Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with new links and fresh content 🙂
Original Publication Date: July 13, 2015
What do we know?
From the moment a visitor hits your landing page, you have around 15 seconds (max) to grab that visitor’s attention.
How much information can you expect to communicate in just 15 seconds?
If you answered, “Not much,” you’d be correct.
The question, then, is how can we best utilize that 15 seconds?
As you may have gathered from this post’s headline, the answer is in your landing page headline.
What All Landing Page Headlines Need
Your landing page headline is your primary tool for captivating your audience in less than 15 seconds.
Headlines aren’t your only tool, of course. But unlike images, videos, graphical elements, text descriptions, or interactive elements, your headline has the unparalleled ability to succinctly communicate a somewhat complex idea in no more than a few seconds.
- Images aren’t specific enough without text clarification.
- Videos take too long (often both to load and communicate your message).
- Graphical elements can’t communicate a complex enough message.
- Text descriptions aren’t powerful enough.
- Interactive elements take too long and rely heavily on either text clarification or user intuition.
In short, your headline is the ONLY tool that can do this job effectively.
And this leads us directly into what all landing page headlines need. You have two options to choose from, but EVERY landing page headline needs to do one of these two things.
- Clearly Communicate What Is Being Offered
- Promise A Clear, Specific Benefit To The Audience
These are requirements. This isn’t a blog post headline we are discussing.
This is a landing page headline, and it needs to accomplish one of these two things.
1) Clearly Communicate WHAT Is Being Offered
Virtually no one ends up on your landing page by accident. And those that do are so scarce that you honestly shouldn’t be that interested in them.
These are the people we care about. They’re here for a reason.
They may have found their way here via the organic fruits of your SEO campaigning. You may have reached them through PPC targeting. They may have clicked through from your content marketing efforts. They may be a social media referral.
Regardless, each of those channels, if designed correctly, was built to funnel a specific type of visitor to your landing page. And now that they’re here, they need to know what you are offering them.
Who are you and what is this page here for? That’s the number one function of your headline.
Your headlines should answer a specific user’s question, such as:
- Are you going sell me some real estate?
- Do you have the expertise I need to land more clients?
- Will you make it easy for me to find a Father’s Day present?
If you don’t quickly and clearly communicate what is being offered, very few visitors will hang around long enough to find out.
How Much Difference Can a Clear Headline Make?
When eMove decided to run some tests on their homepage, the first thing they looked at was their landing page headline.
This was the original page:
This headline, while not awful, uses a question.
And while that may seem like a decent choice, case study after case study shows us that telling is better than asking.
In this case, eMove tested out a relatively boring headline that simply stated exactly what would happen when visitors entered their information.
The “Compare Three FREE Removalist Quotes” headline is extremely straightforward. Also, it only targets eMove’s actual target consumer — people interested in getting actual removal quotes right now.
As a result of this change, the page’s conversion rate increased by 67.8%, with a 98.7% confidence level.
67.8% more conversions?
Clearly communicating what is being offered… it works.
2) Promise A Clear, Specific Benefit To The Audience
Your second option when building a landing page headline, and my personal favorite, is to promise a specific benefit to your audience.
There’s an old sales adage that says, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”
That’s exactly what we’re doing here.
Your audience isn’t ultimately looking for a product. They are looking for a solution to a problem.
By promising a benefit that aligns with that ultimate solution, you can differentiate yourself from your competitors who are explaining the same “what” to their visitors.
Consequently, the “promise a benefit” approach is especially useful when you have a lot of competitors with similar product or service offerings.
For example, there are thousands of web designers out there, many of whom offer a similar level of quality at a similar price. If my headline just communicates my offer…
“Get A World-Class Website At A Budget Price”
…I’m going to have trouble distinguishing myself from competitors offering virtually the same product with very similar messaging.
If, on the other hand, I understand my target audience, I can promise a specific benefit that will resonate with why they are searching for web designers in the first place.
If my target customer is small business owners, my headline might be:
“Sales-Focused Web Design: Everything You Need To Start Earning Online Revenue By Week’s End”
This headline is much more likely to grab the attention of someone looking to build a website for the specific purpose of generating online revenue.
To look at a real world example, when VenueSphere wanted to improve their conversion rate, they evaluated the second line of their hero shot headline. The original uses a question, followed by a straightforward description.
“Call us or fill in the form to speak to a dedicated venue coordinator”
VenueSphere changed the subheadline to the following:
“Stop right now! Call us or fill in the form and we’ll do the hard work for you for free”
Instead of simply describing what would ultimately happen (the venue coordinator would be contacted), they described the direct benefit to the customer.
