|Subscribe to get the most up-to-date Internet Marketing tips and research straight to your inbox.|
Headlines are the most important element of any copy. Before a reader gets to your compelling story, your insightful analogy, or your product’s fantastic benefits, they’ve got to read a headline that makes them think “I need this information.”
How am I so sure the headline is that critical? The answer: testing. Our A/B tests on emails, landing pages, and web forms show that the biggest lifts usually result from changes to headlines.
To help you visualize, apply the headline and body copy to the concept of the sales funnel. Many people will read the headline, fewer will read the copy, and fewer still will convert into customers. The headline is the opening salvo that often determines victory or defeat for your campaign.
So, since we’ve got that figured out, surely we’ve devised a fool-proof formula for writing awesome headlines, right? Actually, there’s no surefire template. You do have three weapons at your disposal: a copywriting mindset, a set of proven techniques and a few best practices no matter how you decide to spin your headline.
In order to connect with your reader, you must mentally become your reader. Think all the way through the journey they’ve taken to arrive at your content. What are they searching for that you, and only you, can deliver better than anyone else? And why is what you have to say deserving of a reader’s precious time?
Once you’ve walked a mile in your audience’s shoes, select which ammunition to use. These are some headline elements which are proven to work. It’s up to you to decide which ones will most appeal to your target audience.
1. Include Numbers
In the era of the listicle, marketers can be assured that lists attract attention. “5 Ways to…”, “These 6 Things are Ruining…”, “10 Puppies Who…”, you get the picture. In a world where massive amounts of info compete for our attention, people are attracted to easily digestible chunks of information (a fact which also informs design and formatting choices.)
If your content can be presented as a list, it may make sense to do so. The formality of your subject matter is another consideration here—people already mock some major content sites for their use of this trope, so heavy or serious subject matter will not fit.
2. Use the 5 “W’s” (and 1 “H”)
Journalists are trained to ask who, what, when, where, why and how. Consider using these words in your headlines to explain what’s happened up front. If you can summarize or explain the content of the article in a sentence, those interested in the subject matter will be more likely to want to learn more.
“Here’s How a 13-Year-Old Kid Made $20,000 in One Day”
“Meet John Q. Public, the Man Who Runs the Internet”
“What Your Business Needs to Drive More Leads” (rhyme bonus)
These headlines prepare the reader for the article/page in a conversational style.
3. Share a Secret
Everyone loves secrets! Even the word itself conjures salacious feelings—knowing something others don’t gives one a feeling of power, and people enjoy the advantage of having privileged information.
Look at the multimillion dollar marketing concept “The Secret”. Its success lies in its promise to reveal the hidden information and methods that unlock a happy life for the reader— a premise which is irresistible to those feeling the pain the book/movie addresses.
“The Best-Kept Secret to a Happy Marriage”
“Secret Methods for Closing Deals Over the Phone”
Don’t you want to get the scoop on this powerful and mysterious info?
4. Teach the Reader
Many searchers are looking for information on how to solve a problem they’re experiencing, or on how to do something better. Reach out to these people and let them know you’re there to help them gain the knowledge they crave. Help the reader learn how to do better.
“Learn How to Write Headlines that Convert”
“Learn the Secret of Motivating Bored Employees”
Compounding techniques? Now we’re getting somewhere.
5. Use Pathos
Sometimes tugging at your readers’ heartstrings can encourage them to dive into your content. Consider the story of a child who donated his life savings to a family whose house burned down.
“Boy Donates to Needy Family”
“Young Philanthroper Learned it From Dad”
“7-Year-Old Gives Everything to Help Grief-Stricken Family”
One of these three headlines really turns up the emotion and positions the kid as a hero. Emotional headlines work especially well in the case of human interest stories, or for fundraising or humanitarian causes or services.
Best Practices in Order of Importance
1. Test Your Headlines
You should test your headlines against one another, studying their effects on metrics like time on page, bounce rate, conversions, etc.
2. Write Accurately
Use the style guidelines appropriate for your industry (usually AP). Be sure that your headline matches the content of your article or page—no bait-and-switching allowed. Use proper grammar and ALWAYS have someone proof your work before publishing it (I like two sets of eyes on everything I write).
3. Use Title Case
This practice should be subordinate to advice about testing. As a rule of thumb, however, headlines should use title case. Most writers will agree, unless they’ve found a better practice for their niche (or they’re e.e. cummings).
Headline design is but one element of good copywriting, a practice emphasized by Bizzuka in our work with clients. Read more about how professional copywriting can make a difference on your website or marketing materials.