While there is no shortage of articles that list different headline formulas that you can use on your landing pages, there really isn’t much research available on how these formulas actually perform in real life on real landing pages.
Over the last 4 years I’ve performed about 300 copy-related split tests, and a great many of them revolved around headlines. In this article we are going to look at 5 common headline formulas and how they perform in real life. These 5 formulas are: loss aversion, asking a question, focusing on benefits, and being super creative.
**This article deals exclusively with landing page headlines – not titles for blog posts, etc.
Benefits vs. loss aversion vs. questions
I’d like to start off showing you three case studies that examine the effect of three often used headline formulas, the benefit headline, the loss aversion headline, and the question headline.
Case study 1:
The first case study revolves around a series of headline tests I ran on BettingExpert.com – an online betting forum where tipsters can share experience and tips. The goal of the page is to get prospects to sign up for a membership.
- Control headline (Question): “Passionate about Betting – We are Too”
- Treatment one (Benefit): “Make More Money on Your Bets – Get Free Betting Tips”
- Treatment two (Loss aversion): “Stop Losing Money on Your Bets – Get Daily Betting Tips”
Case study 2:
The second case study revolves around a series of headline tests I ran on Freemake.com’s landing page for their YouTube converter. The goal of the page is to get prospects to download the converter software.
The control headline was benefit-focused, but the wording made it more of a statement headline: “Free YouTube Mp3 Converter”
I tested the control variant against three treatments:
- Treatment one (Benefit): “Get Your Free YouTube Converter”
- Treatment two (Loss aversion): “Don’t Waste Money on Expensive MP3 Converters”
- Treatment three (Question): “Need a Free YouTube MP3 Converter?”
The benefit treatment performed a little better than the control, whereas the two other treatments underperformed.
Case Study 3:
This is an example from a series of headline tests I ran on the Mxchange.dk, a Danish portal through which you can buy and sell used cell phones. The page is targeted at prospects that want to sell a used cell phone, and the goal is to get them to set up an account.
- Control (Benefit): “Make Money on Your Used Cell Phone” (Direct translation of the Danish original)
- Treatment one (Loss aversion): “Avoid Losing Money on Your Used Cell Phone” (Direct translation of the Danish original)
- Treatment two (Question): “Need to Sell Your Used Cell Phone?” (Direct translation of the Danish original)
In this case, both treatments performed worse than the benefit headline.
Observations From All Three Cases Studies
All though the experiments were conducted on three completely different websites with three completely different target audiences, and across different languages, the results were very similar.
In all three case studies, the benefit headline performed best while loss aversion came in second place, followed by the question headline that came in last. These were just 3 case studies with an accumulated sample size of a little over 50.000 visitors. However, the results are representative of the overall pattern I see, when I perform landing page headline tests: a clear headline that focuses on a benefit generally performs best.
I think it has to do with the fact that online people are usually looking for a solution to a specific problem. They are in research mode and want answers. A clear headline with a relevant benefit usually confirms that they have found the right solution.
Loss aversion often falls short because this type of headline has a tendency to become a bit difficult to decipher. Your mind has to process it and translate it into a tangible benefit.
I mostly see loss aversion work in cases where the prospects have something very specific that represents a tangible value that they are afraid of losing.
Here’s an example where loss aversion worked well.
This landing page pitches an SEO tool locates and helps website owners locate and resolve duplicate content issues. As you probably know, duplicate content is an issue that can lead to lost rankings and therefore also rankings and revenue.
Traffic, rankings and money represent a tangible value that any website owner would be afraid to lose, and the loss aversion headline turned out to ne the right solution.
According to my research, questions rarely work well in landing page headlines. I think it has to do with the simple fact that people are looking for answers and solutions – not more questions. While questions can spark curiosity, they can also be the source of a lot of unsupervised thinking – which is not what you are looking for.
I see questions perform well in cases where they facilitate a massive and resounding, “YES PLEASE!” in the mind of the prospect.
What About Super Creative Headlines?
In the more classic marketing and advertising world, there seems to be a consensus that the most creative headline is automatically the best one. While super creative might be the right approach for offline marketing, I have seen very little data indicating that this assumption holds water in online marketing. In fact, I have yet to see a creative headline beat a clear headline in an A/B test.
Let’s go ahead and look at another case study.
This is an example from a test I ran for one of my clients, Fitness World, a large Scandinavian chain of gyms. In this case I tested a headline variation on a PPC landing page that sells gym memberships.
I challenged the control headline “You Work Out Smarter at Fitness World” (literal translation of the Danish original) with probably the most uncreative headline I’ve ever presented to a client “Group Training & Fitness at Your Local Gym” (literal translation).
Most creative copywriters would probably laugh at my treatment and tell me to go back to marketing school. But the fact is that when we tested the two headlines against each other, my boring treatment outperformed the sexy version and sold 38.46% more memberships.
From a creative or aesthetic perspective, my treatment sucks! But that doesn’t really matter, because the goal wasn’t to write sexy copy – it was to sell more memberships.
In online marketing, the more creative headlines have a tendency to backfire because they often become so clever or advanced that regular people have difficulty understanding them.
I’m not saying that you should never go down the creative route. If data from tests and customer research tells you that the best solution is the creative one, then by all means – go for it!
Landing page optimization is really all about optimizing decisions. Therefore It’s important that you can leave the “artist” on the shelf for a while, so you can assume an analytical approach and focus on giving your potential customers what they need in order to make the right decision.
In my experience, from four years of testing and optimizing landing pages, the clear benefit-focused headline generally performs better than ones that focus on loss aversion, creative messaging, and asking questions.
But hey, online marketing isn’t an exact science, and I can’t give you any definitive universal answers. It’s all about finding out what works on your landing pages and on your specific target audience. And the best way to do that is through vigorous testing.
In the words of the awesome Dr. Flint McGlaughlin:
“There are no expert marketers; there are only experienced marketers and expert testers.”
See you in the comments!