Are Headlines Tangling Your Readers?

I’m up for a challenge.

Just recently, my friend and SEO blogging expert Andy Beard posted an article about an interesting case study.

After simply rewording the headline of a blog post, John Wesley literally multiplied his traffic to one of his blog posts by 10 times.

With the same post!

In other words, nothing was changed except for the headline. The article was exactly the same, word for word. But by changing the headline slightly, the blog post drew a ton of traffic, particularly from social networking sites.

Well, now’s your chance to have me do the same thing for you — and learn a thing or two, too. Here’s how. Let me rewire one of your own headlines for maximum selling power. But there’s a catch…

Before I let you put me to the test, let me share with you a few tips.

I know that, with salesletters, changing the headline can increase response, sometimes by as much as 700%. I’ve seen this in split-test after split-test. And the reason is, while the copy may be good, the headline is often where the bottleneck occurs.

A good indicator, if your copy is online, is to track your visits. If there’s a wide gap between the times people stay on your site, you know the headline is the culprit.

In other words, if a lot people hit and leave, while many stay longer to read the copy, then you know the copy is good — and the fact it is the headline that needs improvement.

(Those who stayed but for only a few seconds were not enticed enough by your headline to start reading. But those who did were interested. Whether they bought or not is a whole other ballgame. And a whole other blog post.)

Remember, the purpose of a headline is to get people to start reading. That’s it. But if the headline is poor, generic or vague, it can deter readers who might greatly benefit from the content — or the product being offered.

The question is, how do you do that? The best headlines I’ve seen are those that start a story, make a shocking statement, tease a bit, offer a benefit or prepare the reader for what’s to come.

I’ve lumped these in my “3 x 3 Headline Rule.”

That is, your headline should cater to the three greatest human goals (to make or save time, effort or money), the three greatest human desires (lust, greed or comfort), or the three greatest human teasers (curiosity, scarcity or controversy).

(Or a combination of any of these.)

But aside from these, I have found that the most productive headlines have at least five common characteristics:

1) They are clear.

No vagueness here. Headlines that are universally and easily understood, that is they speak in plain language and cater to as wide a market as possible, are definitely going to attract more readers. As the sarcastic adage goes, “Eschew obfuscation.”

2) They are specific.

Most people tend to be general in their headline in an attempt to summarize the content. A headline is not meant to summarize; it’s meant to create readership. You’re not writing a book. You’re writing copy.

3) They are targeted.

Who, specifically, is your reader? Better yet, who is your perfect customer? Once you know who you are targeting with your offer, your headline can both target and qualify the reader even before they read your copy.

4) They are driven.

Headlines don’t tell. They sell. They sell the reader on the content of the copy — not on the offer. And as such, they are action-driven, whether that action is implied or stated.

5) They are newsworthy.

Sure, there will always be a place for benefit-oriented headlines. But some of the most powerful headlines I’ve seen of late are those that have news angle tied to them. They are newsy or newsworthy.

If there were a sixth one, I would say there was indeed another common denominator. Although not found in all successful headlines, it’s the fact that the headline creates vivid mental imagery. (Meaning, they are picturesque.)

If the headline paints a picture in the mind of the reader, it will engage the reader and compel them to read further. For example, “Zoom Past Your Competitors” evokes a better picture than to simply “Surpass Your Competition.”

OK, let’s have some fun. Shall we?

Here’s a cool way to learn how to write great headlines by actually watching me work.

Inspired by Brian Clark who rewired post headlines on his own blog for fun, and explained why magnetic headlines attract more readers by giving his reasoning with each suggestion, I’m prepared to do the same.

If you have a post you’ve written and it didn’t do too well, then give me the URL to your blog post in the comments below. I’ll pick a few of them (time permitting, of course), and I’ll rewrite the headline.

Even more than that, I’ll explain my reasoning behind the change in a subsequent blog post. That way, you’ll get to see the change and learn why I made it.

Here’s the catch.

While I’m primarily a salesletter copywriter, I must limit myself to blog posts because I will need to read the entire post — I don’t have the time to read each and every salesletter, word for word.

Also, I can’t promise that my headline will generate a massive influx of traffic like John Wesley’s blog mentioned at the beginning of this article. But I would love to hear from you and the results my change might do.

Ready? OK, go ahead and let ‘er rip…

About The Author

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Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin is a certified SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor helping plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, and medical aesthetic clinics attract more patients. Since 1991, he helps cosmetic and aesthetic professionals increase their visibility and grow their practices. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.

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