A killer headline or title is the be-all and end-all of marketing copy right?
Headlines are important but headlines don't sell. Their purpose is to grab attention and motivate the reader to learn more about the product.
More interestingly, and counterintuitively, what makes the headline successful is not the headline itself but what happens before and after the headline.
We'll come to that in a while but before that let's understand the purpose of a headline.
Imagine you start reading a book because you really liked its cover and title. But after reading the first few pages you realize it's not what you expected. Would you still read it because you liked its cover? I guess not.
The same goes for a landing page and its headline.
The purpose of the headline is to spell out the value proposition and motivate people to read the story about the product, and not to sell the product.
In order to spell out the value proposition, headlines primarily follow a combination of one or more of the following strategies:
Remember I mentioned in the beginning, what happens before and after the headline is important for writing the headline.
That is particularly important in the case of products or services that are unique or hugely popular.
The uniqueness can be because of product superiority, supply chain, or anything that makes the business stand out among competitors.
Because for those products people who visit their landing pages are prepared for something interesting and fun and that momentum propels them to read beyond the headline.
So for those landing page headlines all you need to do is present the value proposition in a simple and effortless manner.
Let's understand this with a few examples.
Following is Stripe's landing page from 2015. At this point Stripe was already popular as a unicorn. Its headline was simple- Web and mobile payments, built for developers.
It's important to understand visitor's psychology
- Who are your visitors? (e.g. for Stripe, it's the developers)
- How do they find out about your brand?
- What do they already know about your brand before reading the landing page?
- How do they perceive this brand vis-a-vis competitors/alternatives?
Who are your visitors?
If you know who is your likely visitor it's better to address them directly in the headline. It's just an assurance to them that they are in the right place. Think of it as the friendly greeting you receive at your neighborhood shop.
If you don't know about the visitor, there isn't much choice but to keep it generic.
How did they found out about your brand?
If you are popular enough people know about you from social media or news media.
In those cases, it makes sense to just state your value proposition in the headline because you already have some trust that was built outside the landing page. All you have to do is build on that trust and keep the momentum going.
Also, make sure to avoid surprises in such cases. It's "safe" not to be too creative with the headline and it's okay not to explain everything.
In the case of Stripe, their unique selling proposition was to help people accept card payments using APIs. But in their headline, you'll find no mention of credit/debit cards. You'll just find a call-to-action (CTA) "Learn more about Stripe".
Such a call-to-action doesn't make sense for most businesses. Especially if you are a small business or service provider, you should avoid "Learn more" CTAs and explain the benefits on the landing page itself. By forcing people to go to another page to learn more, you'll lose a large chunk of users who will not click on that button and drop off.
In Stripe's case it makes sense because they were offering a relatively complex service, they needed some prior commitment from users to learn about the product, and they were solving a pressing problem.
What do they already know about your brand before reading the landing page?
Knowing in advance what your customer knows about you helps you take some calculated risks to set the stage for the right conversation. In Stripe's case it was the "Learn more..." CTA. They wanted people to commit more time to the product.
They knew that their reputation preceded them and their visitors will comply.
If your visitors have certain expectations, it's super important that you build on that expectation. Keeping the headline simple help (as in Stripe's case) as long as it serves as a starting point of the conversation built around users' expectations.
In a nutshell, if you know your audience and you know how much they know, you can start a conversation with a simple headline and keep the details in subsequent sections.Tweet about this article
If you have negative publicity, you have to address it in a different way but that's a topic for another day.
How do they perceive this brand vis-a-vis competitors/alternatives?
It's important to know your competition and how your visitors perceive you vis-a-vis competitors/alternatives before writing the headline.
It's safe to assume that your audience has already researched alternatives before visiting you. Your headline shouldn't claim anything that's not in sync with that reality. For example, if your product is expensive compared to most competitors, claiming it as the cheapest will only lead to friction.
Here are few other examples of simple headlines:
All these headlines are from Inc 5000 businesses. They certainly enjoy a reputation among an audience that makes them keep a simple headline.Tweet about this article
Now, coming to brands that don't enjoy a lot of PR and get most of their traffic from ads and search, the headline should hook the reader by saying something appealing.
And the headline should appeal to a burning pain point.
This is true for most of the growing brands that we see around us with a product that people love (because they solve a burning pain problem) but the product is not something very unique or extraordinarily popular.
You can notice the stark difference between previous "simple" headlines that just described the products and these headlines.
These headlines are describing their audience as a hero who is solving a problem.
These brands often state the value proposition and in addition, they include a hook to appeal to the specific pain point of the readers.
Here are some examples.
These appeals are usually around the biggest pain points that users are facing like- saving time, saving money, growing reputation, making money, manage a sudden disruption, freedom from constraints, improving health, being more attractive etc.
Managing a sudden disruption refers to adjusting to a recent trend that your customers are not yet ready to face. Since these trends are new and impactful, they become top-of-the-mind concerns for your prospects. Remote working, monetizing Twitter, and online reputation management are few such trends.
If the pain point addressed by your product is not something at the top of the user's mind, this strategy won't work.
If the above strategies can't be applied to your product because:
- It's not very popular and unique
- It's not addressing a top-of-the-mind pain point
it's time to use another strategy that will force the user to read.
For that, you need a startling headline that will shock and awe the reader. It will promise something that captures the user's imagination.
Here are some examples:
You'll notice that even in these headlines the user is depicted as solving a problem. But the problem statement packed in a few words alludes to something much bigger that's open to imagination.
When you talk about "social media history", you open that imaginary can of worms that the user can visualize and suddenly the innocuous social media becomes a problem.
On the other hand, Japanese candy surprises can bring pleasant memories of candies and combine them with the promise of surprises.
By promising to fulfill these inner desires, flared up with subtle references that open up a window to imaginations, you are taking the users to a territory where they will give you those precious extra seconds of their narrow attention span.
You now have to utilize those crucial extra seconds to present your product and convince them that it can stand up to that promise- I'll cover that in my next post about sub-titles and hero images.
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