Are You Writing Headlines That Sell? Stop!

stop sign

Are you stressing over writing killer headlines?

Do you write your copy and then agonize, tweak, and rewrite the headline, only to rewrite it again?

Do you often go so far as to publish your article or sales page even though you’re still not sure the headline is the best it can be?

Well, you’re not alone. People who know how important headlines are often do overly dwell on them, and for good reason.

But… it could be that you’re trying to make your headlines work way too hard.

What are headlines for?

  • Grabbing attention?
  • Filtering the target audience?
  • Generating curiosity?
  • Promising benefits?

You guessed it, all of the above!

What they are NOT for is selling. A headline alone cannot convince anyone to do anything other than one thing (and I’ll share that one thing below). Yes, a headline can have a deep impact on conversion rates by putting the reader in the proper frame of mind, but they do not lead to the sale, subscription, download or other action all alone.

Headlines Are Stop Signs Not Buy Signs

OK, there might be marketing geniuses out there who can accomplish attraction and conversion all in one sentence. For the rest of us a headline has just one real job to do.

And that job is?

To get people to keep reading.

Focus all your headline-writing efforts on getting the readers attention and holding it. The remainder of your copy should do the rest and get the reader to take the desired action, but only if they actually read!

Don’t overburden your headline, just let it get on with the job it was meant to do.

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Comments

  1. Good point! If the article or post doesn’t deliver, the best headline in the world is of no use.

  2. I have got around 20% conversion with a paypal button under a headline.

    The vital key online is knowing where your reader is coming from and what stage of the marketing process he’s in.

    In this case the reader was coming from a short email that sold the offer.

    They didn’t need to be convinced.

    The biggest key to writing great headlines (or any kind of copy or article) is to understand your prospect or reader intimately…

    Kindest regards,
    Andrew Cavanagh

  3. No quibble with Andrew’s perspective. Sometimes the product/service is a seamless match between customer need/want and their level of anxiety or itchiness to buy.

    But for those other times when we need to work a little harder to make the case, the headline (AND I’d add the first sentence or 2 of the intro paragraph) are key to setting up the promise and premise, engaging the reader enough to move forward.

  4. So many sites that offer copy writing advice for blogs talk about the importance of a catchy headline. And yes, it is key. However, the headline MUST be relevant to the content. Yes, “15 Ways to Keep My Wife Quiet” might get me to click once – but when I see that you’re really talking about something random – you lost me for life.

    I think it’s reached the point where too many people are discrediting potential readers by straying them down the wrong path.

    Also, I’m a regular reader and enjoy the blog a great deal. May I humbly suggest a shorter headline for this entry:

    Don’t Buy This Headline!

    or

    Headlines Are Not for Sale

    Thanks for sweet content!

  5. I like the philosophy that a headline is a sales pitch for the first sentence of the copy. The first sentence is a pitch for the second sentence and so on…

  6. Breath A Sigh Of Relief- Headline Advice You Can Actually Follow.

    At least that’s what it did for me.

    Thanks,

    Lawton

  7. Ganesh Srinivasan :

    I agree that ‘Head Line is a Stop Sign, not a Buy Sign’ – but it should make the reader go past the ‘Pause’ and be motivated to read further

  8. Great blog – great information. I’m happy to refer my readers to this article and to stay in touch here… Glad I found you!

  9. I cannot believe it’s possible to convince a prospect to buy with just one sentence, i.e. headline in our case.

    So, why bother making up headline for sale?

  10. When a headline change can cause a sales letter to convert 32.9% more visitors to buyers, I’d call it a sales tool.

    I’ll tell you what headlines are really for – testing.

    Some of those who hate salesy headlines think that becasue they hate them, the prospects will too.

    Never let your opinion get in the way of a sale.

    It only matters what the prospects think of the headline and very, very seldom are copywriters part of the prospect pool.

    I’d bet over 50% of buyers don’t get past the headline before they’ve made up their mind as to whether or not they’re going to buy.

    This post wasn’t a good fit here, considering one of the Related Posts was this one.

