How to write headlines for landing pages

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“On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy” stated David Ogilvy. A compelling statistic, but how does this translate to your web site?

Ogilvy continues; “unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 per cent of your money.” But remember- he was writing about print advertising. Print advertising designed to distract a reader from his newspaper and compel him to read on. An eye-catching headline was vital. The reader hadn’t sought out the product, the advertising had to work for the readers attention. This is an important difference between a print headline and one used on a pay per click landing page- you have their attention, you need to minimise that bounce rate by quickly confirming that the user is in the right place.

Copywriter Andy Maslen suggests that a headline should ‘make the reader want to read the body copy’ and encapsulate the ‘sales pitch in 10-16 words or fewer.’ 

I’ve struggled with this on landing pages. In fact, I’ve obtained better results with headlines that immediately reassured a user that they were in the right place- aiming for consistency between the landing page headline and the PPC ad text. This might be dull, but if it quickly confirms that a user is in the right place, they’ll read your introductory paragraph (which is where you can start selling and where I’ve enjoyed most impact in my split testing).

Here are some quick tips which might help…

Split test your headlines

You’ll never know what works until you test! Claude Hopkins spent ‘far more time on headlines than on writing’ and Ogilvy never wrote ‘fewer than sixteen headlines for a single advertisement’.  Both copywriters would split test headline effectiveness by measuring coupon redemption.  Thankfully, we can split test too-  Google Website Optimizer! Write a series of headlines, split test them to see which generates the most conversions. It’s easy (and free)!

Find the right tone of voice

Different products require a different approach. I’ve tried what I thought was a compelling headline and found that a dry and boring one actually achieved a better conversion rate.  An attention grabbing headline might undermine trust if it’s applied to a product that calls for a more subtle or formal tone.  Do you want something more salesy, or does your audience expect something more functional? Test your ideas.

Read the news

Try and spot good headlines.  Journalists are experts at summarizing an article in as few words as possible. Some write headlines that grab your attention and compel you to read on. It’s worth reading Jakob Nielsen’s opinion of the headlines used on BBC News.