Do You Know the 10 Secrets of High Converting Headlines?


If you were to look for a way to increase the conversion rates that you get from your website without putting in a lot of extra time to do it, one of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck would be to improve your headlines.

I’ve written about this in passing in the past but it’s time to do a post exclusively about making headlines that pop because this is one of the most important skills you can master for online marketing and yes, SEO. The fact is that writing good headlines is an art form. The headlines need to be short enough to be read in a second or two but descriptive enough to grab people’s attention when they see it.

A good example of this was when I was interviewed for a job a few years back and I mentioned that as a professional writer; I estimated (at the time) that I’d written something close to a million words in my career. By now, it’s probably closer to a million and a half since I charge much more for my work now than I first did so that I don’t need to write the equivalent of a full length novel each month to make a living.

Anyway, I was asked on the spot to come up with a headline that would capture this idea. I thought for just a few moments and said, “A Million Words.” No, that doesn’t describe what my article would be about. However, it captures the imagination, makes people curious – what about a million words? Why is this important? In other words, headlines are not meant to convey an entire idea. They’re meant to entice someone to read the rest of your copy.

Here are ten ways to make your headlines pop and to get people excited about reading the rest of what you have to say.

A Headline about More Headlines

This is a play on words. This article is indeed about headlines and so the headline above is about, well, headlines. However, by the above subheading, I refer to lists. For whatever reason, people love lists and they seem to resonate very well with an online audience. Perhaps it’s because lists allow your customers to quickly glance through, see your subheadings and then only look at what they like.

Either way, making a headline which promises a list of subheadlines is a good way to grab people’s attention (hey, it must have worked – you’re reading this article, right?). Of course, there are lists and there are lists. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of the lists that just have one line explaining them. I like to be able to see additional content to sink my teeth into if I find an idea interesting.

Also, I’ve found that certain numbers work best for lists. For some reason, odd numbers seem to be popular – 3 ways to do this, 5 ways to do this, etc. However, the other thing that’s popular is 10 or multiples of 10, especially when you get past the number 9. I don’t really know why this is but it’s true. Oddly though, I do find that the 25 multiple is also popular.

However, for some reason, people don’t like 100 as a number for a list. Lists seem to be more popular when they go to 101. I guess it’s because 100 feels like a “full” number to us and when we say 101, we’re going beyond the full measure so to speak. Either way, this is powerful stuff and ideally should be used for building your list based articles.

Speaking of Subheadings…

Regardless of whether or not you use the list technique when creating your initial headline, subheadings are a vitally important part of building your article and getting your customer’s attention to be focused on whatever it is that you have for sale. The reason is simple: we live in the age of sound bites and Twitter.

People today by and large are not great readers. This means that I know that the vast majority of you out there will never read all 2,000+ words of this article. I know – it’s a really long article which is intended to convey a great deal of information. However, I do know that you are likely at least skimming the article and picking out a few good and useful nuggets of information from it here and there.

You can do this because I’ve included subheadings throughout this article and indeed, I do this with every article I write. It simply makes sense because most people reading online tend to skim rather than reading a long form article (personally, I think it’s a shame that the art of reading seems to be dying but that’s a rant for another day). Do yourself a favor then and never, ever ignore your subheadings.

Be Useful

I’ve said this time and time again and it’s still true today. Nobody cares even a little bit about how wonderful you think you are. It doesn’t matter to them. All they care about is how much you can help them with a problem. As an online marketer, you my friend are in the solution selling business. This means that your headlines need to purport to sell a solution to your customers.

Think about it – I could write an article with the headline: Sophisticated Word Processor with Lots of Functions and it would probably get a few looks, mostly from people like me, who are tech geeks and who like to see such things. However, the average person is going to give it a pass because you haven’t solved a problem for them.

Consider the very same article but now I’ve titled it, “Get More Done in Less Time with Sophisticated New Word Processor.” I’ve told you the same thing basically – it’s a sophisticated new word processor which can potentially help you with lots of cool features. However, I’ve now solved a problem for you. Your problem is how to do more in less time (isn’t that everyone’s problem after all? Unless of course you are a member of Congress, in which case it seems your job is to do as little as possible while wasting as much time as possible).

Here's a great example of a "be useful" headline. it combines a list with useful ideas.

