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Let Your Headline Sells Your Product

62 Comments · Web Copy

According to David Ogilvy, founder of the Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency and author of Confessions of an Advertising Man and Ogilvy on Advertising,

“On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy.  It follows that, unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money”

Here’s a plan for crafting never-fail headlines:

Step 1.  Write 30 to 50 headlines before you decide on the one you’re going to use.

Step 2.  Step back from the headline for a day and read it again with a fresh perspective.

Step 3.  Ask yourself, “How can this headline be better?”  “Is this the best possible headline for my objective, my target audience, and my product or service?”

Most important, don’t take shortcuts when crafting the headline. If you write a weak one, you will have failed, because no matter how good the rest of the piece is, no one will ever read it, and, consequently, no one will buy what you’re selling. 

Remember, the most important element of a website is the first screen, and the most important element of the first screen is the headline. Therefore, you must give it the attention it deserves.

The headline (or opening statement or its equivalent) is the most important component of any direct-response ad, whether it’s a printed sales letter or an “advertorial” on your web site.  If you don’t stop readers dead in their tracks with your headline, you don’t stand a chance of making a sale.

The sales-producing ability of your website is directly proportional to the number of people who read what’s on it. 

That is, the more people who read your web copy, the more sales it will generate.  Therefore, the headline must grab the reader’s attention, since its primary purpose is to stimulate people to start reading the copy.

John Caples (the advertising industry’s advocate of rigorously tested, measured, and verifiable advertising effectiveness) said in his book, Tested Advertising Methods, “In a print ad, 75 percent of the buying decisions are made at the headline alone.”

I’m speculating that online, that percentage might be a bit less–perhaps 60 to 65 percent. 

Although I haven’t found statistics to support my contention, after factoring in the attention deficit, information overwhelm, and general skepticism so prevalent on the web, I feel reasonably comfortable with my speculation; 60 to 65 percent is still significant enough that you should take the subject of headlines more seriously than any other aspect of web copy.

What’s in a Headline?
Your headline should convey a benefit of interest to your target audience.  It must answer the reader’s unspoken question, “What’s in it for me?” 

There are two basic approaches to answering that question, and each stems from one of two basic human needs:  (1) to gain pleasure or (2) to avoid pain.

You can appeal to the human need to gain pleasure by pointing out how the readers can attain or accomplish something–or gain, save, take advantage, or profit–by using your product or service. 

More particularly, your headline can demonstrate how your product or service will meet your readers’ needs or solve their problems. 

Here are some classic examples of headlines with appeals based on pleasure:

The Secret to Making People Like You

How I Sold $200 Million Worth of Products and Services

Make Anyone Do Anything You Mentally Command–With Your Mind Alone!

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Why Some Consultants Earn $100,000 to $250,000 per Year While Most Struggle Just to Get By

Play Guitar in Seven Days or Your Money Back

Alternatively, you can appeal to the human need to avoid pain by showing how readers can reduce or eliminate undesirable things such as discomfort, embarrassment, loss, illness, mistakes, poverty, or boredom, to name a few. 

Here are a few famous ones that play on that need:

Do You Make These Mistakes in English?

Are You Ever Tongue-Tied at a Party?

You Can Laugh at Money Worries–If You Follow This Simple Plan

When Doctors Feel “Rotten,” This Is What They Do

Do You Have These Symptoms of Nerve Exhaustion?

Do You Do Any of These 10 Embarrassing Things?

All of these successful headlines are compelling. They not only capture the attention of prospective buyers, they also make an immediate connection with them. They give the reader a good reason to read on.

The Building Blocks of Winning Web Headlines
Headlines are the starting point of successful web copy.  If your headline fails to capture the attention of the reader, it doesn’t matter how good your body copy is because your reader won’t ever get there. 

According to master direct marketer and author Ted Nicholas, who reportedly has sold $500 million worth of products in 49 industries, a good headline can be as much as 17 times more effective than a so-so headline. 

