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A Classic Formula for Gut Checking Your Landing Page Headlines

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This copywriting formula is as classic as a Marlon Brando flick – and it’ll help you write headlines that are just as handsome. ;)

If you read any marketing blogs, you know landing page conversions live or die by the copy. But how can you write headlines that reliably convert?

No copywriting arsenal is complete without the 4U formula: a proven system for writing copy that’s useful, urgent, unique and ultra-specific to your reader.

Originally developed by serial entrepreneur Michael Masterson, it has been used alongside confidential sales formulas to help hike Agora Inc.’s revenue by $292 million over 15 years. It has proven so successful, that lead copywriting instructors at American Writer’s and Artists’ Inc. have continued to teach it for over 13 years.

Today, we’ll up the ante and adapt it for landing pages.

Whether you run your own business, manage a copy team or market a client’s products, by the end of this article, you’ll have a reliable evaluation system for evaluating in-house copy and increasing landing page opt-ins.

Let’s get to it.

Using the 4U formula on landing pages

Select one element of your landing page copy:

  • Your headline
  • Your sub-headline
  • Your benefits (usually in the form of bullet points)

Next, give yourself a point for every “yes” to any of the following questions:

  1. Is this useful – Does this provide value to my visitor?
  2. Is this unique – Is this different from anything they’ve seen before? Does it promise a unique benefit?
  3. Is this urgent – Does it give them a reason to act now?
  4. Is this ultra-specific – Is it precise? Are you using facts, figures and statistics?

If you answered “no” to any one of these questions, you’re kicking opt-ins off a cliff.

Solution? Improve the missing element(s).

Then test again until you get at least 3 “yesses.”

You got the plan.

Now get your goodies.

Landing page copy critiques: The 4U formula in action

To see how the formula works, let’s look at the copywriting of three strong landing pages, then see if we can make them even better.

Exhibit A: Email1K

Our first landing page comes from Noah Kagan, founder of AppSumo, “a 7-figure business with over 90% of our revenue generated by our email list.”

Here, Noah shares “the exact tactics and tools” they used to do just that with their audience – digital marketers – in mind.

Noah leads off with:

A free 30 day course to DOUBLE YOUR EMAIL LIST
Learn from experts who’ve grown email lists over 10 million subscribers

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Click for full-length image.

Now, is this useful for our prospect?

If they’ve got an email list, the answer is clear: yes. 1pt.

But is this unique to our prospect?

A quick Google search reveals a laundry list of competition. “Double Your List Using Facebook” ad nauseum but none of them have experts with 10 million email subscribers. Another solid 1pt.

And is it urgent?

With the countdown timer squarely above the fold, yes: 1pt. Time is running out.

How about ultra-specific?

The value proposition “Double Your Email List” will be delivered in 30 days (ultra-specific) by experts who’ve grown email lists “over 10 million subscribers” (ultra-specific). That’s another 1pt.

Recap

Useful? Yes – 1.0
Unique? Yes – 1.0
Urgent? No – 1.0
Ultra-specific? Yes – 1.0

Total = 4.0

But could it be better?

Technically no, but we could test a challenger with a touch more urgency and specificity.

A free 30 day course to DOUBLE YOUR EMAIL LIST
Join 5,128+ Sharp Marketers and learn from experts who grew email lists over 10 million subscribers

By adding the number of marketers already in the course, we add an element of social proof and a little FOMO (fear of missing out).

Our prospect knows if 5,000+ sharp marketers are already on top of this, they need to get in before anybody else does, especially if their clients are counting on them.

Exhibit B: Copyblogger E-Book Registration

Our next landing page comes from Brian Clark founder of Copyblogger, purveyor of all things content marketing.

The landing page is for “My Copyblogger,” a free membership program with access to fifteen ebooks and a 20-part online marketing course.

He kicks off with:

160,845 Smart Online Marketers Have a Head Start … Don’t be Left Out!

copyblogger-ebook-landing-page-copywriting-560
Click for full-length image.

Is this useful to prospects?

If we review just the headline, it’s not clear. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

As Brian Clark explains in this article, “A quick review of The 100 Greatest Advertisements by Julian Lewis Watkins shows that 95% of the most effective headlines from the early years of magazine advertising were eight words or less.”

Sometimes, less is more. Since the true purpose of the headline is to get them to read the next line whether it be a sub-headline or body copy, this “mystery” factor can increase response rates.

Verdict? 0.5 – it might captivate our reader’s curiosity.

Is this unique?

While the “let me tell you a secret” headline is not unique, it does promise a potentially unique benefit. Like the mystery factor above, it could be a benefit for 0.5.

Now is this urgent?

“Smart Online Marketers Have a Head Start … Don’t be Left Out!” is entirely scarcity-driven and works devilishly well. A solid 1pt.

Ultra-specific?

Absolutely. With a hidden counter that updates the “160,845 Smart Online Marketers,” ultra-specificity was not only copy-written, but hard-coded into the page. Score: 1pt.

Recap

Useful? Yes – 0.5
Unique? No – 0.5
Urgent? No – 1.0
Ultra-specific? Yes – 1.0

Total = 3.0

But could it be better?

Landing a perfect 4.0 score isn’t the surefire way to win every time.

While market research may yield educated guesses, only an A/B test can lay this question to rest.

…And even if tested, our audience is forever changing. But if we had to give it a shot, the variation could read:

Raid The Revenue Vault…
160,845 Smart Online Marketers Already Have a Head Start…
Don’t be Left Out!

