Headlines: Why You Should Spend All of Your Time On Them

Want a simple rule for how to write an advertisement or design a web page? Let’s say you have a month to write an ad. Spend 27 days of that month working on the headline. Use the last 3 days for everything else.

You think this is an exaggeration. It’s not.

Of all the elements on your site that need improvement, you need to focus on your headlines above all else. This is also true for print ads, PPC ads, emails, sales letters, and every other piece of marketing material you’ll ever use.

Why are headlines so important?

Many people are going to see your ad or website. Some of them can be sold, some of them can’t. It’s your job to reach out and tell the right people that they’re in the right place. The headline does exactly this, it’s your filter. It grabs your target market (the people that can be sold) and convinces them that they should look through the rest of your ad.

You see, headlines are the only element of an ad or web page that every person reads. In just a few seconds, people decide whether or not your entire ad has any relevance to their lives. And they use the headline to make this decision. So great headlines flag your target market down and convince them that it’s in their best interest to stick around.

Without a solid headline, your target market will never realize that you have something that will help them. They’ll take a quick glance at your ad or web page, decide it has nothing to offer, and move on. They’ll be lost forever. If you even want a chance to make a sale, you have to hook people with the headline. People will cut you some slack on everything else in your ad but they only give your headline one shot. Take advantage of it and spend the majority of your time getting the headline perfect.

Don’t Make Your Headlines Cute, Make Them Clear

Since we’re trying to filter out the portion of our audience that will actually buy what we have to offer, we need to be extra careful not to be confusing. If there’s any confusion, everybody bails and we don’t have any hope of making the sale.

Here’s a list of cute headlines that I pulled from a recent issue of Inc.:

  • Tomorrow Never Stops Exploring.
  • Tough Just Got Better.
  • Choice is Not an Option, It’s a Necessity.
  • Business Can’t Wait.
  • Ignite a Movement. Accelerate Impact.
  • Let Your Inner Business Mogul Shine.

Do any of these headlines grab your interest and make you want to find more information about the offer? Of course not. These headlines are so abstract and cute that we have no idea what they’re talking about. If we don’t know INSTANTLY how our lives are going to improve by continuing to give out attention to something, we move on and never look back. Remember the cardinal rule of all marketing: don’t be cute.

What a Clear Headline Looks Like

Here are a few more headlines (from the same issue of Inc.) that do a much better job at being clear with what you’ll gain if you keep reading:

  • “Their custom-fit solutions are enabling CenturyLink to add 1,150 employees faster.”
  • Check “Launch website” off the list (before lunch).
  • Build Your Business Without Sacrificing Your Family.
  • Homeowners Insurance. Now Available at your Favorite Online Insurance Store.
  • Be the ENVY of Your Well-Traveled Friends

These headlines create a completely different dynamic. Now, you might not be interested in these offers. But it’s not due to confusion, it’s because you’re not in the target market for the ad. You’re being filtered out (or filtered in if you’re wishing I included the rest of the ad).

The Most Important Aspect of a Great Headline

To dramatically improve your headlines, focus on the benefits that you have to offer. Remember, benefits are how your customers improve their lives, not the features of your product. I’ve discussed the benefits versus features concept here.

Figure out the benefit that your customers care most about and get it right into the headline. The second batch of headlines does this much better than the first. Stop talking about yourself and talk about how the lives of your customers will improve.

The astute reader (that’s you) probably realized that a few of the headlines above talk about features instead of benefits. This is true. The Tempur-Pedic and homeowner’s insurance headlines only reference new features, not benefits. Talking about features can work once you’ve built a national brand and everyone is already familiar with what you have to offer. For these two headlines, each is supported by the millions already invested in advertising. Bottom line: the rules change if you’re a Fortune 500 company and have the budget to do any marketing you want. For the rest of us, I recommend sticking with benefits.

Now there are dozens of other headline formulas out there. Don’t worry about any of those to start with. Keep it simple.

“But Lars, I’ll exclude too many people if I make my headline too clear!”

You’re approaching this from the wrong direction. Nobody cares about abstract ads that are trying to appeal to everyone. We don’t have the time for it. So we move on and look for something that does appeal to us. If you go after everybody, you get nobody. In other words, every ad starts at zero. The job of your ad is to find the small group of people that do care about what you have to offer. Forget about the rest, you never had a chance to get them in the first place.

I’ll show you how to build an unstoppable growth machine. Don’t miss any of my new essays.

I don’t share emails. Ever. And your trust means a great deal to me.

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