Are You the 1 Person in 4 Who Reads Beyond the Ineffective Headline?

Copywriter reveals why many online sales letters fail to deliver

The Internet creates new challenges for marketers and wordsmiths, but a fundamental principle still applies

Experts tell us that in print ads, 75-80 percent of all buying decisions are made by reading the headline alone.

I really don’t know precisely how they measure such things, but as a copywriter, this is part of the belief system that I bought into many years ago. And I still believe it today.

Now let me state it another way: If you’re marketing with either a print ad or online, a full three-quarters of your sales are the result of an effective headline.

If the headline isn’t engaging and persuasive, the contest is over. Only 25 percent of your audience will read any further.

If you’re online, the rest of the site visitors will click away. They’re done. And you’re finished, too!

If the words in the headline don’t speak to the unconscious mind, it doesn’t matter what you say in the body copy. It’s too late.

(Yes, I also believe that all buying decisions are made in the unconscious mind, but that’s the topic of a different column.)

Writing headlines at breakneck speed

Here’s a copywriting technique that works for me. As soon as I have a clear idea of who is the target of my message (demographic and psychographic profile) I start by writing a list of miscellaneous headlines—fast as I can get ’em out.

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Some are benefits statements (“You profit while others go broke.”).

Some are questions (“Does this look like inflation to you?”).

Some are simply snippets of rhetoric (“The ultimate solution to global warming”).

Gradually, I find three or four headlines that I like. Eventually there evolves a familiar pattern of one main headline and two or three subheadlines.

Often one headline creates anxiety or forces the reader to answer a rhetorical question. Another one may state a big promise. And a third headline usually offers a solution or makes a proposition.

I like using multiple headlines and subheads above the fold of an online sales letter. That’s because, unlike a print sales letter that the reader can easily scan from top to bottom (if he reads beyond the headline), an online letter only reveals a few inches of copy on a single computer screen. So I tend to bunch a lot of headlines at the top of the page.

The Internet creates more challenges for copywriters

For online publishers, writing persuasive headlines is getting ever more difficult but stimulating.

For instance, when writing the headline of an email newsletter, you’re limited to only about 55 characters. That’s typically about the maximum length that can be easily displayed in the subject window of most email clients.

And when writing Google AdWords advertisements, there are even more absorbing and intriguing opportunities for brevity. With AdWords, the ad titles are limited to 25 characters. The two description lines and display URL are limited to 35 characters each. Not a lot of space.

The good news is that not all copywriting for online publishers requires brevity.

If you think that long sales promotion copy doesn’t work online, please reconsider.

University Health Publishing sells a $20 white paper on Prostate Disorders using a 3,300-word online sales letter. It’s smart, engaging and uses great headlines and subheadlines throughout.

Here’s a link to the University Health Publishing Mequoda hub. Sign up for the free Prostate Health bulletin first, then wait for the white paper upsell letter.


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