Marketing legend David Ogilvy discovered, “On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy.” What does that mean for you when you’re trying to sell prospects who visit your website? You’d better be able to sell them with your home page headline — at least sell them on reading further.

So what makes people continue reading? It’s not magic — it’s science.

There are all sorts of “rules” for writing headlines. Use numbers. Use adjectives. Make audacious promises. (What??) Use an active voice.  Ask a question.

And some of those little tricks actually work. But to write headlines that get people to keep reading, and ultimately to buy from you,  you’ve got to do more than play a few tricks.

When someone encounters your article or blog post headline in his/her LinkedIn feed, Google search, or wherever, this person comes with a set of bothersome problems on a back burner of his/her mind (and maybe one or two on a front burner). The dog keeps digging under the fence. The laptop is running slow. The to-do at the office just keeps growing and he/she really needs to hire an assistant. The way to get this person to read past your headline is to convince him/her that you can help with one of these bothersome problems. (Yes, there are other ways, but this is arguably the most reliable.)

And how do you do convince them you can help in just a few words in a headline?

  1. Address the pain.
  2. Be specific.
  3. Be credible.

Address the Pain.

Biologically, we’re wired to avoid pain and seek to eliminate it.

Robert Cialdini tells an interesting story in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Researchers conducted a study where they sent two different ads to two groups of homeowners in the same neighborhood. One ad said, “If you insulate your home fully, you’ll save 50 cents every day.” The other ad said, “If you don’t insulate your home fully, you’ll lose 50 cents every day.” Those who received the “loss language” ad were 150% more likely to insulate their house than the other group. Human beings hate to lose. And most people are more afraid of missing out than they are motivated to act by the idea of gaining something. So targeting people’s problems is a sure way to engage their interest.

Be Specific.

The more you can help people focus on and visualize their problems,  the more effective you’re going to be.

Take two headlines that essentially ask the same question:

“Are you frustrated because you’re not getting enough leads?”

“Are you frustrated that you spent a few thousand dollars on a website that’s not generating the right kind of leads?” 

Which is more compelling? The first headline could be written by almost any type of B2B business. We don’t know what the business does, and we’re somewhat skeptical because everyone says, “We get you more leads.” Our response is, Suuuuuuuure. The second headline digs into the pain of spending money that’s wasted because what we bought isn’t performing properly. Yes! I’m so mad that I wasted all that money and I need to get my problem of not enough qualified leads SOLVED! That’s the reaction you want.

Be Credible.

Yes, there are some pretty dumb people out there. But unless your prospects aren’t the brightest bulbs on the porch, you’re going to have to convince them you’re worth spending time listening to. How many commercials have you seen that say, “Buy now with three low payments of $24.95. That’s right. Only $24.95 per month. And if you buy today, you’ll get a free such-and-such valued at $19.95.” Amazing deal! Wow! Not so much. We’re skeptical because we’ve heard it a million times before, and we’ve realized that none of these “deals” are all that great.

Most of your prospects will have figured out that many businesses don’t keep their promises. You’re different, but they don’t know that. If you sound like all the other companies peddling their wares with tired slogans, your prospects are going to put you in the same category. So your headlines need to be unique, and they need to sound like you know what you’re talking about.

Writing effective headlines is less about formulas and more about connecting with how people think. Harness the psychology behind what makes people motivated to act, and you’ve got yourself a winning headline.


photo credit: juni xu via photopin cc

Share This:
Share on LinkedInTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookEmail this to someone