They described why the customer should care.
Do you want us to connect you to the venue coordinator?
“Well, couldn’t I do that myself? Why would I add a third party to a simple process? What’s the catch?”
Without communicating the benefit, it’s hard for visitors who don’t understand the industry to understand why they need help. So VenueSphere changed it’s approach to:
“Do you want us to do all the hard work for you, at no cost, making this process as easy as possible?”
That answers more questions than it raises, and as a result, this sub-headline change increased leads by 69%.
In a three-site test performed by Unbounce, positively worded benefit headlines out-performed both question headlines and negatively worded benefit headlines.
Headlines that promise a benefit tend to do very well.
But you may have noticed a possible downside.
Benefit focused headlines also narrow your audience.
Specifically, they can exclude those who aren’t seeking the benefits you mention.
In the above examples, if you aren’t looking for a third party to do the extra work for you – or if you aren’t looking to increase your bets – you’re going to leave.
And that’s a really, really GOOD thing.
Why You Need To Target A Specific Audience
Understanding which benefits to offer is directly linked to understanding the specific audience you are targeting.
DIY travelers looking to handle everything themselves aren’t interested in VenueSphere’s products or services. Poker players looking to improve their skills aren’t going to want your content.
And that’s why you shouldn’t care about these non-target consumers.
Your landing page headlines should be focused on a specific customer segment. That allows you to write high-converting headlines aimed directly at the type of customer who will increase your business’ revenue.
If your page’s target audience is too broad, your headline won’t be specific enough to be compelling. If it’s too narrow, your headline might be amazing, but you won’t have enough traffic to convert.
And if you need to, create additional landing pages.
As I mentioned before, you should be bringing in highly targeted traffic, and depending on the variety of segment you’re pursuing, you will probably need multiple landing pages to target each segment specifically.
After all, what’s the point of paying for PPC management campaigns on “small business web design” and “law firm web design” if you are going to send both to the same landing page?
In All Things, Clarity
If there is one universal principle that should ALWAYS hold true in your headlines, it’s clarity.
Whether you’re explaining what, why, who, how or where – whether you’re describing the process or promising the benefits – your headlines should always be crystal clear.
Clarity will win out over creativity or cleverness 9 times out of 10.
“Natural Joint Relief” seems like a pretty clear headline.
But put yourself in the customer’s shoes.
You see a bottle and you see natural joint relief. Are all the blanks filled in?
Not quite. How is this bottle helping relieve your joints? Is it a prescription medication?
Oh. It’s a supplement.
That’s pretty clear. So clear, it beat the original by nearly 90%!
There is definitely an art to writing great headlines, but don’t overcomplicate it. At the end of the day, the best headlines simply paint a clear picture in the reader’s mind about the offer they’re being asked to consider.
10 Principles To Test For High-Converting Headlines
The goal of this article is to give you something universally true – principles that can be applied to EVERY headline.
Unfortunately, audiences never seem to behave like you expect, and it’s always important to test out a variety of well-principled headlines before settling on the best option.
Accordingly, I’d like to leave you with a list of 10 headline principles that tend to result in higher conversion rates.
Unlike the content previously discussed, these principles should NOT be applied to every headline, but rather should utilized IN ADDITION to the previously discussed principles as extra ammunition for your landing page headlines.
After you’ve created your base headlines, try implementing these 10 landing page headline principles as A/B variations to see what your unique audience will respond to.
- Headlines with numbers tend to convert better.
- A sense of limitation or urgency tends to increase direct response.
- Promising a benefit within a definite time frame.
- Headlines with “positive” benefits convert better than those with “negative” benefits.
- Headlines with subheadings tend to convert better.
- Directly commanding user action tends to increase direct response.
- Headlines that focus on one main benefit do better than those that mention multiple benefits.
- Unique, non-clichéd phrasing tends to do better than buzzwords.
- Shorter headlines tend to do better than longer headlines.
- Headlines that claim authority via a recognized name or “science” also tend to perform well.
Remember, these aren’t universal principles to base your headline writing on.
These are principles that simply tend to be true more often than not. They are most effectively utilized during A/B testing.
Wrapping Up the Discussion on Landing Page Headlines
To sum up our discussion, all landing page headlines you write should be crystal clear and either describe what you’re offering or promise a compelling benefit.
Remember, you only have 15 seconds to grab your reader’s attention.
Use these headline strategies to keep visitors on your page and begin converting them through your sales funnel.
P.S. If you learned something new, then share this article with others so it makes you look smarter too 🙂