Whether you’re writing a blog posts, sales letter, email, or any kind of copy where you want to engage your reader…
… If you want your copy to perform well, you have to start with an attention grabbing headline.
In this short post I’ll show you how to capture the attention of your ideal audience, and pull them into your copy.
This lesson is crucial because if your headline doesn’t bring people in to your copy, then it doesn’t matter what you’re selling or how great your offer is. Because few people will ever see it.
The late, Great David Ogilvy was quote as saying
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
Which makes sense, because if 100 people see your headline, but it doesn’t peak the interest of 80, then that’s 80 people who will never read the body copy.
I guess you could say a bad headline can kill your copy, before it ever gets a chance.
So, how would do we minimize the chance of writing a bad headline, and maximize the chance of creating a winner…?
Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about right now…
Oh, one more thing before we get into it…
Depending on the medium your using, you may be restricted for how long your headline can be (a sales letter headline can “potentially” be as long as you want it to be, but many online platforms have word or character limits)
However, the general laws of crafting powerful headlines apply across the board.
The first thing we need to know is…
All copy, including the headline, starts and ends with the target market.
We always need to think about what’s in it for the audience. Because I guarantee you that’s all they’re thinking about when they see your message.
It may be a cold hard fact, but it’s a fact none the less… Most people don’t care what you know or what you can do, until they know what it will do for them.
The second thing we need to understand is…
Headlines (and copy) fail for a number of reasons.
Some of these reasons are beyond our control (For example: we can’t tell what kind of a day our audience will be having when our copy gets in front of them)
But we can control other elements of a high converting headline, and give ourselves the highest probability of attracting our ideal clients.
The following lessons are designed from testing, tweaking, and measuring results from thousands of headlines. As a consequence, certain styles and elements have proven to produce greater impact on overall performance.
Let’s look at some of the more powerful elements that can help you make your headlines more impactful…
1. Use specific numbers in your headline whenever possible
Including specific numbers, or referencing specific data in your headline is an effective way to make your headline more powerful.
Experience shows that specific numbers almost always increase response rates over generalized offers. Generalizing is intangible, but a specific number is something people can see and feel.
Instead of saying “Lose weight within a month” …say… “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days”
People can grasp at the idea of “losing weight”, but they can grab hold of 30 pounds.
Instead of saying “make more money this year” …say… “make an extra $23,000 in the next 12 months”
“Making more money” sounds nice, but “$23,000 in 12 months” looks like a goal with a plan.
So whenever possible use specific numbers or data in at least one of your testable headlines.
Another interesting phenomenon is that “odd” numbers seem to increase engagement also.
“These 100 people just learned how to…” is a decent headline starter. But in many tests odd numbers like “these 101 people just learned how to…” has historically produced better response.
Some researchers have conducted experiments to figure out why odd numbers seem to be stickier than even numbers to most people.
So far there’s nothing I’ve seen that’s conclusive. But some of the research seems to be leaning towards either “odd numbers aren’t balanced so the Zeigarnik effect keeps us engaged” or “our brain uses different thought patterns to process odd numbers so they require more concentration”.
I would love to know how it works. But for now, I’ll just be satisfied knowing that it does seem to work.
Also, certain numbers are more effective than others…
A number ending in 7 is worth testing against any other number you decide to use. I don’t know if it’s natural, or cultural (I’m leaning towards cultural) but the number 7 seems to attract a lot of people.
“6 easy steps to help you…” – rarely has the same impact as – “7 easy steps to help you…” even though 6 steps would be easier than 7.
NOTE: Headlines with even numbers also perform well (i.e. Top 10 ways to…) So it’s always worth testing it both ways.
2. Be specific, but vague
Wait… What??? How can we specific and vague at the same time?
Well, we can be specific about the numbers and the result, but be vague about the process.
If we want our headline to have the best chance of producing great results, we want to make it specific enough to look scientific, but vague enough to provoke curiosity.
The purpose of the headline is not necessarily to sell your product all by itself (although it would be great if it did) but mostly, the headline needs to capture our readers attention and pull him into the copy.
Take this example for an easy weight loss program…
“These 37 people lost an average of 17 pounds each, by walking just 1 mile a day”
OK, we used specific numbers, and even used the lucky number “7”, and that’s great. But now that I know the secret, why would I buy what your selling…?
…I’ll just go walk a mile and save my money.
A better headline would be…
“These 37 people lost an average of 17 pounds each, in just 2 weeks, using this one simple method”
Now we’ve added another specific (the time frame) but even more important, we’ve left the mystery open. And anyone who wants to know what the simple method is, needs to keep reading.
So that’s just one example of being specific and vague at the same time.
3. Use Curiosity
Of course we can’t always use specific numbers. But we can still tap into our readers curiosity.
Historically, one of the better openers to invoke curiosity has always been the “How To” headline. How-To headlines not only promise knowledge, instruction and inside information, but they also invoke curiosity.
Take the headline example from above…
“These 37 people lost an average of 17 pounds in just 2 weeks”
This opening taps into social economics by stating that others are taking the journey too. And being a social animal, most humans would rather be part of a group than go it alone.
But what if we don’t have specific groups of people to use as social proof? Then we can go for the “How To” approach.
“How to lose an average of 17 pounds in just 2 weeks”
This opening still uses specific numbers, and now it also offers the promise of new insights, and an exact method.
If we want to make it even more curiosity provoking we can add a power word to our headline…
“Discover how to…”
The word “discover” adds an element of adventure to the mix, and can help ramp up the curiosity emotion in our reader. Because even if we’re not very adventurous, most of us would like to think that we could be, under the right circumstances.
Another power word that gets overused these days is the word “Amazing”. It still works, so it’s well worth adding it to at least one of your testable headlines.
i.e. “This amazing secret will show you how to lose up to 17 pounds in just 2 weeks”
There’s a lot of power in that headline. We have an “amazing secret” which promotes curiosity (most of us at least want to know what the “secret” is), we threw in the “how to”, and we used “specific numbers”. If I were split testing headlines for a weight loss product this headline would be a contender worth testing.
4. Ask a question
If we don’t have solid (and honest) statistical data for our claims we can still use the good old question headline.
Question headlines can imply a claim without actually claiming it. So using the same example as above, we could ask…
“Can this amazing secret show you how to lose up to 17 pounds in just 2 weeks?”
Now we’ve implied a claim without actually claiming it as fact. Instead we simply asked a question that gets people curious about what the secret is, and let’s them imply the facts to themselves.
Questions are powerful because they promote curiosity. Just seeing a question gets our brain to start searching for answers. The best question headlines either ask something that the reader can immediately answer “yes” to, or something that makes them want to know what the answer might be.
OK, so far we’ve gone over a few key concepts to help you add more impact to your headlines. Which brings us to the end of part 1 on this lesson for creating powerful headlines.
In part 2 we’ll look at some more powerful headline formulas, and I also have a bonus waiting for you.
So go ahead and mark this lesson complete and I’ll see you on the other side…
Here’s to writing more compelling copy… more often…
All the best,
- Part 2 – The secret to writing persuasive sales copy - April 30, 2020
- The Secret To Writing Persuasive Sales Copy - April 19, 2020
- Here’s Why SEO Writing Can Destroy Your Content (and what you can do to make it better) - March 29, 2020