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Good Copy, Bad Copy: The Magic Is In The Headlines

You Blog and tweet and optimize your site and pay for ads and Facebook and syndicate articles….all to drive traffic to your site.

So what happens when the traffic gets there?

With only a few seconds to grab the attention of your site visitor and pull them into your site – your headline is the most important element of your website (this applies to email subject lines, headlines on ad copy, and headlines on articles – really all of your marketing)

Many people think of their website as a store, and they open with “Welcome.”  While it’s nice to welcome people and that is what you would do if someone walked into a physical store, it is not the same for a website. Let me explain.

When someone lands on your site, they are not actually in your store yet.  This important fact is something most people don’t realize.

When someone lands on your homepage, they are really standing outside your store – they are looking at the sign and the window display and trying to decide if they want to come in.

Your headline is your sign and your window display – it has to entice visitors to come in and browse!

Once they start reading your copy and checking out what you have to offer (clicking product links, looking at pictures etc) then they are actually in your store!

Now your site has to sell them – your content acts as your sales person and describes the benefits of the items you are offering.

So often people think they don’t need a headline – they think they have great content and great quality information and it will “sell itself”.  To be very blunt, that is a mistake and one I see site owners make far too often.

A lot of time, effort and research (testing) have gone into writing the perfect headline over the years.

Do you know how much testing magazines do to come up with the headlines you see on the covers each month?  It’s shocking!  (Tip: take a look at headlines on Vogue and Elle and other magazines and try using their formula for your own headlines – they’ve spent a ton of money getting those headlines right so use them as a guide!)

Creating The Best Headline For You:

There are different headline approaches – which headline is best really depends on your product or service and your audiencet.  Is it an ad headline, a Blog post, an article headline, headline text on a corporate web page, or a headline on a sales page?

If you want to go with a strong headline but don’t want too much hype, then you should go with a benefit-oriented headline that promises something but isn’t too over-the-top.  You can also create some curiosity.

Here are a few samples:

The Real Truth About SEO

What You MUST Know Before You Hire An SEO Firm

Insider SEO Secrets To Increase Rankings and Traffic

You’ve created curiosity, you’ve told them what they can expect to learn and you’ve kept the hype to a minimum.

These headlines are strong and effective but sometimes you need to pack a little more power.  If your competitors are all promising the same info, then yours isn’t really going to stand out so you need to step your game up.

Before we go into some more power-packed headlines, let me address a common concern I hear all the time…

“But I know my audience/customers/readers/industry and they just don’t like this over-the-top hype”

While you do know your industry/clients/readers and you do know what they like, unless you are a trained copywriter that has tested tons of different headlines, you don’t really know what will work.  The truth is most people are afraid to get bolder in their marketing.  No one wants to offend their readers or harm their credibility.  But the truth is, this stuff works!

There is definitely something to be said for knowing your audience and targeting your copy and there is definitely merit to doing that but there is also a time to push the envelope and see if you can improve your response.

OK, back to some other headline examples:

Other effective headlines are ones that talk to people’s pain – they tap into whatever emotion people have based on their need.  It taps into their worry, fear, frustration, anger etc.

(Tip: Fear of loss is a greater motivator than desire to gain! That means people are more often motivated by missing out on something than they are by the thought of gaining that same thing.  The end result is the same – they acquire an item – but it’s how you present it – Get This versus Don’t Miss Out On This.  When you word it like they may be missing out on something it motivates them more.)

Here are some headlines that tap into the “pain” (the emotion behind the need).

Stop Banging Your Head Against The Wall To Get Top Rankings – Don’t Miss Out On Insider Secrets To Make Your Quest For Rankings Easier.

I’ve addressed their pain and I’ve also promised a benefit and played up the fear of loss angle.

Another sample headline:

Stop The Insanity: Easy Link Building For Beginners (Including My Top Secret Link Building Strategy You Won’t Want To Miss)

Tired Of Wasting Time On Twitter?  Learn How I Used Twitter To Generate $39, 872

(Notice the specificity of the number. Claims are always more believable when they are very specific)

Please remember that you too should test different headlines and find out what works for you.

For those that want to play around with what I’ve already shared, go ahead and get started.  If your appetite has been whetted and you want to delve a little deeper, here is some more in-depth information on crafting compelling headlines.

You may be familiar with AIDA.  It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.  To break it down further, it means you have to remember to: capture your reader’s attention, arouse their interest, increase their desire and lead them to take some kind of action.

So, what does it mean to increase their desire?  What it really means is to elicit an emotional response from them.  People buy based on emotion.  So, the key to remember is that you want to illicit an emotional response for the reader.

Look at this headline “Discover The Top 3 Crucial Tips You Must Know To Create Powerful Headlines ….” – the first part can cause people to feel uncomfortable (fear) – they don’t want to be the only one that doesn’t know!

Improving Step By Step

I’ve worked with clients to get them to jazz up headlines and create more impact and it’s often a process.  They often start with something that is scaled back and more comfortable and then I push for more impact.  Here are a series of headlines that show how you can go from basic to dazzling with a few tweaks.

Draft 1…

Information You Need About Headlines

  1. This is short, to the point and tells people what they can expect.  However there is nothing exciting, it does mention information “you need” but it just doesn’t have enough of an impact to really cause people to feel they are missing something.

Draft 2….

The Most Important Information You Must Have About Headlines

  1. This is getting better but it is still not right.  You are implying there is a lot of information out there and telling them that you have the most important information.  It is still too vague though, so let’s take another stab and make it more specific.

Draft 3…

The Top 3 Things You Must Know About Headlines

  1. This is more direct and makes people feel like there are some very important and specific pieces of information they need to have.  This has now created an element of fear – fear that they are going to miss out on knowing the Top 3 most important things.  Of all the things there are to know, these 3 are the things that must know, no matter what.

And finally, the last version…

Discover The Top 3 Crucial Tips You Must Know To Create Powerful Headlines and Stop Losing Sales

  1. I have added another element to be afraid of.  Now people are not only afraid of what they don’t know but they are also afraid of losing sales because of it.  I also added a verb at the start and jazzed up the wording to create more of an impact.

OK, so that covers step 1 (using AIDA)  Now on to step 2….

Use action words – verbs! Verbs encourage readership and guides them.  You can use words like:

  1. Discover
  2. Find
  3. Get
  4. Learn
  5. Join
  6. See
  7. Read
  8. Etc

An example would be:  “Discover Top Weight Loss Secrets” instead of just saying “Top Weight Loss Secrets”.

Give and Get

Another approach is to let people know what they have to give up to get the info you are promising:

For Only $7 Get Insider Secrets From Top Bloggers

For Only 6 Minutes Of Your Time You Can Learn The Number One Mistake Most People Make With Their Facebook Fan Page

You’ll notice the specificity again – I used 6 minutes.  If I had said 5 or 10 there would be less impact.

Get Going

That’s the end of Headlines 101.  Now it’s time to check out your headlines on your ads, Blog posts, web pages, articles and sales copy and see how they measure up.  Start playing around with some juicier headlines and have some fun.

Stay tuned for the next article in the Good Copy, Bad Copy series where I talk about body content, calls to action and getting people to take your MDA (most desired action).

As always, I welcome questions and comments.

Category SEO
Jennifer Horowitz

Jennifer Horowitz is the Director of Marketing for – a full service SEO, Web Design & Development and Social ...

Good Copy, Bad Copy: The Magic Is In The Headlines

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