Deadly Conversion Busters: How to Fix a Horrible Headline

Headlines can make or break your conversions. How do you craft a headline that works every time?

In this episode Chris and Tony reveal:

  • Why being clever might be the easiest way to tank your offer
  • How your audience targeting is the key to developing you headline strategy
  • Testing and getting out of your own way
  • What your headlines really need in order to connect with your prospect
  • The 4U technique for getting your headlines right

Deadly Conversion Busters: How to Fix a Horrible Headline

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Tony Clark: This is the Mainframe.

Welcome back to our Deadly Conversion Buster series. This is the final one in the series, and we’re going to be talking about your bad headlines and how to fix them. How are you doing, Chris?

Chris Garrett: I am doing great. I’m a little bit sad, though. I just watched the new Fast and Furious movie, and I don’t often get emotional, but it was quite emotional at the end.

Tony Clark: I know. I haven’t seen it yet. I’m holding off because of that same reason. I don’t want it to be over, but that approach to filmmaking has sure taken on a completely different direction than it did when it first started out, didn’t it?

Chris Garrett: This is the only one out of the entire series that I’ve actually watched, and it’s because I thought it was going to be dumb. But I’ve heard so many good things about the new one that I thought, “Okay, I’m going to have to see this.”

If you like that kind of thing, it’s amazing. It’s an out-and-out action film. You know what you’re going to get when you go in. It’s like a Michael Bay movie. You’re going to get explosions, and you’re going to get car chases, but it’s so well-done that it’s a roller coaster, so it’s definitely worth seeing. I love that you know what you’re going to get but it still amazes you, and I think that ties very much into today’s topic.

Why Being Clever Might Be the Easiest Way to Tank Your Offer

Tony Clark: It does, because the main thing or the first item when you’re working with bad headlines is don’t be clever. Don’t try and be too clever for your own good. That allows your audience to know what they’re getting, just like this. That’s a perfect example.

You’ve got Fast and Furious. You’re not expecting some deep-thinking movie. I think it would actually take away from the plot. You have this family element, these ties that are strong. You have the action. You have amazing car chase scenes, amazing stunts and special effects, and there is this emotional element tied to it because there’s a family there. There’s a group that stays together. One of the things that I love about that is they’re not afraid to use a formula that they know works because they’re going after a specific audience.

Chris Garrett: Yeah, and it’s not saying that the alternative is bad. They’re not saying that you should not watch French-subtitled, philosophical black-and-white movies. It’s saying, “This is what we are, and this is why it’s good, and this is why you’re going to enjoy it.”

In your products, you’re going to exclude people just by the nature of what it is you’re creating, and that’s okay. It was said all along in the series that you need to attract the people that you can most help.

In your headlines, don’t be afraid to be highly specific to the audience and the reason that they should take notice. Don’t feel you have to appeal to everybody. And most of all, like you just said, Tony, don’t try to be clever. Don’t use click-bait. Don’t use, ‘You’ll Never Guess What Happens Next.’ This isn’t BuzzFeed. You’re not trying to get eyeballs. You’re trying to get people engaged enough and interested enough that they’re going to take action.

How Your Audience Targeting Is the Key to Developing Your Headline Strategy

Tony Clark: It is. It’s about knowing your audience. I mean, on the flip side is something like, I’m a huge Wes Anderson fan, but I also appreciate the Fast and Furious movies and Mad Max. You don’t have to like one kind of thing, and most people don’t.

So you need to make sure that your product headlines are very clear in what it is you’re presenting and that you’re not trying to be too cutesy. You need to make it very clear: “This is what we’re presenting.” This Wes Anderson movie, you know you’re going to get this. You’re going to get a certain color palette. You’re going to get a certain composition of the shot. You’re going to get quirky characters. You’re going to get very interesting story lines, and that’s what you’re going to get.

Some people would find that boring, but they’re trying to make it clear to that audience, “If you find this boring, this isn’t for you.” It’s just like an action movie that’s not afraid to embrace the other side of it: “Hey, this is just jet-fueled action. This is something that you’d come in. It’s fully intense. You enjoy watching it. You’re on the edge of your seat, but there’s not any really deep subplots. This is just eye candy and fun storytelling and action.” They’re not afraid to do that. You’ll see that the movies that do well make it very clear about what you’re going to get.

I’ll give you another example of being too cutesy. Pacific Rim was a fantastic movie. It was monsters fighting robots, and it was such an amazingly done film. However, it didn’t do that well because the marketing for it was too clever. It tried to make it out to be something that it really wasn’t instead of just embracing the fact that it was two hours of monsters fighting robots, which they should have did.

