Why Headline Testing is Still Valuable and 5 Easy Tips for Writing Variations That'll Win

  |  October 8, 2013   |  Comments   |  

You need to write content that will actually sell. Here are 5 tips to write headlines worth testing.

I have never liked to test small changes with my clients because I know testing bigger concepts get bigger wins. With that said, it’s important to remember that no matter how fantastic your design may be, your product or service won’t sell unless you’re providing the right content to your audience. That’s right—you have heard it before—content is king.

A good design will always be important since users form a snap judgment about your website and its content, but what happens if they don’t bounce? They read (or scan) your site. You can’t simply create a good design and write content that you think will sell. You need to write content that will actually sell.

Why should you test headlines?

  • Headlines are often the first thing a user sees. With the amount of information we are bombarded with online, users need to quickly scan ad copy, headlines, and subheadings to filter the content they read. Your headline is often the only chance you have to catch their interest and compel them to dig deeper into your sales message. It doesn’t matter how amazing your supporting copy is, if you don’t have a headline that draws readers in, you might as well throw the rest of your content out the window (I guess deleting it would work too).
  • It’s one of the easiest tests you can run. I have talked about testing implementation and how it seems to prevent even the smartest companies from creating an optimization program. Headline and copy tests though are among the easiest things to implement. You can still be bold when you test headlines, so don’t forget to try wildly different appeals.
  • You can use the insights across multiple channels. Like most tests you run online, you can easily transfer insights to other digital channels or even to offline marketing efforts. An effective appeal can just as easily draw users in from print, at home or in their car.

If you want some of the best advice on the art of writing headlines, I suggest you turn to copywriting legends such as John Caples and David Ogilvy. If you want to get started today, here are 5 quick tips:

5 easy tips for writing a headline worth testing:

  1. Understand the appeal of your product. Don’t guess what your users want! Talk to them. They will tell you why they like your product and will definitely tell you what they hate about it. Ask them through surveys, emails, over the phone, etc. The bottom-line is that you should be asking, not guessing. You don’t need a large sample, but you do need a decent cross-section of users so you can write appeals that resonate with your target audience.
  2. Always add self-interest. We’re busy. We don’t have time to invest in an article, product or service unless we’ve come across information we care about or need. This may seem obvious, but go back and read some of the headlines around your industry (or maybe even on your site). You will quickly notice that many writers violate this fundamental rule. If your target audience is left asking, “Why do I care?” or “So what?” then you have lost them before you even had a chance.
  3. Resist the temptation to be clever and practice being straightforward. You think you’re funny and/or smart and that’s okay, but your users don’t really care when it comes to headlines. In fact, when a user has to figure out what you are trying to say, then, again, you have probably lost them before you even had a chance.
  4. Add curiosity to your headlines if you can. Curiosity has a lot of pulling power. If you can combine curiosity with self-interest, you usually have a winning headline. It’s not just about making someone say, “That could help me in my life,” but “That could help me, and I wonder how that’s possible.” Remember not to give so much away in the headline that the user doesn’t see a need to continue reading.
  5. Test it before you test it! Once you have established the appeal, it’s time to write a straightforward, self-interest headline that promotes curiosity. Don’t try to get it right in the first 10 minutes. The best advice is to write as many headlines as you can and then come back and review them the next day.From there, choose your best headlines and use test them on your colleagues, spouse, grandma, whomeveryou think represents your target audience (and will return your emails).

Once you have reduced your headlines down to the best variations, find the right place to test and watch the effects on your conversion rate. You may find yourself shocked at the results, but a simple headline test really can have a significant impact.

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Breanne Maliniak

Breanne Maliniak is a user experience and conversion rate optimization consultant. With over 5 years of experience in the digital space, her passion is balancing business and consumer needs to improve her clients’ profitability. With years of consulting for clients of all sizes in B2B and B2C industries, she firmly believes that a company’s success relies on happy customers and works on helping organizations discover and connect user experience to every facet of their business. By doing extensive research, Breanne’s passion for creating targeted data-driven optimization strategies has led to successful projects with marquee clients such as SAP, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Yves Saint Laurent, Hewlett-Packard and Aberdeen Asset Management. In 2010, Breanne was recognized with the HSMAI Adrian Award for the Best Search Marketing Strategy.

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