most actionable advice I’ve seen on how to write a headline to be proud of.
Begin with the benefit in mind
When you’re crafting your copy or content, the beginning is a messy process. Big ideas are battling for mindshare, and your pile of features and benefits is a mile high. Maybe your head is swimming with facts, audience details and more. Use the headline crafting process to start to find your focus. This can be done in one of two ways — write one powerful headline that you can’t ignore or write several that give you a starting point to sort your ideas. Whatever you do, just get yourself a working title.
Let’s say you’re a search engine expert looking for gigs and you want to demonstrate the effectiveness of search engine optimization for local marketing for lawyers. A title gives you have a starting point. “3 Techniques for Instant Search Engine Rankings Boosts in the Law Industry” might be your first title. It’s not great, but it’s workable.
Back to the idea of starting with a benefit for a moment. WHY are search engine ranking increases important for lawyers? Because they’re in a service industry that relies on a constant flow of leads and prospects to stay in business. If you could take a more benefits-oriented approach, you might come up with “3 SEO Techniques for Lawyers to Attract Customers and Leads.” Still not perfect, but it’s certainly more powerful.
Get specific about your benefits
Start with the benefit in mind, and you’ll be headed in the right direction. But the trick of benefits is that they have to be specific — as specific as possible to your audience. For example, “How to Write for Social Media and Double Your Click-Through Rates in Thirty Days”. The headline’s focus and promised benefit are clear. As a reader I am able to form an expectation of what’s to follow. The benefit is also crystal clear: develop a skill and get more visibility.
A different angle for benefits is to start with the problem. Does your potential target struggle with a problem such as the inability to choose a profitable business idea? If you focus your headline around a benefit that directly connects to that problem, you’ll be way ahead. If your headline reads “A simple, 30 minute process to identify and test business ideas for profits and market size” you’re going to capture that prospect’s attention.
Find a powerful, timely hook
One of the best examples of a hook is the work of Marketing Rebel copywriter John Carlton. He’s got a great brand, but he’s also got a knack for digging deep in a client’s product, business, and audience profile to find a really unique storyline. One of his most famous headlines (which you can see here) talks about how a one-legged golfer’s tips can improve your game golf overnight.
The very image that the headline evokes brings up a picture. It piques your curiosity. Is this for real? How did he do it? If he can do it, can I improve these same problems and issues with my own golf stroke? If you’re an avid golfer, this is going to get your attention for sure.
Use your storytelling skills
Stories are part of the way that we transmit information. It’s been true across time, and it’s part of our DNA. As a content marketer, you can use this to stimulate interest, humanize your materials, and help them be memorable in a sea of content.
The classic Schlitz beer example is one of my favorites. It was a flagging regional brand of pretty average beer looking for a way to stand out. In developing the pitch, the marketers were shocked to see how hygienic the brewing process was. Every stop was carefully controlled. So they made this central to their marketing story and sold untold numbers of Schlitz, making it a leading beer.
What’s interesting here is that the process that they outlined is the process that every brewer follows. They just found, and told the story, better than and before the competition.
Finding the story in your product can give you a great hook to get started with.
Know your audience and go for the pain points
It’s all about them. Great salespeople will tell you that you have to find the benefits that speak directly to your prospect. If you can do that, usually by going straight for the pain points, and incorporate that inspiration into your headline — you’ll be on the right track. Let’s take a theoretical house sale:
Realtor: “I’d really like to sell you this house because it’ll help me pay my kid’s tuition, and send my husband and I on a nice trip to wine country. And it’s got a great two car garage.”
The example’s a little silly, but in actuality a realtor is more likely to focus on:
· The great neighborhood and its proximity to fantastic schools being a major selling point to young parents.
· The ample yard and pool are a terrific place for family gatherings, playdates, and relaxing after long days of work.
And so on. What’s your prospect or reader looking for and how does that fit in? How can you frame that from the beginning, in your headline?
Tug on the heart strings
Don’t let me convince that you need to just pile on the intellectual proof. Studies have demonstrated that buyers are driven by emotional cues. The logical proof just helps back up what their guts are telling them to do. These emotional motivations are pretty simple — health, love, money, fear, greed, hope. Those are some of the big ones. Emotional drivers can be tied in with your big idea to create very powerful headlines.
Backup everything with as much proof as you can find
After we strike the right emotional note, that’s when we start seeking out the intellectual proof to either confirm our attraction or back up our objections. Consumers are skeptical; “it’s too good to be true” runs on a loop in our heads. Bringing your best proof to bear as early in the conversation as possible is key. Starting with proof in the headline is smart strategy. This could be a statistic, a case study or just a recognizable brand name.
“Find out how this marathon runner cut her mileage time by 2 minutes with five simple diet changes.”
“Become the ultimate productivity machine — learn the mental tricks that Yale researchers say will double your productivity seven days a week.”
And so on! With the basics of effective copywriting now outlined, here’s my recommended headline writing process.
The headline writing and editing process
As you settle in to write your headline, you need to ask yourself several questions. Run through these questions and create a list of simple, bullet style answers.
· What are you really selling?
· What’s your audience profile?
· What emotional trigger will help them make the buying or conversion decision?
· What’s your company and product’s story?
· What would your company perceive as the major benefit of anything it sells?
· Is there something unusual about the product, company, or manufacturing process?
· What’s the call to action?
· What would overcome a perceived objection ?
At this point, consider brainstorming a bunch of headlines. Start with 10. If you can, push for 25 or 50. Some of the major copywriters brainstorm hundreds (hundreds!) of headlines before they pick one. It’s great practice and it forces you to choose ruthlessly which headlines are the best. Narrow down your headlines to your top choices.
Consider them objectively. Could each one be improved or made stronger? Can you cut unnecessary words? Are your verbs as strong as they can be? Are there power words that you could add? Is anything generic that could be made more specific? If you spend time evaluating these different aspects of headlines, you’ll often be surprised at how quickly a headline can go from “almost right” to truly compelling.
One last thought: consider conducting some A/B testing to make sure that you’ve really hit the right note. If you’re sending out an email to your entire newsletter list, for example, a quick test will tell you which of two headlines is better. Simply send the two versions out to a small number of people (say 100), and see which converts better. You can then use that information to improve the overall performance of your mailing.
So here’s the bottom line. Writing a great headline doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult. It’s less than 10 words of copy, right? Remember, they could be the most important words you write in the whole project. Spend enough time to understand what makes headlines effective and to revisit and revise what you come up with. Your readership numbers, conversion rates, and sales will make it worth the while.
Once you’ve written your perfect headline, be sure to see my article “The Definitive Guide to Crafting Winning Calls to Action In Your Content” to wrap up your content with that coveted conversion.
What are your top tips for writing great headlines? Let me know how you’ve written your highest converting subject lines and copy headlines below.