4 characteristics of headlines that make sales

One of the TV shows I’ve been catching up on lately is Newsroom. It’s a deep drive into modern media capitalism, with a lovable grump for a news anchor named Will McAvoy.

It’s also a fascinating watch for anyone who has or wants to have an audience. There’s lots of issues raised which are poignant far outside the newsroom. Like Shakira.

characteristics of headlines

characteristics of headlines

For example:

– Intern.
-Yes?
-Come on over.
This is the overnight book.
The night crew puts together every story and every press release from everywhere.
Go through this and separate it into four piles– knew that, didn’t know that, don’t care, and Shakira.
But that one’s just for me, all right?

In this conversation snippet, one of the staff, Neal Sampat, explains a key newsroom process to an intern. The staff filters incoming breaking news notifications. They’re old school. They use printouts of the newswire. Given that she’s handed a stack of paper about a foot high, all she’s likely to read is the headlines. The four piles sort out news stories which are geniunely new and important. Everything else is de-priortized.

For a newsroom, this is critical. Their audience depends on them to share the most relevant news which impact their lives. After this first cut, the staff meet to plan the order in which the news will air that night.

Your headline needs to have the same effect on a new reader. Would it make it into the “didn’t know that pile”? You know, the pile which also doesn’t include the “don’t care” pile.

Why is specifically the headline so important? According to Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 people will read the headline, but only 2 out of 10 will continue reading. That means your headline is the singlemost important part of your copy. It requires the most effort to get right, say about 80% of your time…especially in persuasive content. Do you see why interviewing your customers and knowing what they want is so critical?

This has always been the case. Direct marketing legend John Caples analyzed high-performing headlines in his classic Scientific Advertising. He found four critical elements to headlines that pull sales:

  1. Self-interest
  2. News
  3. Curiosity
  4. Quick easy way

Self-interest is pretty much a pre-requisite in every case (it’s why features aren’t enough). Without a hint of self-interest, you’ll lose your reader’s attention almost immediately. Beyond that, some combination of the other three will help interest the reader enough to read the next sentence.

And hook in your reader you must.

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That’s the sole purpose of your headline.

To turn the browser into becoming a reader.

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Poof.

And if you want to learn more, check out Launch Tomorrow, my book on landing page and headline testing for early stage founders.

What is a good landing page experiment’s conversion rate?

Landing Pages Experiments launch tomorrow

Experimenting to figure out what’s effective

Let’s take the bull by the horns. Running landing pages as experiments requires some thought about conversion rates.

This question comes up in many forms. Here’s a recent post on a forum I participate in. I wanted to address it directly:

Hi!

Is there any benchmark telling that a given conversion rate is good or not good enough to proceed with the idea, getting into next step, interviewing people etc…?

Thanks for your valuable input!

So,

Conversion rates in the context of running an experiment (an MVP) mean something different than on a “normal” landing page. It’s like comparing apples and breadfruit. Both fruit, but quite different.

On a “normal” landing page, conversion rates drive overall profitability. The more people convert (buy), the more revenue you make given the same amount of traffic. The goal here? Be efficient.

Making money is a strong signal you’re onto a good idea. Yet don’t get ahead of yourself, bucko. Massive profits (and a high conversion rate) from cold traffic are usually the result of an a fully optimized sales funnel.

An MVP is a different beast, or bull, to continue the original metaphor.

When running a landing page MVP, in contrast, you’re figuring out what’s effective. What’s worth building.

You use the conversion rate as an indicator of whether your proposed solution will address the problem that you think a particular audience has. Note: lots of guesses in that last sentence.

This is a different approach than “classic” A/B optimizing. You aren’t trying to optimize your idea to convince yourself that you’re so smart (even though you are). You’re trying to figure out whether people actually need what you want to sell. It’s a “go/no go” test. Either you proceed with the idea or you don’t.

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The only conversion rate benchmarks which I’ve found in my research are conversion rates in fully optimized funnels. (The first kind).

By current standards, a conversion rate of over 30% to email is fantastic according to kickofflabs.com. Wordstream claims a conversion rate of 10% to a sale is great.

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Given that’s the case, you’ll need to decide up front what is acceptable for a a landing page MVP—before you start sending traffic to it. It’s an experiment. You want to learn something whether your experiment crosses the threshold or not, right? That way you get a meaningful result with your hypothesis test.

Stripped down to its core, a landing page MVP is just a sales funnel that hasn’t been optimized yet.

So given the above, here’s how I would approach it:

The trick is choosing a threshold between 0 and 30% that makes sense for your particular product idea. A fully formed product idea requires an understanding of your target audience, their problem, and a proposed solution in return for something of value. Typically this refers to email or cash. That’s what you need for a landing page MVP.

Given the above, at minimum, you’re best off running a few tests in succession:

This will quantitatively validate whether you’re on the right path, without building a product. It’ll also force you to think about how you’re going to acquire prospects….which is a topic unto itself.

Once you are asking for money on your landing page MVP, it makes sense to simplify the above with the following formula:

gross profit/customer
= revenue/customer – cost/customer acquisition
= price on landing page – cost per ad click / landing page conversion rate

Notice how this relates the price you want to charge for your solution to the target conversion rate you want to achieve. In this context, it’s easier to think about what you need your conversion rate to be for an idea to make sense. As the price you charge goes up, the conversion rate can go down while still making your idea profitable.

If you first offer a high value solution that’s attractively pitched at a low price, you should expect to get a high conversion rate. The higher you make that threshold value, the more ideas you will reject.

So if you apply Wordstream’s 10% conversion rate to a landing page MVP, be prepared to fail a lot of tests in order to find it. It does happen, though.

You’re probably dying to find out what I use. 😀

Currently, I want at least a 5% conversion rate to a sale on cold traffic before I pursue an idea further. If it’s less, the idea is bad, or the audience is bad. In either case, it needs rework. Or a trash bin.

I’ll give you an example of such a failed test tomorrow.

If you are launching a product or evaluating a new business idea, you’ll love my book Launch Tomorrow. It goes into the nuts and bolts of validating and launching new products–using landing page MVPs.

Don’t delude yourself, as I know I have many times in the past.

Get feedback.

From your ideal prospects.