Site Headlines Tested

How optimizing your headlines can improve your website's conversion rate by 73% or more


We recently released the audio recording of our clinic on this topic. You can listen to a recording of this clinic here:

Headline Testing

In the world of direct mail it is well known that a minor change in a headline can have a significant impact on response rates.

But what about the web?

  • What kind of impact can a headline have on page conversion rates?
  • To get a significant difference in results, do you have to write completely different headlines? Or can a small change to a headline make a disproportionate difference?
  • And are there any rules or guidelines to follow when writing different headlines to test?

To find answers to these questions we ran a number of tests with different research partners and have discovered some surprising insights.

Case #1: Testing Headlines in a Multivariate Environment

Our first test measured the effectiveness of six headlines in a multivariate campaign for an online dental site.

Here were the actual headlines used:

  1. (Control)
  2. Dental Plans for $8.33 a month. Acceptance Guaranteed.
  3. Over 55,000 Dental Care Providers. Acceptance Guaranteed.
  4. Dental Care Coverage. Best Price Guaranteed.
  5. Low Cost Dental Care for the Uninsured.
  6. Best Price Dental Care – Without Insurance.

Although other page elements were also optimized, the following table shows the isolated impact of the six headlines. Note that this is an ongoing test, and these are preliminary numbers:

Landing Page Headline: Impact on Conversion Rate
Headline Impact on Overall Conversion
Headline 1 -5.68%
Headline 2 72.76%
Headline 3 26.41%
Headline 4 -68.43%
Headline 5 -20.44%
Headline 6 -5.11%

What You Need To UNDERSTAND: Headline 2 increased the conversion rate of the page by 72.76%. The other headlines were markedly less successful.

This was the most effective headline:

“Dental Plans for $8.33 a month. Acceptance Guaranteed.”

For this site, the low price of the service proved to be an extremely effective selling point. By placing that information in the headline, conversion jumped more than 70%.

The “guarantee” perhaps also contributed to the increase in conversion, but headlines 3 and 4, which also mentioned a guarantee, did not perform as well.

It is worth noting that the two top-performing lines, 2 and 3, both included specific figures. Clearly the price figure carried more weight than the figure relating to the number of providers available. But in both cases, the specificity of quoting a figure lifted response rates above the other lines.

KEY POINT: Selling points such as low price, large selection, money-back guarantees, and so on can be quite effective when highlighted in the headline of a page. This is the first text a visitor will see, so it has much potential for a large impact.

Case #2: Focusing on the Headline

Our next three tests focused exclusively on the headlines for another online company, which wishes to remain anonymous.

In our first round of testing, we tested three headlines on a single landing page.

The headlines were:

  1. You Are Master and Commander of a Billion Documents
  2. Cost Effective Litigation Management Solutions
  3. We Sell Unfair Advantages. Interested?

The body copy for all three test pages remained constant while the headlines rotated in an A/B/C split-run. Traffic was generated using a Google AdWords campaign and we measured click-throughs and leads generated for each headline:

Landing Page Headline: Leads Generated (Group 1)
Metric Headline 1 Headline 2 Headline 3
Impressions 38,410 38,889 38,365
Clicks 1,151 1,171 1,159
Click-Through Rate 3.00% 3.01% 3.02%
Leads 7 2 5
Conversion Rate 0.61% 0.17% 0.43%

What You Need To UNDERSTAND: In terms of the conversion rate of leads generated, Headline 1 performed 42% better than the next best headline and 259% better than the worst headline.

Based on an average cost per click (CPC) of $0.28, Headline 1 generated leads for $46.04 each, Headline 2 for $163.94, and Headline 3 for 64.90.

Based on these test results, Headline 1 is the clear winner.

This headline emphasized power and control, and did significantly better than Headline 2, which emphasized “cost savings,” and Headline 3, which played on “competitive advantages.”

In our second round of testing, we used a separate set of three headlines focusing on a different segment of the company’s core market:

  1. An essential resource when corporate clients tell you they have 2,000,000 documents to be reviewed.
  2. Say Yes when a client asks you to review FIVE MILLION separate documents.
  3. Say Yes when a client asks you to review FIVE MILLION separate documents. And smile.