Simply changing one word or one figure in a headline can dramatically improve the response.

A successful headline engages or involves the reader by
  Offering a strong, compelling promise
Open Your Own Personally Branded, Fully Stocked Online Store in 15 Minutes

  Highlighting benefits to the reader
The World’s Richest Source of Cash–And How You Can Tap into It to Start or Grow Your Business”

  Explaining exactly what the offer is;
Earn Your Master’s Degree Online in 18 Months or Less

  Appealing to the emotions
Will These Internet Trends Kill Your Online Business?

  Using specifics
How Adam Ginsberg Made $15 Million on eBay in 2003

  Arousing curiosity
Words That Command People to Do Your Bidding

  Calling out to a specific target audience

  The Sales-Closing Techniques of a Self-Made Billionaire

  Making an announcement
$2 Million Scientific Project Unlocks the Secret of
Aging:  How You Can Become Biologically Younger

  Asking a question
Does Coral Calcium Really Reverse Aging, Extend Your Life Span, and Cure Degenerative Diseases Like Cancer?

  Beginning with the words how to
How to Control the Mind of Your Prospects-And Influence Them to Buy What You’re Selling

Web headlines differ from advertising headlines because a web headline doesn’t always explain what the offer is. 

Instead, it wraps the offer in an editorial cushion.  Like the body copy, the headline should not read like an ad; rather it should read like an editorial. 

Remember, according to Ted Nicholas, five times as many people read editorials than messages that scream out, “I’m an ad!”  If an advertorial is prepared in a way that lends credibility, it can pull up to 500 percent more in sales!

When writing a headline that highlights benefits, remember that there are obvious benefits as well as hidden ones. 

An obvious benefit is one that is immediately apparent.  Even then, the obvious must be articulated in a way that conveys value. 

For example, say you are trying to convey the money-saving benefit of joining a buyers discount club. 

Instead of writing a bland headline like “Save 20 Percent on All Your Purchases,” I’d write the following:
Discover How to Give Yourself a 20 Percent Pay Raise–Without Having to Squeeze a Single Cent from Your Boss

Do you see the hidden benefit?  When you Save 20 percent or more on everything you buy (as a discount buying club member), that’s the equivalent of getting a 20 percent pay raise (and you don’t have to pay taxes on that pay raise!). 

I’ve stated the obvious in a creative way, and added emotion and drama into it by using the action words, discover and squeeze.

A hidden benefit is one that is not immediately apparent and, at first glance, may not seem to be a reason for buying your product or service.

“A Tax-Deductible Vacation in Las Vegas” is a hidden benefit of attending a seminar in Las Vegas.

According to master copywriter and marketer Ted Nicholas, who reportedly spent more than $ 100,000 testing to find out which copy elements boost response rates, an ad headline draws 28 percent more attention if framed in quotation marks! 

The ad appears much more important because the impression that someone is being quoted adds credibility, which in turn makes it more riveting and more likely to be read. 

For example, “You, Too, Can Pick Winning Stocks–with 95 Percent Accuracy”

Whenever possible, use the imperative voice in your headline. The imperative voice is a grammatical mood that (as its name implies) influences the behavior of another or expresses a command.

Land a Better Job

Put an End to Migraines

Erase Your Negative Credit Marks

Cancel Your Debts

Stop the Flu Dead in Its Tracks

The imperative voice commands, leads or empowers your prospect to do something.  It starts with an action verb (such as blast, impress, improve, create).

It assumes the subject is you and ends with the object of the action.  If your verb is blast, the question is, blast what?  And the answer is, your competition. 

The headline is:  Blast Your Competition.  If your action verb is impress, the question is, impress whom?  Answer, your friends.  The headline is:  Impress Your Friends.

Do you have any special experience on headline; if so please feel free to share it with us?

Which of the suggestions given above about a headline you find it more impressive and why?


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