Here’s a great example of a “be useful” headline. it combines a list with useful ideas which everyone is likely to appreciate.

You could even combine this with the list idea above to make your headline into: 5 Ways to Get More Done in Less Time with New Word Processor. Same ideas but now I’m enticing you both with a solution and with a list.

Give Your Customers an Out

I’ve written in the past about how important it is to have a money back guarantee included with your products. The vast majority of your customers will never bother to use it but they like to know it’s there. It’s a psychological thing which is basically intended to ensure that you never have to worry about being taken for a sucker, even though you are unlikely to use it.

However, even better than offering your customers an out somewhere in your copy is offering them an out somewhere in your headline. Again, your job with a headline is to entice your customers to read more, not to answer all their questions.

Don’t Be a Jerk

Back in the early days of the Internet, SEO was still in its infancy and really didn’t know a whole heck of a lot about the sophisticated techniques we have to use today in order to get ranked. Instead, people would just base their ability to get ranked on the keywords they’d stuff into their meta tags. Today, the keyword meta tag is largely ignored.

The reason the keyword tag fell into disuse is that unscrupulous people, especially porn site operators, were trying to use these things to build an audience for their stuff even though the people visiting did so under false pretenses. In essence, they’d stuff their keyword tags with common search terms such as office supplies in the hope of enticing a few people to drop in and look at the porn even though they hadn’t been searching for it.

Today, those techniques don’t work very well. However, it is still possible to be somewhat sophisticated about getting customers to look at your content even if what you wrote about isn’t really what you claimed. You can do this with a misleading headline. The catch is of course that while your headline may grab some additional eyeballs, it will hurt you in the long run because people are that much less likely to trust what you have to say when they see you deceived them.

Compare Yourself to the Competition

Ever notice how various paper towel companies often compare themselves to the “leading brand” of paper towels and show you how their stuff is capable of picking up 50% more liquid than the competition? There’s a reason for their doing this – competition sells products. People may already know the brand that’s well known and so by creating a comparison with that brand, you can then set yourself apart.

comparison headline

For example, you might create a headline which says something like, 5 Reasons You’ll Get More Done with Our Word Processor as Opposed to MS Word. This uses several different headline techniques including the list technique, solving a problem and creating a comparison with something most people already know about. Of course, you do need to justify your comparison or you’ll run the risk of hurting sales instead of helping them.

“The Best SEO Service I’ve Ever Tried, Bar None”

The above could easily be a headline for our very own services here at Quantum SEO Labs. It’s basically just an example of a testimonial one of our customers may have given us (to be honest, I don’t know for sure since I don’t handle that side of things here but I would assume Yasir has gotten a few such kind e-mails in the past).

testimonial headline

The reason it works as a headline is because it’s a testimonial and it’s something that makes the point without the customer feeling as if he or she is simply being asked to believe you without getting an proof of it.

After all, it’s a testimonial and presumably, you can quote a customer of yours who has said this as the first line of your copy. For that matter, you can even make the name of the person who gave the testimonial part of your headline by putting their name right below it in smaller letters.

Create a Series of Headlines

No, this is not another way of saying that you should have subheadings in your articles. Instead, this is basically a way to create a series of articles which are linked to each other rather than simply being stand-alone articles. In essence, the idea here is to use the other ideas I mentioned above and use them for a series of related articles. This allows you to keep your customers on your site longer, thereby helping you to gain additional sales.

The way this works is to create an initial headline which functions to grab people’s attention and then to have another headline which comes at the end saying, “Next…” It’s kind of like where your blog has (or at least should have) a related posts plugin but done where it’s not just related but the articles actually are meant to be read in sequence.

Challenge Your Customers

This one is really tricky to pull off but it actually works really well if you use it correctly. In essence, the idea is to play on people’s curiosity about something, thereby getting them to want to read further. The headline I used above is an example of this, where I tell you about the 10 secrets of high converting headlines.

By the way, if you phrase this is as a question instead of simply stating what it will be, you may well grab additional readers. Which is why my headline reads, “Do You Know the 10 Secrets of High Converting Headlines?” This should theoretically grab additional eyeballs for this article because it challenges your customers to see if they do indeed know what these things are.

