Thursday, September 11, 2008

Short headlines pack twice the punch

Updated Monday September 29


We agonize over them. We want headlines that are newsy, that tap an emotion and that promise results or a solution. It's a big ask from six to eight little words.

Now I am wondering if we should shoot for even shorter headlines.

Reducing the headline from six words to four doubled the effectiveness of one campaign, reports MarketingExperiments.

We all know a great headline can sell. But what do headlines do for loyalty and retention? In our company, the jury's out on that. Some of us worry that a headline that sells doesn't always retain. Because a new customer doesn't always have the same needs as a customers who has been buying a product or service for a while.

"The objective of your headline is not to sell, but to connect with your reader, " says Hunter Boyle, a former colleague of mine, writing up the results of a Webinar on Writing headlines that don't sell -- but get much higher conversions on's blog.

How can you get better headlines?

MarketingExperiments recommends “Pre-Testing” (their term, not mine. One of our readers pointed out that a pre-test is really just a test. I agree!) headlines, something we use in my company.

For each headline, it suggests writing 10 different headlines using a wide variety of angles.

We often write 30 or more when we are feeling inspired. And we ask others to help.

Whittle the headlines down to the top three. Gee, I think Hunter learned something when he worked with us.

Take a sample from a few top customers or external peers. In our company, we usually call a handful of customers to ask, "Which of these headlines would most make you want to read the story?" And I often test headlines, like the latest ones here, online using SurveyMonkey and social media sites like Twitter. It's great when readers suggest their own ideas like this one, "Make search do more, suck less."

Sometimes these techniques pick a winner, isolate a dog or tell us whether we are using language that readers understand or find offensive, like "suck."

It isn't foolproof. And sometimes I wonder if this approach eliminates the really wild, out-there headlines.

If you haven't visited the MarketingExperiments blog, it is worth a visit. Hunter's made the blog more readable and more actionable. This organization has fantastic research and great case studies but it sometimes uses language that feels a bit dated.

Hunter's fixing that. Congratulations.

Posted by Internet Marketing Report Online editor Julie Power


1 comment:

Hunter Boyle said...

Hey Julie,

Thanks for the post and very kind words.

You're absolutely right about how much I learned at PBP. (Heck, I cut my blogging teeth on the IMR blog 1.0 back in '06. Kudos to you and other PBP bloggers for taking that initial "experiment" to an entirely different level.)

There's another valuable approach to headlines that's blogworthy -- and maybe you've done it? -- but if I changed the language, it would lose its punch. I'm sure you can guess which test I'm talking about. ;)

Great to see that you're using the full arsenal of headline testing methods, and the new digital twists with Twitter, Survey Monkey, the blog, are ideas that more companies ought to use.

Hope you'll join us live for our upcoming web clinics.

Cheers -- Hunter