Here at Metric Towers we know that any page headline, email subject line or ad copy “screamer” is more important than all the body copy beneath it. A page without a good headline is like wearing a suit with trainers. Wrong, ugly and likely to make you a laughing stock and be ignored. So, the imperative to get it right is paramount. Simply put, headlines sell.
Now, if you have been anywhere a social media newsfeed recently then you will have seen such headlines as:
“At 15 seconds you’ll be amazed, but by 2 minutes you’ll be cheering”
“The first 4 sentences are interesting. The 5th blew my mind”
“Does everyone think you’re weird? Show them this and they’ll understand”
These gems and plenty of others have mainly been the handiwork of Upworthy and Buzzfeed, the purveyors of gossipy, schlocky and compelling so-called “clickbait”, for it’s ability to generate clicks. This is a big trend, so much so that there are memes, jokes and virals just about the very tactics Upworthy and Buzzfeed use. But beyond the “I can’t believe I just clicked that” feeling after reading such wonderfully tabloid content there is a much more serious lesson to learn and it is not only a skill that any online marketer would do well to study. Crafting a well thought out and enticing headline is THE key to your success.
Upworthy co-founder Peter Koechley states writers should devote half of their time to writing a headline that attract clicks. “People put way too much emphasis on the specifics of the piece of content and not enough on the packaging,” Koechley says. “We’ve seen the case where a headline made the difference between 1,000 views and 1 million views.”
Koechley is only echoing what the great David Ogilvy (the King of Madison Avenue and whom Mad Men is largely based) knew, see this classic Ogilvy Ad and oft stated; “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” So in fact Ogilvy is suggesting you should spend more like 80% of your time crafting the headline, it accounts for the majority of the attention your advertising or marketing will receive.
Ogilvy was the undisputed king of advertising in his time and his headlines are the stuff of legend, read the few below, they are surprisingly familiar in construction and tone.
“At Sixty Miles an Hour the Loudest Noise in the New Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”
“Now Puerto Rico Offers 100% Tax Exemption to New Industry”
“How Women Over 35 Can Look Younger”
“Reward your top executives with a sabbatical year in Britain – on half pay”
“How to tour the U.S.A. for £35 a week”
All give you the impetus to read on, and find out, explore the copy and understand the interest your brain has registered. It would seem that Buzzfeed and Upworthy have simply repurposed this Adman’s best work, and Ogilvy would probably approve. Because if we look back a little further then we can find the root of headline success. Here is John Caple’s classic ad written in 1926 for the U.S. Music School, which employs the same exact storyline appeal that Buzzfeed and Upworthy have used to such devastating effect.
On September 7, 1925 John Caples began his career as a copywriter with Ruthrauff & Ryan, an advertising agency that specialized in handling mail order accounts. In 1927 he moved to BBDO where his legend grew and he was eventually rewarded with a directorship.
Caples stated quite plainly “The Headline is the most important element in most advertisements.” and added “The best headlines appeal to the reader’s self-interest or give news.”, this was a man who was active in the 1920’s and rose to become THE single best copywriter in advertising. Why? He wrote great headlines, that got his copy read, his calls to action responded to and the products bought, a spike in sales gets you remembered.
However, even he is predated, Claud C. Hopkins book, “Scientific Advertising,” was published in 1923 before Caples even got started, and in his book Hopkins stated:
“Headlines on ads are like headlines on news items. Nobody reads a whole newspaper.” and went on to say “The writing of headlines is one of the greatest journalistic arts. They either conceal or reveal an interest.”
Hopkins was keen on testing and testing some more and checking his work was producing results. He knew that an improvement in sales could be the result of changing one word, or an entire headline. But the headline was the key to his success and he knew it “Don’t think that those millions will read your ads to find out if your product interests. They will decide at a glance – by your headline or your pictures.”
This knowledge has somehow been lost, obscured or overlooked in the modern age, but Hopkins was a man of insight and understanding and would probably approve mightily of Buzzfeed and Upworthy and their ability to garner interest. Here is a longer extract from Scientific Advertising.
“The writer of this chapter (Ed. Hopkins) spends far more time on headlines than on writing. He often spends hours on a single headline. Often scores of headlines are discarded before the right one is selected. For the entire return from an ad depends on attracting the right sort of readers. The best of salesmanship has no chance whatever unless we get a hearing… …The identical ad run with various headlines differs tremendously in its returns. It is not uncommon for a change in headlines to multiply returns from five or ten times over.”
So there it is, make your headlines the most important part of your copywriting and you will boost your business, all the way back to the 1920s to get bang up to date advice on how to grow as a business. Koechley, Ogilvy, Caples and Hopkins are a long line of sales and marketing experts who knew what was needed to get read and acted upon. A good headline, so how good are yours? How good is your PPC headlines or ad copy?
Why risk anything but the best, test it and find the winning formula for your business?
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