4 Steps for Testing Your Way to High Converting Headlines

By Arun Sivashankaran

a/b testing, content marketing, conversion, copy, strategy

The most valuable real estate on your blog posts, email marketing, and published articles are the first 5 to 10 words. Studies show that your headline is absolutely critical. According to CopyBlogger, 8 out of 10 people read headline copy while only 2 read on. What does this tell you? It means that you’ve got an excellent opportunity to capture readers – and that most content on the internet today is failing to effectively do so. In this age of content marketing, writers and marketers can’t afford to have their content go off the cliff. The good news is that you don’t have to be a professional copywriter to get great results with your headlines. Here’s a closer look at how testing can get you closer to high converting headlines.

High converting headlines

Image credit: Flickr.com

A framework for thinking about writing online

It’s often helpful to think about a blog post or marketing email holistically, in terms of the finished product. Visualizing your bigger mission helps you develop a compelling angle and craft sentence after sentence that moves your reader to the end goal. A call to action that packs a punch will get you email subscribers, sell products, and drive other conversions. But where does it all start? With the headline.

In direct mail copywriting, fledgling writers (or, as they’re called “copy cubs”) are told to look at each aspect of their writing as having one objective. Each sentence gets your reader to read the next line. That’s it. Your headline captures their attention, your introduction hooks them, and each paragraph builds until you reach that critical CTA. But notice that it all starts with the headline. If your headline fails, all the time, effort, and money invested in develop great content is wasted.

For readers that want a solid primer on high-converting copy, check out my article 40 Resources to Help You Write High Converting Copy. Here are some of my best tips for focusing specifically on your headline.

Mine customer data for headlines

Conversion optimization is all about helping you mine your customer data. The more deeply you understand your audience, the more effective you’ll be at crafting copy that converts. But often, testing your way to high converting copy isn’t about writing new creative at all. Instead, it’s about looking in the right places for your headline inspiration. When you’re developing headlines, have you looked at your existing testimonials for language that you can lift and repurpose? After all, who speaks more compellingly in the voice of your customer than your customers themselves?

Unbounce shared a copy test where the author A/B tested four different headlines. Three were developed by a copywriter, and one was taken directly from a client testimonial. The most effective option was from the client testimonial, and increased conversions by 103%. You can apply this yourself in your own business by looking at the following sources:

  • Customer testimonials
  • Survey data
  • Social media comments and conversations
  • Emails and customer correspondence
  • Discussion groups and other online venues

We often invest heavily in research for developing topic lists, finding compelling proof, and other aspects of the copywriting process. But begin your research in the headline phase to make a real impact on your conversion rates.

You’re not pushing hard enough to go viral

Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic asked a great question: Why are Upworthy.com style headlines suddenly everywhere? The answer is simple. They’ve cracked (at least partially) their own formula for writing successful headlines. For context, Upworthy.com is one of the fastest growing sites on the internet. On the surface, it’s offering a differentiated service. It’s sending armies of writers and contributors to find great content that’s positive and inspiring, and repackaging it so that it’s more interesting.

By repackaging, I mean reworking the headlines and sharing it with their community. But companies that are simply stealing Upworthy’s formula are missing the point (which it offers up in a brilliantly titled post “What Actually Makes Things Go Viral? Hint: It’s Not Headlines like This”).  The site’s writers create 25 headlines for each story that they publish. Think about that for a minute: 25 headlines. In reality, you will spend as much time creating a series of headlines as you will writing a 500 word post. They go on to say that what’s truly important is how powerful the content is – which is a good analogy that your own content has to deliver on the promise of your headline. But it’s those headlines that capture people’s attention and engage them enough to watch a video or read an article.

But Upworthy’s case is worth studying for two critical reasons. First, taking the time to generate 25 headlines ensures that you push through the staid examples of which there are hundreds around the web and really focus in on potentially powerful headlines and unique value propositions. Second, it also gives you a wide base to do your A/B testing with. I recommend sending out emails with your top contending headlines to a subset of your email marketing list and using the most effective headline for the full mailing later that day or the next day for maximum impact.

Test Benefits and Solutions

There are endless formulas for headlines that you can find online. Checking out these lists can help you find inspiration for creating your own winning headlines. But just shoving your product or statistics into an existing headline isn’t the solution. Instead, you need to anchor your headlines around two specific things:

  • The problem that your audience is facing
  • The solution that you’re offering

The opportunity with testing is to determine which benefits appeal to specific audiences. Your product may offer a series of benefits. Yet certain ones are key to making the sale, while others are “nice to have.” Some of the most effective headlines are benefit or solution driven. The key to succeeding with this approach is understanding which benefits actually trigger conversions.

It’s also important to remember that your audience may use different language to describe their issue. What one business might call “needing more traffic to their website,” others call “customer attraction” or “generating public interest.” Systematically testing what resonates with your audience – in terms of both problem and solution oriented language – can help you craft extremely powerful headlines.

This strategy becomes even more effective when filtered through a customer segmentation lens. The more you focus your headlines in different mediums, from your email newsletters to landing pages, to the needs of specific subsets of your audience the more deeply you’ll speak to each group. By iterating on these tests within each of your customer segments, you’ll develop a collection of headlines that perform well across your buyer base and allow you to achieved significant targeted growth.

Look at Sequencing Headlines in Your Funnel

I’ve talked before about the importance of a structured testing program. Many businesses envision this means a series of incremental tests on their most critical headlines, pitting new contenders against old winners over and over again. That’s not a bad approach: over time, you can dramatically lift the conversion rates on your key business pieces.

Obama Email Sequencing

But another angle for structured headline testing is to remember that while your headlines must function well independently, they also have to work together as a series. The Obama Administration worked extensively to A/B test various components of their funnel to increase donations and subscriber rates. In the test where the sequential headlines in their email funnels were aligned, conversions increased by 21%. The more cohesive the customer experience you create, even down to the headlines, the more engaged your readers, fans, and followers will be. Can you increase your conversions by looking at the sequential headlines in a specific route of your funnel (such as email to landing page to downloaded copy to suggested product) or in your auto responder series?

Marketers embracing a content marketing approach can’t afford weak headlines. Being creative isn’t enough. A testing-based approach that takes the voice of the customer into consideration, pushes hard to generate headlines to test, rigorously evaluates the assumptions about benefits and language behind those headlines, and takes a structured strategy to headlines throughout the funnel will succeed.

What are your favorite tips for high converting headlines? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

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  • Jake

    Great post! We fall into the non-structured category that you’ve discussed (e.g. testing more of the individual headlines for performance). Time to look at our sequenced headlines.

    • http://www.funnelenvy.com/ Arun Sivashankaran

      Thanks Jake! Good luck with the testing, when it comes to headlines it’s absolutely worth the investment.

  • Jenny Donovan

    Excellent advice – thank you! I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned anchoring your headlines around customer pain points and solutions to these issues. In my opinion, this is the key to creating high converting copy.

    • http://www.funnelenvy.com/ Arun Sivashankaran

      Thanks Jenny. I agree, it should always be all about the customers.