Headline Optimization: How would you make this title better?


I have experience as a copywriter, I take great pride in my headlines. But, now working at an optimization company, I see that all of my copywriting, and that means even my headlines, can be optimized.

But how? How do you write an effective headline to begin with? And how do you continue to improve those headlines?

Well, MECLABS CEO Flint McGlaughlin will be sharing some of our headline optimization discoveries at 4 p.m. EDT in today’s Web clinic – Headline Optimization: How testing 10 headlines revealed a 3-letter word that improved conversion more than major changes – with plenty of time spent on audience submissions as well.

But first we asked your peers for a few of their optimization tips. Here is some of our favorite advice (and if you have any ideas for a better title for this blog post, please let me know in the comments section)…

A formula for an effective headline

From our experience, what makes an effective headline is the combination of three elements:

  1. Valuable Offer/Proposition
  2. Keywords of your target market (i.e. what are their concerns and/or aspirations)
  3. Incentive; ideally with some urgency

Being the science folks, I know you’ll like the formula we use:
Great Headline = Valuable Offer/Proposition + Keyword(s) + Urgency Incentive

As an example of this formula, “Free eBook – Tells You 12 Secrets of Better Email List Hygiene”
Keywords = Email List Hygiene
Valuable Offer = 12 Secrets
Incentive = Free eBook

As mentioned in the MarketingSherpa Landing Page Handbook (plug for you), the key is to keep your headline 15 words or less as that is what someone can read in 2 to 8 seconds – the time they will give you.

I fully expect the gurus at MECLabs will be testing our formula…:o)

Troy O’Bryan, President & CEO, Response Capture

Wash, rinse, repeat

Even though the concept may seem simple and straightforward, in order to get the best results I recommend you do all of the following:

  • Do your keyword research. All of your online activities should include a focus on the keywords that will bring in the best conversions (sales or leads). We first use Google’s External Keyword Tool, then run all of these through Market Samurai. Pick the keywords that have:

a. the most relevance to your business

b. the lowest competition

c. the highest SEO Value

d. the most traffic

  • Test the headline with multiple tools available like PPC ads (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Adwords, etc.), landing page split-tests or email. Start with several headlines and the same
  • When you test, do it with headlines as the only variable. Test several that are completely different. You’ll get results that typically follow the Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule. That means that you’ll see great results in roughly 20% of the headlines, and marginal results in the others.
  • Take the 20% that do well, dump the others. Create variations of that 20% and re-test.

In other words – wash, rinse, repeat. Be patient and you’ll get great results. That directly translates into more leads and sales.

Michael A. Cordova, President/CEO, 21st Century Technologies, Inc.

Three keys to powerful blog post titles

Here is a Venn Diagram that we share with clients to help them build a mental framework for coming up with blog post titles and headlines:

headline venn diagram

Internally, we often use the ellipses to close out a strong headline that starts a compelling thought. We are wired to want to finish a thought process and the use of ellipses helps pull readers through the headline into the first couple of sentences.

We have tested this on emails and seen a statistically significant increase in open rates on subject line testing.

– Herb Jones, Gainesville Marketing

Related resources:

Headline Optimization: How testing 10 headlines revealed a 3-letter word that improved conversion more than major changes (Today’s Webclinic)

Copywriting: 10 headlines tested

Optimizing Headlines & Subject Lines

Optimizing Your Headlines: How changing a few words can help (or hurt) conversion

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  1. Herb Jones says

    thanks for the mention guys.

    an effective incentive would speak loud and clear to this audience… marketers generally work hard and appreciate recognition so perhaps something along the lines of:

    “Headline Optimization Contest: Winners Featured in Upcoming Webinar”

  2. Namita Patel says

    Short and sweet — you made some really useful points. Thanks! This site is my favorite online resource by far!

  3. Troy O'Bryan says

    It’s an honor to be mentioned among this group. Thank you!

    We’re going to test Herb’s idea of ending headlines and email subject lines with ellipses. Appreciate the idea.

  4. Sophie Callies says

    This is a great post thanks.
    A question though: I see the term “free” within the subject line. And I was told that this word was getting high antispam filter score. So where is the thruth?

  5. Troy O'Bryan says

    @Sophie Callies
    Hi Sophie,

    Good question. We have been told the same thing to avoid the overuse of “free” in our emails.

    To know the truth of a high spam score before you send here are some tools we’ve use:
    Free – Contactology: http://www.contactology.com/check_mqs.php
    Subscription Fee – Litmus Spam Filter Tests: http://litmus.com/

    In my example above, I was referring to a headline that you would see on a landing page, a printed ad, or in an email used with caution.

    In our tests, the use of “free” sparsely in an email did not trigger a high spam score, even in a subject line. However, using “free” excessively with all caps combined with other spammy phrases will result in a higher spam score.

    We’ve also learned that whatever follows the “Free” needs to have a value to target audience and be believable. For example, “Free Car” may have value, but as consumers we know that that kind of “free” requires a lot of effort and a low probability.

    What have other readers found?

  6. Jeffrey Dobkin says

    The 100-to-1 Rule
    First tip to write great headlines: Use the Jeff Dobkin 100-t0-1 Rule. Write 100 headlines, go back and pick out your best one. Hey, I didn’t say you’d like it — I just said it’s a way to write great headlines. Can rule be found in the 100-to-1 rule chapter in my book, “Uncommon Marketing Techniques.”

    Second Tip: I didn’t see this mentioned, but Relevancy is a very big factor in today’s marketing. The higher the relevancy, the better readership. In today’s deluge of way-too-much-information the closer you can come to the specific needs of readers, the more readers you’ll have.

    Finally, don’t be afraid to take chances. Readers put up with mounds of common verbiage that says nothing. Be different. Then track and test.

  7. Jared says

    I know this was quite a long time ago, but I really loved this webinar–but I can’t find a copy of it to show the research that was actually done! I’ve subscribed and everything. How can I get a hold of this webinar?

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