Chris Garrett: It was almost apologizing. I watched it thinking, “This is could be like Robot Jox.” Do you remember that from the ‘80s?

Tony Clark: Yeah.

Chris Garrett: I went in thinking, “I just want to see some robots kick some bottom,” and that’s one of the things that’s worrying me about the news about Star Trek 3. Have you heard all of the stories saying that they don’t want it to be Star Trek?

Tony Clark: Yeah.

Chris Garrett: It’s just silly to believe that. Simon Pegg is a nerd hero, and he’s one of the people saying that we’ve infantilized and dumbed-down people because of superhero movies. But you go to Star Trek films to see Star Trek. You don’t go to see Star Trek and then expect to see Star Wars. That kind of mixing their audiences and mixing the messages, and that just muddies the results. Be very clear about who you’re attracting, why it’s going to be good for them, and then get out of the way.

Tony Clark: We say this over and over again. Two of the things that come up often in this show are context and benefits. What’s in it for the person that you’re presenting this to? That is why your headline, when you try to take a clever approach, doesn’t make it very clear. What is the context of this product, and what is the benefit of this product? Very straightforward headlines, even short headlines, make it very clear: “This is what you get. This is what we’re providing.” And it presents it in a way so it doesn’t confuse.

There’s ways you can do it that intrigue, that engage, and draw people in, and that’s really what you’re after. There’s a difference being clever and cutesy and a click-baity and being very clear and context- and benefit-driven, but also in a way that intrigues when you’re presenting what it is that you’re offering.

Testing and Getting out of Your Own Way

Chris Garrett: Anybody listening, you don’t necessarily have to take our word for it. I think the next thing we need to talk about before we get into how to craft a really good headline, is testing. Don’t just take our word for it. Don’t just use your gut. Your instincts might well be right, but test. At least have your headline and another version of the headline to compete against because it is amazing how many times we’re wrong. Our assumptions are just wildly inaccurate.

Tony Clark: Yeah. It’s amazing to me — actually, it’s really not when you think about it — how often we misinterpret what somebody’s reaction is going to be to something. I mean, comedians do it all the time. Look at how they present something that should have been, in their mind, a very clear joke, and then some people found it offensive or it bombed completely. That’s why they test their material so much. Jerry Seinfeld, he goes around to small clubs and tests the material, even in his big stand-up days, because it’s about getting a genuine audience reaction versus what your gut is telling you is going to happen.

Chris Garrett: Exactly, and it’s not what you say. It’s what people hear. As communicators, as marketers, we so often forget that, especially if you’ve got any background in writing — in capital letters, quotes — it can be so important to you to use the right words and phrase things based on what’s in your head.

But it’s not about what’s in your head. It’s about what goes into their heads. It’s their background and experience that’s going to shape the message. You have to think about it through that lens. It’s what they’re going to understand and take away and take action on, not what you want to say and how you want to say it. This isn’t Shakespeare. Testing allows you to see the response and the reaction because you’re not going to be there with them adding that context.

Tony Clark: It allows you to take out your own emotional attachment to things and your own biases. When you’re doing testing, it’s very clear what works and what doesn’t. We all have biases.

Especially when it comes to headline writing or any type of product-describing things, especially when you’re trying to attract, you’re trying to engage, you’re trying to intrigue, we all have our own filter that everything comes through. “This works, and this doesn’t work,” or, “I like this kind of headline, so I’m going to write that kind of headline.” Guess what? Your audience may not. The benefit of testing is you take away those biases, and you take away your own emotional ties that you have to specific types of writing and really see what is getting the result that you’re after.

Chris Garrett: Yeah. And we’ll probably do a full episode on testing at some point.

Tony Clark: I think we’ll do more than one episode on testing. That’s one of our favorite things to talk about.

Chris Garrett: The headline is the most important thing to test. I think one of the statistics was that 80 percent of people will read the headline, 20 percent will read the content. It’s something crazy like that. The headline is hugely influential on the outcome. You don’t want to leave it to chance, so at least have a headline and something to compete with that headline, and see which works best.

Tony, let’s get into how to craft a really good headline for your landing page.

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What Your Headlines Really Need in Order to Connect with Your Prospect

Tony Clark: Yeah, this is a great subject. This is one of those things that everybody has their own way of approaching this. Brian Clark, for years, talked about writing the headline first. For me, I’ll mull around lots of headlines before I even sit down and start even typing anything out. But there’s a way of crafting headlines that works for what it is that you’re offering but also uses the formula that we know or types of formulas that we know will work over and over again. It’s really what we’re after, right?

