If your advertising aims to make sales or generate qualified leads, your headlines need to do some heavy lifting. In two seconds or less, you need to tell your audience why they should give you more of their time.
When writing headlines, I use the “door-to-door salesman test.” Imagine you’re a door-to-door salesman on a cold call. The door opens, and the first words out of your mouth are your headline. Does your prospect pause long enough to find out more, or does the door get slammed in your face?
The principles for writing good headlines are the same, whether they’re for ads, catalog descriptions, email subject lines, paid search or anything else. Among the toughest headlines to write are those for paid search, where you have just 25 characters – only three or four words – for the entire headline. Lately we’ve been doing some extensive headline testing on Google AdWords with headlines such as:
- Easy-spin compost bin
- Fast-acting compost bin
- Garden compost 4x faster
- Make garden compost fast
- Patented compost bin
- Tumbling compost bin
If you think a couple words don’t make a difference, you’re in for a shock. In one headline test, we changed just two words and boosted response by 146%. In the twelve split-run tests we’ve done to date, the average increase in response has been 71%.
What makes a good headline?
Offer Benefits. “Easy-spin compost bin” and “fast-acting compost bin” both offer benefits. A company name such as “Joe’s Composters” does not. “Bulbs for year-round color” offers a benefit. “Bob’s Bulb Company” does not.
Give Specifics. One of the best headlines I found in a recent garden magazine was a 1″ classified ad headlined “Over 80 Varieties of Passionflowers.” If you’re interested in passionflowers, the headline “Passionflowers” would probably stop you – but 80 varieties really catches your attention. A specific, odd number – i.e., “83 Varieties of Passionflowers” would be even more believable and compelling.
Identify a Problem. If four-legged critters have been feasting on your hosta, you’ll probably stop on an ad headlined “Deer Damage?” It’s implied that the advertiser has a solution – but they better prove it fast to hold the reader’s attention. Use specific facts, a super-powerful guarantee, testimonials from users or an authority, or a persuasive explanation of how your product works.
Make an Offer. “Free Wildseed Catalog” is an offer. “Free Wildseed Reference Guide” implies even more value. Other offers might be a discount for early orders, free shipping for orders over $50, or a shade garden collection with planting guide. Even if you can’t distinguish your product any other way, a headline with a strong offer can still grab your prospect’s attention.