Size Matters

Finally, when crafting headlines, keep them short and snappy. I know that some people think they need to convey a whole lot of information in their headlines but frankly, less really is more when creating a headline. You want to make your headline something that literally takes no more than a second or two to read and understand. If it takes too long to read or understand, you’ve just lost a significant portion of your audience, who have since moved on to read something else.

You aren't writing a New York Times headline so you don't need to be super descriptive.

You aren’t writing a New York Times headline so you don’t need to be super descriptive when you write it. Keep it short and simple.

Also, as I’ve pointed out in the past, 70 characters including spaces should be the absolute limit for your headlines because that’s how much space Google will give you to get your point across in its search results. Anything more and you end up with ellipses, which is pretty much never a good thing in a headline.

The one exception to that rule is when you are putting up a quote, especially a famous quote as your headline. In those cases, you can use an ellipses as part of the headline but don’t do it too often because it can be a bit trite (after all, there are only so many times that you’d respond to a headline which says “All good things…”).


Build Your Business without Being a Bust

Business going bustIt’s an alarming statistic: Something like half of all startup businesses fail within the first five years after being created. 25% of them don’t even last out the first year. This means that if you are trying to create a small online business, you run a very real risk of going bust very, very quickly and taking a lot of money with you in the process.

Now I cannot promise you that building your business will happen if you follow these rules. The fact is that new businesses fail for a large variety of different reasons. However, these are some of the most common problems that new businesses face and if you can deal with these issues, you have a better than average chance of actually creating a successful business. Here’s what you need to know:

Find Out about the Competition

First and foremost, find out about your competition. Now I know this sounds like obvious advice but it’s not entirely obvious advice. You see, it’s not just about finding out if there is too much competition. Obviously, if every guy and his brother is selling TV sets online at razor thin margins or even losing money just hoping to undercut the competition, trying to do the same as they’re doing is going to be an uphill battle.

However, at the same time, if there is zero competition for your product or service, you need to ask yourself a very simple question: Is there a market for my product? After all, if there’s a market for something you want to sell, odds are good someone else thought of it before you did.

There are of course exceptions to this rule. A good example is the smartphone. Prior to the introduction of Apple’s iPhone, we really didn’t have anything on the market quite like it. Yes, there were Internet connected phones and yes, there were phones you could add apps to (Symbian was a popular OS prior to iOS and Android coming on the market). However, these kinds of phones simply didn’t do everything that an iPhone could do.

However, even in the case of the iPhone, there were phones that did offer some of the features that Apple was offering. It’s not like they were completely out there, creating a totally new category. They knew there was some market for phones that could connect to the web and they knew there was some kind of market for phones that could download apps. They simply took the concept to the next level.

However, if there is nothing even remotely like what you want to sell, you need to think twice and three times about why that is. Are you truly the first person to think of this idea or is it just that nobody would want to buy such a service or product to begin with? If you find yourself in this situation, see if there is any analog to what you want to create which might be considered like the precursor to the smartphone the way Apple did before they created the iPhone. Don’t just jump in and say, there must be a market because this idea is great.

Of course, if you happen to have developed a Star Trek transporter or warp drive then by all means – you can rest assured that you’ll find a market for your products even though no real competition exists for them. However, those will generally be the exceptions that prove the rule.

Have a Business Plan

This is another one of those things that sounds really obvious but which too many people either ignore or don’t do correctly. When I say have a business plan I actually am referring to two separate things. First and foremost, you need a formal business plan (which is outside the scope of what I’m writing about here – you can find numerous resources online for how to write these) for investors and for obtaining loans.

Formal business plans include market analysis, specific advertising plans and specific projected growth patterns. Mind you, these are all vital statistics and they should be prepared. However, when I say that you need  a business plan in this context, I mean something much less formal but just as vital to your business’ long term growth.

I mean that you need to have in mind a specific trajectory for how your business will grow. The reason I say this is because the barrier to entry for an online business is very, very low. Even if you don’t know how to build a website on your own, the average middle class person can easily afford to have a custom site built since they can be done for as little as a few hundred dollars to at most a few thousand, depending on the specific s of what you need done.

Thus many people assume they don’t need a formal business plan since they won’t be looking for loans and investors, at least not at first. However, even if you are one those people who intends to finance your new business all out of your own pocket, a less formal business plan is still vital. It is still important to know what the competition looks like (as above).