By adding a “container” that holds valuable items under lock and key, our prospect is given a mental image to project their desire onto without eliminating the element of surprise (entirely).

Exhibit C: The No-Stress Guide to Negotiating Your Salary

This landing page comes from Ramit Sethi, founder of I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

Originally geared towards personal finance and entrepreneurship for college students and recent grads, it’s evolved to “living a rich life” in fitness, psychology and finding a dream job.

This landing page targets his readers interested in securing a higher income for life. He leads with:

Follow The Proven System and Word-for-Word Scripts to Get A $5,000 – $10,000 Raise

teach-you-to-be-rich-landing-page-copywriting-560
Click for full-length image.

Is it useful?

With a crystal-clear value proposition, this earns an easy 1.0.

Is it unique?

With over 447,000,000 search results, “how to get a raise” is NOT unique. But having “word-for-word scripts” that earn you “$5,000-$10,000” most definitely is. No other website shows you how to do exactly this. This gets a solid 1.0.

Is it urgent?

If we step into the mind of our reader, chances are the “trigger” event for researching “salary negotiation” or “how to get a raise” could be anything from an upcoming performance review to a relocation across the country.

Either way, the clock is ticking. However, urgency in this headline is absent. This gets a 0.0.

Is it ultra-specific?

In a deft move, this headline achieves both uniqueness and ultra-specificity in the same line – “word-for-word scripts to get a $5,000 – $10,000 raise” takes the cake for a 1.0pt.

Recap

Useful? Yes – 1.0
Unique? Yes – 1.0
Urgent? No – 0.0
Ultra-specific? Yes – 1.0

Total = 3.0

But could it be better?

If we were to add urgency to this headline, it could read:

Follow The Proven System and Word-for-Word Scripts to Get A $5,000 – $10,000 Raise At Your Next Negotiation

While this does add urgency, it’s also a tall order! While not impossible, it could hurt opt-ins with raised skepticism.

Since the job of the headline is not to sell, but to get readers to the next line, adding urgency could backfire. Additionally, it could attract an entirely different kind of prospect, one with unrealistic expectations and insanely high refund rates after purchase.

But, no matter the landing page, there’s only way to ever know which headline is the best:

By putting it to the (A/B) test.

If all else fails, seduce them with this

If you’re fresh out of landing page headline ideas, hit prospects with the something they’ll never see comin’:

Empathy.

If you’re one of the 18,108,778 people Brene Brown armed to the teeth with her The Power of Vulnerability TEDTalk, then you already know raw, hardcore empathy is the secret to deep connection.

To write copy that pulls heartstrings and rustles tail feathers, you’ll need to dive into the best source for headlines you’ll ever have: the prospect.

Before you write that next headline or A/B test your landing page, give your prospect a call. It’ll be the best market research date you ever had.

Once you do, you’ll have every “U” you’ll ever need to wow them:

  1. Something valuable (useful)
  2. Something they’ve never seen before (unique)
  3. Something they’ve just gotta see now (urgent)
  4. Something made just for them (ultra-specific)

Over to you – what’s the most memorable headline you read this week? And how many of the 4Us does it use? Could you make it better?

— Marc Aarons


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About Marc Aarons
Marc Aarons is a direct-response copywriter and digital sales strategist. His work has been responsible for growing businesses that offer premium online products, high-end coaching programs and select services to loyal customers. He has been featured in Yahoo! Finance, American Writers and Artists Inc., I Will Teach You To Be Rich and The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch.
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  • This is really informative post. It is really helpful for one to do the best.

  • Marc – well done. Article gave me plenty to ponder (none of my stuff is urgent…but why not tweak my copy to make it such?). Good post!

    • Thanks Brian — glad you found it helpful!

      If you test it out, I’d love to hear which version converted the best.

      Keep us posted on how things come along!

  • Great Post! I like it and also try these sites to make my blogs backlink.

  • As usual the unbounce blog provides the 4 u themselves U seful,Unique,Urgent,Utra Specific

  • Meg

    Thanks Marc. Hope this can help improve my client’s ROI.

  • People like those landing pages where they get the more benefits than others. In your business, you will find the huge number of your competitors. So, it is very important to provide impressive & unique service from others.

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  • Thank you so much for this, Marc! I am using it to revise my homepage copy and opt-in as we speak!

    One of my consistent questions is around the promise – the super unique offer. I often find myself wondering, “But is my offer really THAT good?!” I mean, 10 million subscribers is a no brainer – sign me up! But… what if we’re not yet to that expert level? How can we create something of value, while we’re still in the beginning stages?

    I look forward to reading more!

    • Glad it was helpful Tiffany!

      I also think it’s great that you’re wondering about whether or not your offer’s good.

      As marketers (read: scientific advertisers), the next step is to take that thought and transform it into a testable hypothesis. Example:

      Thought – “But is my offer really THAT good?!”
      Hypothesis – “My offer is helps [audience] achieve [specific result] within [measurable time frame]”
      Method – To test my hypothesis, I will provide my offer to [sample size] of people in my target audience. If [specific percentage] of people achieve the outcome based on specified conditions, then I will consider my offer validated.

      Hope this helps and if it does, take the next step:

      Turn thought into measurable action.

  • Great article Marc! Thanks so much! I am still very much a beginner and not quite up to writing my landing page, but it’s great to have the guidelines in this article all ready for me when I do! Thanks again!