  11. Could you give some example for “Good” title and “Bad” title and point out what was wrong? Thanks

  12. This is an excellent reminder of the purpose of Headlines. Sometimes, however, it’s difficult to strike a balance between authenticity and “stopping power.” I tend to put a little too much information into my headlines — another CopyBlogger no-no — which has the unfortunate effect of causing people to skate right by.

    I’ve gotten better at writing good headlines as my blog has progressed, thanks in large part of CopyBlogger.

  13. I think, whatever headlines you put, whether as a stop sign or buy sign, it should be related to the body of the article and the body supports it. A two-way traffic between the title and the body I should say. (^_^)

  14. This post wasn’t a good fit here…

    I think there may be some confusion on what Chris is saying here. The reason why headlines are so crucial, and why they can impact conversion so highly, is because a great headline gets more people to read the body copy. A bad headline does not, and therefore that copy converts much worse.

    So, what Chris is saying is correct–a headline only sells to the extent it gets people to read the rest of the copy. I think Michael Fortin did a long piece on headlines a while back and his first section was dedicated to the purpose of the headline, which is to get people to read the rest. Joe Sugarman preached the same (channeling Gene Schwartz).

    Are some headlines better integrated with the body copy so that they convert at higher rates among two groups that both read the body copy? Absolutely, but I don’t think that changes the primary goal of the headline.

    Andrew brings up an interesting point, in that a killer headline alone can convert some people if the reader has been pre-sold via earlier materials or a relationship. But I think Chris’ point in this article is that trying to pack too much into a headline in an effort to persuade the reader to take action beyond reading the next sentence often diminishes the power of the headline.

  15. ” Yes, a headline can have a deep impact on conversion rates by putting the reader in the proper frame of mind, but they do not lead to the sale, subscription, download or other action all alone. ”

    Brian – I still disagree with that statement.

    I have bought ebooks AND physical products from the headline alone and never read a single subhead or paragraph.

    I’ll bet other people have too, they just don’t want to disagree with you or Chris.

    I’ll stand here – A headline is responsible for 50% or more of all sales on short or long copy sales letters.

    He mentioned sales letters and articles in the post. We’re not talking blog copy here, we’re talking selling and headlines do the selling.

    If not, how can you change one and increase the conversion rate of a sales letter so dramatically ?

  16. Mike, I think this depends on the product, and the service. A headline really is just responsible for getting people to read the next sentence. The headline could totally be amazinga and offer a real winning offer…

    The headline could be amazing, but if you ad copy is terrible or too hypey, the person will not buy.

    I have come to the conviction that if a product is great and the person is honest, they will sell some of the product. Having great copy though can help that person sell a TON of products/services.

    I used to think that a headline had to do all the work. Reading Joe Sugerman’s work has changed my mind. Your headline cannot do all the heavy lifting.

    I mean, it can but I think you won’t learn how to write good body copy or sub-heads if you go the headline-does-it-all route.

    -Lawton

  17. Hi Lawton,

    You’ve added in too many off-topic things for me to be able to argue my point.

    We weren’t talking body copy, only headlines.

    I agree with you, to an extent, but don’t want to add in any other points to ponder.

    Here’s the gist of this – it’s only my opinion, not gospel truth.

    Bad headlines, those that don’t sell, don’t make good copy effective.

    Great headlines can sell bad copy and bad products.

    Bad headlines won’t sell a good product.

    As for your statement – ” A headline really is just responsible for getting people to read the next sentence. ” – I happen to disagree. Not a big deal, as it won’t matter to you what I think and it won’t matter to me what you think, unless we start paying each other for copy. :-)

    We can still do lunch, dinner or a round of golf and not totally agree about a matter such as this, we just can’t do business for long without agreeing.

  18. Mike, sorry my post was scattered. I was like, “I’m not making sense here.”

    Man, you are right about not being able to agree, ’cause when I get clients who like the pretty ads with not much copy, I go insane…

    It’s true that i eventually have to move on from those clients, and i have started to.

    I’m glad we’ve got Copyblogger to trade ideas.

    Have a good one, everyone,

    Lawton

  19. If not, how can you change one and increase the conversion rate of a sales letter so dramatically ?

    More people read the rest of the sales letter.

