Ever notice those “conversion copywriting” techniques you read about for ugly, hard-to-stomach long-form sales pages?
When you implement those techniques, you end up with lengthy, nearly impossible to believe headlines, like this one:
That’s great for niche info products. Great for diet pills and exercise DVDs. Great for miracle cures.
But it’s BAD for the products and services most of us are actually selling – like productivity apps, games, SaaS, consulting services, ebooks, quilts, clothes, hardware… the list goes on.
Here’s the thing: the uber-long headline above isn’t necessarily wrong for short copy. It’s filled with some great messages. The kinds of messages that could impact your conversion rate positively, like listing highly desirable outcomes (e.g., “boosting your profits”) and showing how you remove a key pain (i.e., no time for intensive marketing efforts).
So what if we were to take the best of long-form sales page copywriting… and tweak it for our 2.0 or short-copy landing pages?
We could then develop a series of headline formulas that any startup or small business could use to convert as well as long-form converts – without gettin’ ugly or lookin’ sketchy.
Sound like something you could stomach? Then let’s do it.
What Needs to Be in a Headline?
I think we can all agree that different headlines work for different page and user goals. That said, there are some basic guidelines that you should follow in your home page or landing page headlines:
- Be specific
- Be succinct
- Focus on 1 thing that your prospects believe to be highly desirable (that you provide)
- Quickly reflect the expectations of the visitor
If there’s something unique about you that you know people want, that may be the best basis for your headline. For UserTesting.com, their unique value proposition is easy testing with a clear outcome:
If the average person arriving on your page doesn’t really know much about you – say, they’re coming from PPC ads – you should probably use your brand name in the headline and say exactly what you do.
If you can promise a great result of some kind – especially a memorable one – include it, and use the word “promise” (because explicit is good). See headline formulas B and C below for examples.
Best of all, if there is a pain you clearly eliminate or an objection that visitors may have, address it clearly. Specifically. With proof. Simply adding the phrase “without ____” to the end of your headline could move it from good to great. Unbounce does this on the home page, calling out the lack of need for IT:
As I discussed in my last Unbounce post, the best headline copy will come from the words your customers use. When you survey your customers to find out about their pains, needs and expectations, you will be better positioned than the average person to write a high-converting headline.
Before We Talk Formulas, Let’s Talk Formatting
You won’t want to believe me on some of these formatting tips, but you should. Trust me here. I wouldn’t lead you astray – I get nothing out of screwing you over, but I get to be a hero if I give you the guidance that increases your clicks and conversions, right? Right.
- Center your headlines
- Make them big and dark, dark grey (or, when on a dark background, white)
- Use “Title Case”, aka Capitalize Each Word
- Don’t use a period at the end as such visual cues present mental stopping points for your visitors
- Break up lengthy headlines with “eye rest” punctuation marks, such as ellipses and em-dashes
- Consider putting quotation marks around the headline as this can draw the eye
- Support each headline with a meaningful subhead written in sentence case, aka Capitalize the first word only
When you treat your headlines like so, something amazing will happen: your visitors will actually NOTICE them. Cool, right? After all, headlines are made to be noticed. Your visitors want to see them. Your visitors will actually read them (yay!).
So don’t hide them in the shadows or cram them into tiny spaces alongside big, meaningless stock photos. Be bold! Let your headlines shine!
Without Further Ado, Headline Formulas You Can Use or Test Today
Once you have the right meat for your headline and the ideal formatting, a headline formula comes in extremely handy and keeps you from the frustration of trying to think up a headline without any guidance.
Check these easy 2.0-style headline formulas out:
Headline Formula A: All Gain, No Pain
Get the [Rarely Seen But Relevant Adjective] Power of [What Your Product Does] Without [Pain]
For use when: Your prospects have a clear pain they’d love you to eliminate
Example: CrazyEgg Home Page
Headline Formula B: The Promise-Based SEO Headline
[Adjective] & [Adjective] [What You Are / SEO Keyword Phrase] That Will [Highly Desirable Promise of Results]
For use when: SEO is a major consideration for you, and you offer a highly desirable outcome
Example: AppDesignVault Home Page
Headline Formula C: The Explicit Promise
We Promise You This: [Highly Desirable Promise of Results]
For use when: Your visitors will believe a promise from you (e.g., driving from email)
Example: Laura Roeder Sales Page
Headline Formula D: The Comparison
[Known Competitor] [Does This Undesirable or Unimpressive Thing], and
[Your Brand Name] [Does This Highly Desirable or Impressive Thing]
For use when: You know your visitors are using or considering a key competitor
Example: KISSmetrics Home Page
Headline Formula E: The Value Prop
The Only [SEO Keyword Phrase] Made Exclusively to [Highly Desirable Outcome or Benefit]
For use when: You offer something that’s both unique to you and highly desirable to your visitors
Example: Copy Hackers Home Page
How Would These Headlines Work for a Sample Company?
Let’s see how these headline formulas might work for, say, Unbounce:
- Get the Conversion-Boosting Power of Optimized Landing Pages… Without IT
- Modern, Sexy Landing Page Templates That Will Bring in More Sales
- We Promise You More Conversions When You Use Our Optimized Landing Pages
- Your IT Team Has No Bandwidth for Marketing Initiatives, But Unbounce Gets You Set Up in Minutes with Great-Looking Landing Pages
- The Only Landing Page Templates Made Exclusively to Boost Conversions
Not every one of ‘em works… but a few sure do, don’t they?
Now, you may find yourself saying, “Joanna, this is all fine and good… but why should I even use headline formulas?”
Good question… but let me ask you this: Would you bake a chocolate soufflé for your mother-in-law’s birthday party without referring to a recipe? Would you just throw a bunch of eggs and blocks of chocolate into a pan and chuck it in the oven?
No. Because there’s too much riding on getting it right.
Just like there’s too much riding on your headline to simply ‘wing it’.
It is not your job – whether you’re a business owner, marketer or copywriter – to work from scratch every single time you write copy. In fact, the more you write copy, the more you’ll see that the best copy doesn’t come from some magical creative writing lab in your mind. So why force yourself to write from scratch when you’ve got at least 5 “recipes” at your disposal?
I’m repeating the headline formulas below. Select at least 3 of them, and complete them for your own product. For best results, pull copy from customer surveys, as I showed in my last Unbounce post. Then, why not run a test? Landing page headline tests are extremely easy to run in most tools, and the results can give you the clear insights you can’t get from, say, a button-color test.
- Get the [Rarely Seen Adjective] Power of [What Your Product Does] Without [Pain]
- [Adjective] & [Adjective] [What You Are / SEO Keyword Phrase] That Will [Highly Desirable Promise of Results]
- We Promise You This: [Highly Desirable Promise of Results]
- [Known Competitor] [Does This Undesirable or Unimpressive Thing], and [Your Brand Name] [Does This Highly Desirable or Impressive Thing]
- The Only [SEO Keyword Phrase] Made Exclusively to [Highly Desirable Outcome or Benefit]