According to most estimates, you only have a few seconds to capture the attention of the visitors who stumble across your website before they make that vital decision of whether to stay and investigate more of your content or click the back button on their browser windows and explore other options. With this in mind, you’ve got to do something dramatic to ensure they stick around, and for nearly all websites, this means investing time in building an effective, attention-grabbing headline.
Of course, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel when it comes to writing these text blocks! Plenty of experienced marketers have gone before you and done the heavy lifting of determining what works – and what doesn’t work – when it comes to writing headlines. So if you’re struggling to keep people on your site long enough to get them invested in your brand, check out the following proven headline formulas that you can adapt to your site.
Formula #1 – Get [desired result] in [desirable time period]
This headline formula comes to us from the Daily Egg blog, where writer Russ Henneberry states that:
“This headline makes a promise, as all good headlines do. It promises that we will receive a benefit. And it promises that we will receive a desirable quantity of that benefit in a desirable time period.”
Basically, there are two schools of thought when it comes to motivating people – you can either help them get something they want or you can encourage them to avoid something painful.
This formula plays on the first suggestion by telling readers not just what they’ll receive for following through with your website, but also when they can accept to receive it. This is especially powerful, as creating a definite time frame allows people to envision themselves actually acting on your advice – making them more likely to stick around on your site.
Examples of this headline formula in action:
Formula #2 – [Avoid common problem] with [my solution]
Our first headline formula focused on helping people receive something they want, but there’s plenty of evidence that suggests the avoidance of pain is an even more powerful motivator. For this reason, headlines that emphasize not just these pain points but also promise a solution can be incredibly effective.
Here’s how this formula can be used:
Formula #3 – Are you [provocative question]?
It’s human nature to want to respond to questions we’re asked, which is what makes headlines that incorporate a provocative question so powerful. Even if the stated situation doesn’t completely apply to us, the headline has still evoked a level of curiosity that must be sated by reading further.
Of course, this headline formula comes with a few caveats, as Dean Rieck explained on Copyblogger:
“However, your question cannot be random or clever. It must relate directly and clearly to the major benefit of the product. It must also prod the reader to answer “yes” or at least “I’m not sure, but I want to know more.””
The following are a few examples of this headline being used effectively:
Formula #4 – Totally new [solution] finally solves [common problem]
Just as we humans are programmed to respond to the questions that are asked of us, we’re also universally intrigued by the “latest and greatest”. For this reason, headlines that are structured to sound like newspaper announcements are great at capturing attention and motivating readers to investigate your content further.
Here’s how this principle looks in practice:
Formula #5 – How to [solve common problem] using [new solution]
There’s something about a “how to” or DIY tutorial that appeals to our hunter gatherer instincts. And this makes sense – in prehistoric times, it was the humans that learned to quickly adapt and adopt new skills that survived long enough to reproduce and pass on their genes. With a carefully structured headline, you can take advantage of this “do it yourself” instinct in order to draw people in to your web content.
Check out the following examples that all make use of this “how to” structure:
Formula #6 – [x] reasons why [your option] is better than [industry standard]
Surprising headlines are great for attracting visitors, and comparing a new solution to an industry standard – as in the headline formula above – helps to make your content more engaging by providing readers with a frame of reference for what they’re about to read.
For maximum effect, consider the advice of Julie Eason, writing for Virtuosi Media:
“This headline works best if it’s surprising or goes against traditional thought. It creates a conflict in the brain because it’s just not right, and curiosity practically forces you to keep reading.”
Here’s how to do it:
Formula #7 – [x] myths about [common conceptions]
Let’s face it – no one wants to be that guy who’s misinformed or out-of-touch. Even if they relate to a subject we have no personal interest in, there’s something compelling about uncovering myths or common misconceptions that appeals to our desire to be “in the know”.
Check out the following examples of this headline formula in action:
When choosing a headline formula for your website, keep in mind that the particular structure that’s most engaging to your readers could vary by industry. For example, readers in the weight loss and fitness industries have clearly defined pain points, which makes headlines that appeal to these weaknesses more effective than those that promise a defined benefit. On the other hand, electronics consumers may be more easily swayed by headlines that promote certain product features or benefits.
Because of this variability, it’s vital that you split-test your headlines in order to maximize your results. Comparing one headline against another – rather than going on “gut feel” or instinct – is really the only way to ensure the headline you’ve chosen for your website is as effective as possible.
Image: NS Newsflash