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What’s Even More Important Than a Well Written Headline?

Yes, powerful headlines are vital. No need to go over that. There is one factor though that is even more important. So important that if you don’t get it right … even the most compelling headline will flop.

People pass by.

The reader yawns.

What is this vital factor you ask? While you are reading the following headlines, see if you can work out what element could be so important.

  • Wilsons Walrus Wax – 50% Off, Today Only
  • Double The Shine In Half The Time – Wilsons Patented Wax

While those headlines are fictional examples, this idea you need to be aware of had very real and lasting impact on Google Adwords campaigns I took over. 100-150% improvements in clicks in many cases. I believe writing Google Ads is a brilliant testing ground for learning some copywriting techniques and it was certainly a lesson for me.

As any reader of this blog could tell you, I am not exactly a world-beater at writing a great headline. How did I improve on the results of a professional copywriter?

First I will tell you which guesses are wrong. It is not the

  • Time limited offer
  • Benefit-lead statement
  • Alliteration or other gimmicks

In fact either could work as well as the other. OK, you could probably write a better headline. It’s not about what was written. It is about who for. The most important factor, the thing you need to work out before even thinking about a headline, is who are you writing for.

Stay with me. I know what you are thinking “We know all about writing for our audience, tell me something new!”. I will explain further …

Most of us are well aware we have to target. In fact people use the phrase “Target like a LASER”. Many people are also careful to create pen-portraits of their audience, or select appropriate demographics … Even so many miss the prospect completely.

Yes, you need to get inside the head of your prospect. Yes, talk to their needs, bring the picture to life. Definitely expand on the problem and demonstrate your ideal solution. But don’t stop there!

The problem stems from a fixation on who your prospect is and what they need without considering when they will see your headline. Headlines you think the audience will absolutely love can fail miserably if you don’t consider this. If you have a brilliant offer, fantastic creative, mouth watering copy, what could go wrong?

After considering this for a moment think back to something you wrote that completely tanked. Consider the Digg stories you didn’t digg up or down but ignored.

There is a piece of the puzzle missing; awareness. When defining your audience you must not ignore your audiences level of sophistication.

In the headlines above either could work for their respective audience awareness level. For a prospect with no awareness of your product or the issue you are solving it doesn’t matter how big a discount you broadcast, they aren’t going to be interested. On the other hand for a prospect pre-sold and ready to buy, a price based offer could be just the trigger they need.

Think about the Atkins Diet. Articles written a couple of years ago describing this weight loss craze would not attract any interest now. Not even the best three-year-old headline is going to change that.

Would you be interested in a revolutionary device that allows you to play digital music and video on the go? Probably not. I bet you read at least one article about the iPhone, though?

Your prospects will range from

  • Absolutely ignorant
  • Dimly aware but not sure
  • Aware but need more information
  • OK, I know, show me something new
  • Been there, done that, wearing the t-shirt, gonna take something earth-shattering

How knowledgeable on your topic is your audience right now? Which part of that audience are you hoping to attract?

I’m hoping with the headline of this post I am demonstrating what I am talking about. Before you write your headline you need to decide not just who you are targeting but how sophisticated they are with your topic. My headline assumes you

  1. Are interested in improving your copywriting
  2. Already know headlines are important

From the reaction to my posts so far I think this is a safe bet, but it could be I should have written the headline pitched to a less copywriting-aware audience, such as

“How To Create Better Headlines That Pull More Traffic”

If this article tanks it could also be because it is rubbish, certainly a possibility. I’m sure you will let me know!

The main thing to take away is the best headlines speak to the reader as if “he wrote this just for me”. Pitched wrong and even Shakespeare couldn’t get people to click.

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Comments

  1. That’s interesting Chris. Realizing the mentality that a viewer will have who will read a headline; that’s a very important thing to consider.

    If I am not mistaken, this can be a bit like writing about a new topic on a site where you have to explain it in the most basic terms quickly to ensure that newcomers know what you are talking about and that experienced users don’t get bored with the introductory sentences. Basically, you are writing something while making sure that the target audience gets it and responds to it.

    I like this article a lot. Not only should we focus on how to present something to a viewer, we have to know some background of the viewer in order to know how to address them.

  2. That’s interesting Chris. Realizing the mentality that a viewer will have who will read a headline; that’s a very important thing to consider.

    If I am not mistaken, this can be a bit like writing about a new topic on a site where you have to explain it in the most basic terms quickly to ensure that newcomers know what you are talking about and that experienced users don’t get bored with the introductory sentences. Basically, you are writing something while making sure that the target audience gets it and responds to it.

    I like this article a lot. Not only should we focus on how to present something to a viewer, we have to know some background of the viewer in order to know how to address them.

  3. Troy Tigner says:

    This is great post Chris. Being in the Yellow Pages business, having a great headline is key to the advertiser gaining business. But I never thought to take it to this level.
    Here’s a question: Since Yellow Page ads stay around for a year, does anyone believe it’s possible to effectively gauge how knowledgeable consumers are going to be? Would this even apply effectively to Yellow Page ads?

  4. Troy Tigner says:

    This is great post Chris. Being in the Yellow Pages business, having a great headline is key to the advertiser gaining business. But I never thought to take it to this level.
    Here’s a question: Since Yellow Page ads stay around for a year, does anyone believe it’s possible to effectively gauge how knowledgeable consumers are going to be? Would this even apply effectively to Yellow Page ads?

  5. @Bes, yes you have to get into the head of your prospects completely, not just demographic or other broad brush strokes

    @Troy, target the people who are ready for the product or service with your headlines. If someone is looking in the Yellow Pages they need to call someone now. Your headlines should speak to their selection process. Eg. plumber, will they turn up? will they charge fairly? will they do good work? etc

  6. @Bes, yes you have to get into the head of your prospects completely, not just demographic or other broad brush strokes

    @Troy, target the people who are ready for the product or service with your headlines. If someone is looking in the Yellow Pages they need to call someone now. Your headlines should speak to their selection process. Eg. plumber, will they turn up? will they charge fairly? will they do good work? etc

  7. Troy Tigner says:

    You know, this all sounds like common sense but it’s overlooked by many people, especially those who benefit the most, business owners. If I had a nickel for every business owner who told me to put their business name “nice and big” instead of an qualifying, interest creating headline, I wouldn’t need commission…ever. I have to fight with these owners and very few listen.

  8. Troy Tigner says:

    You know, this all sounds like common sense but it’s overlooked by many people, especially those who benefit the most, business owners. If I had a nickel for every business owner who told me to put their business name “nice and big” instead of an qualifying, interest creating headline, I wouldn’t need commission…ever. I have to fight with these owners and very few listen.