Again, the body copy for all three test pages remained constant while only the headlines changed. We measured the number of unique visits (from a Google AdWords campaign) and the number of leads generated by each offer page:

Landing Page Headline: Leads Generated Group 2
Metric Headline 4 Headline 5 Headline 6
Impressions 32,754 38,149 35,786
Clicks 807 948 888
Click-Through Rate 2.46% 2.48% 2.48%
Leads 6 9 0
Conversion Rate 0.74% 0.95% 0.00%

What You Need To UNDERSTAND: Headline 5 out-pulled the next best headline by 28%. Headline 6 was a dismal failure, generating no leads whatsoever.

Based on an average cost per click (CPC) of $0.31, Headline 4 generated leads for $41.70 each and Headline 5 generated leads for $32.65 each. Headline 6 generated no leads.

The winning headline emphasized the benefits of the software solution. It focused clearly on how the software will satisfy the needs of the client.

It is worth noting that the difference between the best and worst headlines was the addition of just two words at the end: “And smile.”

These two words transformed a winning headline into one that failed completely. This underscores the value of testing. Using one’s intuition alone, it would be hard to anticipate that those two words would have such a dramatic and negative effect.

Finally, we tested the best headline from each of the last two tests (Headline 1 vs. Headline 5) to both audiences combined. Now, in addition to changing the headline on each page, we also drove traffic to the pages using a different Google AdWords ad focusing on bringing in targeted traffic to each. Which would be the most effective headline for this site overall?

We measured the number of unique visits, leads generated, and cost per lead for each headline:

Landing Page Headline: Headline and PPC Ad Copy Test
Metric Headline 1 Headline 5
Impressions 27,333 83,105
Clicks 422 2,445
Click-Through Rate 1.54% 2.94%
Average Cost Per Click $0.74 $0.25
Leads 3 17
Conversion Rate 0.71% 0.70%
Total Cost $312.14 $617.20
Cost Per Lead $104.05 $36.31

What You Need To UNDERSTAND: The conversion rate for each landing page was quite close (0.71% vs. 0.70%), but Headline 5 had a much lower cost per lead.

Although the conversion rates were nearly identical, Headline 1 generates leads at a cost nearly three times that of Headline 5. Thus, Headline 5 was a clear winner.

The PPC ad copy for Headline 5 also had a much higher click-through rate, which resulted in Google giving that ad more weight and generating more impressions.


The following points will help you get the most from headline testing:

  1. Be aware of your testing options. Basic A/B testing and multivariate testing allow different levels of flexibility and specificity, as we saw in the examples above. A/B testing allows you to focus exclusively on headlines, while multivariate testing allows you to test other page elements simultaneously. For the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, see our recent reports on these topics:
  2. Identify effective phrases using Google AdWords or other PPC search engines. On the pay-per-click (PPC) search engines, ad copy can be tested to optimize CTR quite easily. On Google AdWords, for example, multiple ads can be created in the same ad group to test a variety of ad copy approaches. The best ad copy can then be isolated and optimized even further.By identifying effective phrases via PPC ad copy testing, you will then be much better equipped to write headlines that convert well. See our recent report for more information:
  3. Leverage your Unique Value Proposition (UVP). If your website has a truly unique value statement, you should not ignore it when writing your headlines. Additionally, the same principles of creating an effective UVP will help you write well-converting headlines. This recent report will be useful:
  4. Test a group of very different headlines. Cast aside all assumptions about what the best headline might be. This will mean writing and testing a broad variety of headlines, all of them significantly different.Once you have found your winning headline, you will have found the best approach or hook.However, you may not be expressing that approach in the best way. So start testing a variety of small changes and variations to that one line. In this way you will find the best expression of your winning approach.The first round of testing gives you the best approach. The second round finds its most effective expression.
  5. Test the presentation of your headline. Once you have optimized your headline, test some small design and layout changes. It may be that the layout of your page is getting in the way of people being able to see and read the headline without distractions.Test font sizes and colors. Try adding some more white or blank space around the headline. Trying moving graphics closer to or further away from the headline.On the web, the design of a page is an essential element in improving the readability of all your text.

Related MarketingExperiments Reports:

As part of our research, we have prepared a review of the best Internet resources on this topic.

Rating System

These sites were rated for usefulness and clarity, but alas, the rating is purely subjective.

* = Decent | ** = Good | *** = Excellent | **** = Indispensable


Editor — Flint McGlaughlin

Writers — Brian Alt
Nick Usborne

Contributors — Eric Stockton
Guy Tasaka

HTML Designer — Cliff Rainer

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1 Comment
  1. Ibidun says

    Thank you for the wonderful research.

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