You also need to have a clear idea of where you’ll be spending your (likely very limited) advertising budget and whom you intend to work with for your SEO efforts (hint: we’re pretty good at that). You should have a clear plan on how you intend to service your customers if demand gets to be too high (for example, if you sell homemade cookies from home and suddenly get 1,000 orders in a day because some high profile blog wrote about you, how will you handle all those orders?).

These are details that you should have worked out before you start. Mind you,  it may be as simple as making specific limits. For example, with our cookie business above, you might figure out how many cookies you can realistically bake in a given day and then set a specific number of “in stock” cookies to be sold so that you are not overwhelmed all of a sudden. If you see that your “in stock” numbers sell out too quickly each day then you might consider hiring help.

Similarly, you can usually set specific spending limits on the amount of money you spend for advertising. AdWords for example allows you to set a monthly budget so that you don’t suddenly end up with a gigantic bill for the month that you can’t afford.

Speaking of Not Being able to Afford Things

Another thing that often sinks new business is (believe it or not) growing too quickly. Whether you are a one person shop or someone with more people working for you, you’ll often find that you need to add new staff rapidly if you become popular. This creates two problems. First, you have to be able to pay your staff even if your customers take up to 90 days to pay you for the work that gets done.

Limited budget

Second and more importantly, hiring and training staff takes a great deal of time. You need to have a plan for how you can rapidly add staff to your company without the need to sacrifice your standards (thus losing customers).

A third issue which is less of an issue today (at least for online businesses) is the problem of needing to rapidly scale your equipment. Start a popular website and you may quickly find that your webhost shuts you down because your “unlimited” account is using too many resources.

Fortunately, it’s easy to contend with this problem – you need to simply upgrade to metered service or even just use a service like Amazon S3 to scale to higher growth rates. Just make sure that the revenue stream is enough to cover scaling. Nothing is worse than having a very popular website which makes no money and costs a fortune to keep online..

Have Positive People in Your Corner

I started this blog post with a sad fact and sadly, I need to offer you another one: Most people will be jealous of you for starting your own business. So much so that they’ll discourage you from doing so and will even try to tear you down and tell you that your ideas are bad and that you should just get yourself a “real” job.

Mind you, they won’t necessarily say this openly to you. Instead, they’ll often couch their jealousy in endearing terms as if they “care” for you and are really concerned for your welfare. They may not even realize themselves that their constant criticism, which is mostly about their own feelings are not in fact helpful at all.

While it is important to get feedback from people who will give you useful advice on how to make your business better, you should stay away from the naysayers who insist that the only thing you should do is get a “real” job. These people will wear you down and make it that much harder to stay focused and become the success you want to be.

Again however, it is also vitally important to have people who can offer real, constructive criticism. The difference basically being, you need someone who will suggest a better way to run your business effectively as opposed to the person who will simply tell you that it’s hopeless and you should give up.

That Being Said…

That having been said, it’s also important to know when it’s time to throw in the towel.  I’ve written about this before but it’s still useful advice. Don’t rush to quit because your business wasn’t successful at first. You will likely need to tweak it and tweak it some more. However, if you’ve been trying for years and still can’t seem to gain any traction with your new business (which by now isn’t so new anymore), it may be time to try something else.

You Need to Love Your Job

love your job

I get annoyed when I see people on the Warrior Forum telling you about the latest and greatest business idea that’s sweeping the world and which you need to get involved with now. Sure, it’s often useful to know what the trends are but the fact is that this is a long slog. It takes a very long time to build a successful business and it’s not going to be an overnight thing. Thus, you need to love what you work in.

This means that even though writing about septic  tanks might actually make a lot of money, if you find it ungodly boring to the point where you feel like you want to tear your hair out if you ever hear the words septic and tank in a sentence, you are in the wrong business. You need to be able to run a business that you have an interest in because there will be many times when you feel like you want to throw in the towel. However, if you love what you do, you’ll be more likely to stick it out.

Do Be a Critic, But Not Too Much

As an entrepreneur, you will find that you don’t necessarily have a boss to report to and as such, it’s often easy to lose sight of the problems in what you are doing for your business. Thus, you need to learn to be self-critical and ask yourself honestly whether or not what you are creating is something that your customers are likely to want to purchase.

