Why Headlines Are Like Bait

Tips For Writing Effective Headlines For Online Copy

As an online copywriter, you are a fisherman – or fisher if that suits you. Your job is to catch as many fish as possible while you’re at sea. But you don’t want just any fish. You want fish with the best prospects for a good meal. In other words, you want mahi mahi, not minnows.

To catch mahi, you’ll need mahi bait. Throw out something your beloved fish hates and you’ll have no chance for success. You’ll never get a bite. Without a bite, the fisherman goes hungry. Your bait is that important. But throw out the right bait and you’re reeling in mahi for hours.

Luring Prospects with a Good Headline

Your headline is your bait. Plain and simple, if prospects don’t like your headline – they won’t read your copy. If no one reads your copy, you will go hungry. Simply put:

Bad Headlines = Starving Marketers

Headlines are the hardest working part of your copy. It is the one thing that will attract your prospect to your copy in a sea of options. The more options there are, the harder it is to capture your prospects attention. Estimates vary, but research suggests American consumers are exposed to 500 to 5,000 commercial messages per day.

Our attention is dispersed, especially online.

Your headline is designed to grab the attention-overloaded prospect by the eyeballs for a few seconds. Once you have their attention, you can lead your prospect from there. That’s why advertising legend John Caples called the headline the most important part of an advertisement.

Here are some tips on writing effective online headlines.

The Right Appeal

The #1 reason you will have a successful headline is if you have the right appeal. Going back to Caples, in his Tested Advertising Methods, he suggested there were four important qualities to writing a good headline.

Appeal #1 – Self-Interest: The first rule of copywriting is talk about benefits, not features. The same goes for headlines. Talk to your prospects about their dreams, their goals, their motivations – and stick it in a short headline.

Example: Earn A Full-Time Income Watching Videos on YouTube

Appeal #2 – News: We all love information. We especially love information that talks about something we’re interested in. Maybe it’s a subtle promise will give us tidbits to make us look a little younger.

Example: Harvard Scientists Re-Discover South American “Fountain of Youth”

Appeal #3 – Curiosity: We are also morbidly curious. That’s why news sites have the highest online click thru rates on strange and unusual stories. It’s also why curiosity-piquing headlines are so effective. This one implies a story to be told.

Example: I Gambled $7 And Made $37,036 Last Year

Appeal #4 – Quick, easy way: Who doesn’t want their lives a little easier. Promise a shorter, quicker way to the finish line, and 9 times out of 10 you will get takers. That’s why it works.

Example: Sleep Away the Extra Pounds in 5 Weeks

The Right Structure

One of the most useful checklists for writing headlines came from Michael Masterson at AWAI. Masterson teaches a four part rule for writing headlines: the Four-U’s. For a headline to work, it must have…

URGENCY – The headline should give the prospect a reason to desire the benefit sooner rather than later.

USEFULNESS – The headline should communicate something of value to the prospect.

UNIQUENESS – The headline should suggest that what it’s offering is in some way different from everything else of its typle. All claims should be uniquely associated with a certain product or service.

ULTRA-SPECIFICITY – Vagueness should be avoided at all costs. The prospect must know what specific benefits are in store for him.

The Right Audience

Talk to the wrong person and your headline falls on deaf ears. Talk to the right person and you have a chance at leading someone down your purchase path. That’s why it’s sometimes important to call out your prospects. One way to do that is by using “Attention”. Example: Attn: Chiropractors

Pay per click is another area where this can be important. Since you’re paying for each click, you don’t want to waste money on people who aren’t your best prospects. That’s why you qualify the clicks by writing a headline that excludes certain people. By saying, “Hawaii Vacation Only $999” you are excluding people who want to pay less for vacations in Hawaii.

More Headline Writing Tips

One bonus tip: write multiple headlines. If you’re stuck on your headline, write a few headlines. This helps stir your creative juices. Some direct response copywriters write 50 headlines looking for the perfect words. The more you write, the more you can choose from.

One more thing: online copy has another major benefit over offline copy. With online copy, you can test your headlines against other headlines in an A/B split test very quickly. That one element can mean the difference between a winning sales letter and a loser. Pick your best headlines and split the traffic between both headlines. Using statistical analysis, the one with the higher conversion rate is a better headline.

Don’t neglect your headlines. Whether it’s the subject line of an email, your Title and H1 tags for SEO, or an online sales letter headline, write in such a way to lure your best prospects into your copy.

Happy fishing!