    Remember, on average, 80% of people will read the headline but not the rest. Those that ignore the body copy do not generally buy. The better the headline, the higher the percentage of people that read the copy, and that leads to a higher rate of conversion.

  20. “To get people to keep reading.”

    I like this. I also try and work my headlines around certain keywords for SEO – but they MUST do a great job describing the article as well.

  21. Yes, I agree.

    Any thoughts about those long-winded press release headlines that try to tell the whole story in one go.

    There has to be a better way.

    I love this blog.

    cr

  22. I like your perspective on this! AND … I love this blog.

  23. From John Caples –

    “In a print ad, 75 percent of the buying decisions are made at the headline alone.”

    That’s a sales tool if I ever saw one.

  24. I have read that. Let me ask you though, is that what you see in YOUR testing? It’s best to not take any one word for it, do your own testing.

    It’s important to not confuse a call to action with a headline. If a prospect has been pre-sold it could be enough to announce product is on sale, that is not what we are discussing here.

  25. As for taking John Caples word Chris, if you haven’t, if you don’t, you’re missing out on tested, tried and true tactics.

    Human nature doesn’t, hasn’t and won’t change from his day, to ours to the next generations to come.

    Adam and Eve had the same nature as we do and they responded the same way we do, as did their offspring and ours, etc.

    But to answer your question, yes, I truly believe it, I see it happen and I fall for headlines the same as my customers do.

    Copy was doing it’s thing WAY before blogs started and I was using it WAY before blogs started.

    And yes, I’m referring to headlines, just as I was in every comment I made on this thread.

    I bough every John Caples book I could, off eBay a long time ago and would advise you to do the same.

    Get all the classic marketing material you can find, like Eugene Schwartz, Caples, Claude Hopkins, David Ogilvy, etc.

  26. Mike, I think we’ve beaten this horse. As I mentioned above, Michel Fortin says the exact same thing that Chris does, so why not take it up with him? Then you won’t be able to redirect the argument based on credentials and what books someone has read, since I’m quite certain Michel has read all of those and more, and has a bit of documented copywriting success himself.

  27. Headlines do sell

    This one sold out a local shop of jeans on sale…

    Quality Fashion Jeans £2.99
    Jeanswear, 12 High Street

    When you see a headline you read further because of the potential benefits to you.

    So in my opinion, backed by my results on my websites and internet auctions…

    The headline is clicked by your already interested customer. The ad is simply reasuring the customer and letting them know what they need to know before buying.

    The end is simply saying what to click or do in order to buy.

    Regards Ian Stables

  28. I think you really have to take it in context.

    Advertising is salesmanship.

    Sometimes you can just sell a product based on price because your prospect is effectively presold.

    An example might be

    Brand new mercedes in perfect working condition $2,000.

    You don’t need much more than that to sell a Mercedes at that price as long as the prospect who’s reading the headline is interested in a car at a bargain price.

    On the other hand MOST headlines are used to capture attention including many of the most successful headlines in history.

    “Are You Making These Mistakes In English” doesn’t try to sell you in the headline…it gets your attention and draws you into the body copy.

    “The Amazing Secret Of A One-Legged Golfer”

    Again no attempt to sell.

    “Lies Lies Lies”

    Man you can’t even work out what the product is from the headline or the opening page in Clayton Makepeace’s blockbuster control.

    If you’re selling to someone you first need to get them listening…get them engaged.

    Then you have a chance to use whatever chain of logic is effective to persuade your prospect to buy.

    Kindest regards,
    Andrew Cavanagh

  29. Great stuff – get people to stop and READ – don’t just have a goal of selling them – using social media you should have a clear goal first, and then if it’s to sell them, you’ve got to start the conversation first – who’s buying at a cocktail party, right? let’s talk first! thanks for your post.

  30. Great tips! Regardless whether for sales copy or journalistic texts…etc….

  31. Thanks for the reminder. I have been guilty of writing and re-writing headlines, trying to make them do what the body copy should.

  32. I truly believe that keywords are just the stop words and they don’t help in selling. Getting attention is something else and selling your products is entirely different vertical.