Don’t just think that you would like it so it must be useful. Honestly ask yourself – if I were spending money on a product or service, is this one that I’d be willing to buy? If the answer is yes then great, if not then you need to think some more about how to make your product or service appeal to the masses.

On the other hand, it is equally possible to be overly critical of yourself and to simply self-sabotage you efforts to build a business. Or as a friend of mine once said regarding successful book authors, they all have one thing in common: They finished writing their books (authors, especially of first books/novels are notorious for endlessly tweaking and never feeling their work is good enough, but at a certain point, you need to accept that you are done and send your baby out into the world to sink or swim).


7 Important Tweaks You Can Make to Improve Conversions


Website design is really an important and overlooked area of online marketing. Most people tend to make something that looks nice to them or they decide to pay a professional to design their sites and advertising, simply hoping for the best. However, there are some tweaks that research has uncovered which can dramatically improve the responses you get from your customers. Here’s what you need to know:

Heat Maps and Eye Tracking

This post is based on research I found on a number of other websites which were the results of extensive testing using eye tracking technology (i.e. they set up sites which they paid people to look at and they actually were able to track where the eyes looked) and heat map technology (in this case, it tracks where the mouse cursor tends to rest).

Both of these technologies are an excellent way to ensure that you are gaining the maximum input from your existing customers so that they will make more purchases and pay more attention to the things that are important to you.

The Eyes Have It

Okay, I’m being a bit whimsical here but have you noticed how a great many websites tend to make use of stock photography which includes models in the advertising? These photos were rarely shot specifically for the use of the company who is using them. Instead, they purchase the right to use the photos from a service which arranges for professional photo shoots.

You can even find many such photos on free photo services though I tend to shy away from them because I cannot guarantee that they actually have a model release. Anyway, the bottom line here is that many, many people are using these stock photos of people incorrectly.

The results of extensive testing show that people tend to look where eyes on the models are looking. In essence, if the model is looking directly at them, the person who is looking at the ad will tend to look directly back at the model (kind of odd since so many people have trouble looking someone straight in the eye in real life).

However, if the model is looking at the product being advertised, then the people viewing the ad will tend to glance at the product they’re looking at, which is after all what you want them to do. I think it’s probably the same sort of thing as we see when looking at someone in person. We tend to glance at whatever someone else is glancing at which is why when one person starts looking somewhere, others tend to follow along.

Notice where her eyes are looking

Notice that the model’s eyes are looking to the right where the product is located rather than looking straight at you.

Video and Photos are Big

Much as I hate to admit it since I make my living as a professional writer, people tend to look much more closely at video and photos than they do at text. What’s really odd though is that this works even for very basic videos, like the kind where small bits of text are set against a background where someone reads it or against music.

This is likely a result of the kind of media saturation that we all live with today. I mean, the art of reading a book has become more and more blasé as people have continued to look at movies and TV shows. I’ve always said that sound bites are the death of intelligence and they are – people can’t be well informed about a subject in 30 seconds.

That having been said, you still need well written text to surround your video and photographic content. If you just have photos or video without any text to explain things, people often start to look elsewhere. It’s also useful to note that the super long videos which don’t allow you to move on and make a purchase are not always effective.

In general, most people will sit through a couple of minutes of video but will want to see a buy option or even just text to skim through after that. If you think that a half hour video is going to be watched all the way through before you show a buy button or anything other than text, you’re likely to be disappointed.

Most people simply don’t have such a long attention span (again, think about how long a typical news broadcast is and make your videos work accordingly – there’s a reason most news reports are about 30-60 seconds long).

Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus

This is the title of an old book on how men and women can relate to each other. It suggests that men and women fundamentally think differently from each other. A classic example is that men tend to be fixers (i.e. you have a problem, let me suggest a way to fix it) as opposed to women, who more often than not simply want to commiserate rather than fix the problem.

The same axiom applies when selling products though. It should come as no surprise that knowing who your potential audience is makes a massive difference in the number of products that you’re likely to sell. If for example you sell products which are primarily aimed at women and you use a female underwear model to sell the product, you’re less likely to make sales than if you were to use a different kind of model (unless of course you were selling lingerie in which case, carry on).


However, even when selling less obvious products, you need to keep this in mind because the women will tend to focus on a different section of the page than the men will. Men tend to be drawn to the areas that appear “sexy” whereas women are more likely to look at the practical things. I don’t mean to sound sexist here at all by the way. This is just a fact of how men and women think.

