Quickly revolutionise website appeal with tasty headlines

keep measuring and testing headlines

Here are some quick-fire tips for improving the appeal of your content and online presence through effective headline copywriting.

Immediate transparency

When an uninformed user visits any page on your site is it immediately obvious to them what the business does? You work there so you know what you do, and this can really cloud your judgement on headlines and what really has clarity. Can a user quickly answer the three questions below?

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • What does it do for me?

You need to remember that a user doesn’t give a crap about you: assume they’re busy, confused and angry, and if you don’t give them what they want immediately they’ll go somewhere else. Don’t make them work to comprehend where in the Internet they’ve landed! You’ll know the feeling; you’re doing some research for a service or tool and you land on a site that tells you it offers ‘world-leading productivity infrastructure implementations’ or somesuch, and even after a minute of trying to work out what the company does it’s still not clear. That is a huge fail.

Blank page test

A good way of testing how well you answer these questions is by completing the blank page test: can a layman understand what your website does or sells if they see only the headline and subheading? MailChimp are always good at this: they changed from “Easy Email Newsletters” to “Send Better Email” which has a little less clarity but more benefit. It’s incredible how many sites don’t do this.

Benefits not features: make it about them

The third question of ‘what does it do for me?’ is important, as this stresses the importance of communicating benefits not features (yes that old marketing quote). Which works better of the below?

  1. Welcome to Cleaning Company website We offer a professional house-cleaning service in Edinburgh that’s unbeatable value in the local area. We work to a high level and ensure great customer service.
  2. Tired of cleaning your home? Feel your messy office is harming your productivity and health? We promise that our cleaning services will leave your place clean and stress-free, leaving you free to busy yourself with what’s important.

Hopefully you said (2.) – it focuses on the needs and thoughts of the potential customer, addressing their pain points. This will also get you thinking about your unique value propositions (UVPs).

Be concise

Fewer words is generally better: your headline will be more easily read and more powerful if you can distill your meaning into the fewest number of words.

Do you have a team who can’t stop using jargon and waffling in their writing? Try referencing this list of plague words to avoid produced by unbounce.com.

Grab with emotion

Emotional states affect decisions, and headlines allow you to play with the emotions of your readers (to an extent). Beyond saying what your do or who you are, try to actually stir some sort of emotional response. Although not technically all emotions, you could try to evoke the following:

  • Desire (for what they don’t have)
  • Fear/worry/self-doubt (for what they are like or are not doing)
  • Competitiveness (for what others are doing better)
  • Belief/trust (in what you’re doing)

You may notice that many of these are quite ‘negative’, but there have been a few studies that have indicated that generating negative emotional states might be more effective for marketing than generating positive ones. The thought is that if you make somebody feel bad they’ll work immediately to resolve the feeling – just be careful you don’t push them to leave your website! You do, however, need to be bold – strong statements will grab a user and tweak emotions, but wishy-washy sentiments will not.


leave lame behind headline
Copyblogger used the strong word ‘lame’ to generate some negative emotion.

Don’t forget the next line

Subheadings or explanatory lines beneath the headline (which I now know is called ‘the dek’) is important for adding further context to your offering and maintaining the ‘scent’ of the proposition as the user moves past the headline. It’s important to use this to move users along the narrative arc you wish them to take as they progress down your landing page: basically tell them a story that convinces them and leads to them converting!

The best example of this is Google search results; search pages would be far less useful and informative if they only included the title, as the description adds further detail if you’re ‘grabbed’ by the title.

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Using ‘the dek’ to add to your headline
google search result
Google search results have description lines (the dek) below the title

Talking of search results, headline and ‘dek’ writing is obviously critical in PPC and paid search advertising. In PPC you might want to concentrate on communicating the following, particularly for ecommerce site:

  • Price
  • Speed
  • Freshness
  • Volume
  • Brand

It’s imperative to maintain the ‘scent’ that you create in advert copy through to the website headlines and copy i.e. if you mention something in the advert ensure you mention it prominently on the site. Sounds basic but you’d be surprised how often this is forgotten.

Headline messaging templates you can try

Templates obviously don’t encourage really radical thinking, but they can help you to take advantage of little psychological tips without having to think too much. Have a look and the following as see if they apply to your business. Some things that work include using active verbs e.g. ‘get’ and making promises or guarantees that they believe you will keep.

  • [Competitor] [Does Undesirable or Unimpressive Thing], and [Your Brand] [Does Highly Desirable or Impressive Thing]
  • Get the [Rarely Seen But Relevant Adjective] Power of [What Product Does] Without [Pain]
  • [Adjective] & [Adjective] [What You Are / SEO Keyword Phrase] That Will [Highly Desirable Promise of Results]
  • The Only [SEO Keyword Phrase] Made Exclusively to [Highly Desirable Outcome or Benefit]
  • We Promise You [Highly Desirable Promise of Results]
  • Get [desired result] in [desirable time period]
  • [threat] + [promise of a solution]
  • [undesired result] + [mysterious solution]
  • [respected person/group of people] + [exclusive/new information]
  • Give me [something] and I’ll [show you a strong benefit]
  • How to [do something desirable]
  • [Numbers of people] now [get benefit], even with [shared disadvantage]

But actually the best headline is…

…sourced directly from your customers.

Want to find out what a user’s pain points are? Ask them.

Want to know what customers consider the best qualities of your service? Ask them.

Want to know why customers choose you over competitors or vice-versa? Ask them.

Seriously, it works brilliantly. Look for words that keep cropping up again and again in reviews or feedback and incorporate them into your headlines.

customer feedback
Use customer feedback to generate copy

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