Make It Symmetrical

People’s eyes tend to move from top to bottom when they’re looking over an ad. This means that if you want to keep people’s interest in your products, your best bet is to make things symmetrical. This means that you need to have your model holding the product below their face and then the name below that. It shouldn’t look awkward but it should ideally be symmetrical with easy to follow lines.

Along those same lines is the KISS principle which I always talk about here – Keep it Simple, Stupid. You need to keep your copy and your design simple. If people can’t figure out where their eyes are meant to go, they’ll often just leave your site and go elsewhere. It’s easy enough to figure out how to make this work – if ten people you ask to look at your site can’t seem to figure out what to look at and click on, you have a problem.

Why does this iPod ad work so well? It's symmetrical, with clean lines and it's also simple, giving people a clear idea where to focus their eyes.

Why does this iPod ad work so well? It’s symmetrical, with clean lines and it’s also simple, giving people a clear idea where to focus their eyes.

Most People are Leftists

Okay, not really. If the polls in the USA are right, people tend to split more or less down the middle between left and right. However, one thing that every single study has found is that people tend to look at the left side of a website first. This means that your advertising and most important material needs to be there rather than on the right side.

The irony is that for some reason WordPress (which is the most popular content management system) seems to insist on keeping the ads in the right side of the page. At least, that has been my general impression of most WordPress based sites. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to arrange to move your sidebar ads to the left within WordPress. Most themes let you do it without too much trouble.

You should however put less important things such as menus for your blog along the top or along the right side of the website in order to make sure that these things are not taking up the most valuable real estate. One exception by the way may be if you work in a language which is written from right to left (i.e. Hebrew or Arabic). In those cases, you’re most likely to see your best results putting important stuff on the right.

Hand Written Messages Add a Personal Touch

This is another one of those things that seem obvious but that too many people ignore. Handwriting style fonts often help to sell products. I’m not sure why that is, especially since these fonts are obviously just computer generated fonts which don’t seem to offer anything different but they have a visual appeal which people like.

That’s actually why you often see circles that look handwritten on professional squeeze pages and you also tend to see a lot of content written in handwriting. The most effective way to do this though is to actually have some text in regular fonts and “notes” pointing things out in a handwriting font.

This isn’t difficult to do using a program like Photoshop but many people don’t do it, either because they simply don’t realize how powerful this is or because they don’t know how easy it is to actually do the whole handwriting thing. You can easily add extra fonts to Photoshop and there are enough free handwriting style fonts that there’s no excuse not to do this.

Notice the hand written note and hand written style circle.

Notice the hand written note and hand written style circle.

By the way, on the same vein as this, you also definitely should consider putting in a photograph or yourself along with a signature. It needn’t be your real signature. A handwriting font signature will work fine. However, when people see this, it tends to give them a warm and fuzzy feeling as if they are buying from a real person rather than just a nameless, faceless corporation.

Money Back Guarantee

Okay this one is not strictly based on experiments using eye tracking or hot spots. It’s simply an observation that people tend to make purchases more often from sites offering an “iron clad” money back guarantee. The thing is, 98% of people will never actually take advantage of this money back guarantee at all. They simply want to know it’s there.

This is a matter of human psychology and I’ve written in this space in the past on this subject. People tend to notice if there’s a money back guarantee because we’re all afraid of getting stuck with a lemon of a product.

However, just as we’re all worried about being stuck with a lemon of a product, we also worry about not feeling foolish for having purchased a lemon to begin with. Thus there is this weird dichotomy going on where prior to purchase, we want the assurances that we can get our money back if it turns out this was not a good deal. However, once we’ve made a purchase, we tend to want to justify it and make ourselves feel good about the fact that we spent the money, making it very unlikely that we’ll take advantage of the money back guarantee.

The exception of course are the serial refunders, who will always do this in order to get the free stuff. However, you can easily identify these people and block them from future purchases of your products.

Obviously, not every product will lend itself to this model. Services for example generally shouldn’t be offered with no questions asked money back guarantees because the service has been performed and you can’t “restock” your time for having performed the service. However, in most cases, you can safely add a money back guarantee and know that it will increase sales without costing much in terms of refunds.