Chris Garrett: Yeah, and there’s no right or wrong way to do this, especially if you’re testing that. It’s going to give you the best answer. But there are things that we’ve worked out over the years. For myself, I write the headline before, during, and after, and then I’ll keep changing it after. For me, it’s the one thing that I never feel like I ever get right. But I get good enough conversion rates that I don’t have to worry about it too much. The biggest thing for me is speaking to an outcome, promising that their lives, business, whatever is going to be better.

If you have a course about golf, make the headline promise a better golf swing. If you’ve got a headline about naked mole-rats farming, make the headline about growing bigger, better, tastier mole-rats. I don’t know. Why do people raise mole-rats? Is it to eat them?

Tony Clark: I don’t think so. I’ve heard that hamster or guinea pig is pretty good, so maybe it’s a delicacy somewhere.

Chris Garrett: Perfect. Speak to the outcome. What are they going to get? What are they going to get out of it? You don’t sell super glue as something that’s going to enhance somebody’s brand. You have super glue because you want to stick two things together, so sell it as a solution — probably the wrong word for it, solution, I’m not a chemist — a solution to a problem.

It either has to speak to the outcome, or it has to talk to the relief of pain. This is where we get into the clever headlines, because these clever headlines that attract people’s attention but don’t promise anything are better for entertainment than they are for getting people to do something.

Tony Clark: Because what people are buying here is results. No matter what it is that you provide, whatever the product or the service is that you’re offering, what they’re after is the result. And that’s the outcome.

Articulate that very clearly in a promise that actually delivers. Like we’ve been talking about through the whole thing, none of this conversion stuff works if you can’t actually deliver on what you’re promising. It may work the first time, but then after that, you’re never going to get back to having any kind of authority or authenticity. You have to be able to deliver on it, but it’s really that outcome you’re selling, so you have to make that as clear as possible.

Chris Garrett: People fall into two categories when they’re looking at something like this. They either want to move towards a goal or away from a pain. They want to move into security or away from what they’re afraid of. And that’s another thing to test. If you have pain relief, then obviously they have a discomfort that they want to get rid of, but something’s very muddy either moving towards or away.

For example, I’ve been looking at meditation, but I don’t want to do meditation as a goal in itself. It’s not a hobby for me. I want to do it to reduce my anxiety. And all of these landing pages I’ve looked at have spoken to all these spiritual or Zen or lifestyle things that don’t speak to me. I just want somebody to turn the switch and my anxiety to go away. Anybody out there that actually spoke to that would get my action. They would get my money. I would buy everything that they did.

So it’s another thing to test. Are these people coming to you because they want to get rid of something, move away from a bad situation, or are they goal-oriented, moving towards achieving something? When you get that right, when you can speak to the benefit that is most attractive to them, then you’re going to get people to take an action.

The 4U Technique for Getting Your Headlines Right

Tony Clark: Right. And once you have that clear picture, then the headline has be useful. It has to be unique. It has to have urgency, and it has to be ultra-specific. Those are the ‘U’s that we like to use.

Chris Garrett: It’s Dr. Seuss.

Tony Clark: That’s really what you’re looking for. You’re looking for these elements of a headline that make it very clear that, “Here is what I’m offering, and you are the specific buyer that I am offering this for.”

Chris Garrett: When we talk about being specific, it’s really good to be able to say, “I’ll give you 375 percent better or 57 percent more,” because that also sounds more trustworthy. Strangely enough, when you use a very specific number, it seems more real based on data than when you say ‘50 percent more’ or ‘a hundred percent more’ or ‘double.’ It’s because salespeople over the years have been so glib and easy with speaking about benefits that sometimes there’s a doubt there that you have to overcome.

I actually find that being unique isn’t as important, because that person might look at four different service providers, and it might be other things that make the decision. But if you can be unique, by all means, put it into your headline.

Tony Clark: Right, and one of the reasons we saved this particular Conversion Buster for last is because the headline wraps up all the things we’ve talked about for all the other Conversion Busters.

Is it useful? The product has to be useful, and we talked about that in the beginning. Delivering and getting the promise right, but also that you have to really provide what you’re promising. It has to be useful to the person.

The ‘uniqueness’ — we did a whole episode on uniqueness. And you want the headline to reflect that uniqueness.

‘Urgency,’ we talked about. You have to have some reason for them to buy now.

Then this episode is really about the ‘ultra-specific’ piece of it because you need to make sure that those elements are very clear.

Chris Garrett: It also builds on what we’ve been doing before, because at this point, you might not have any results yet. But if you the minimum, viable product process, very soon you can have some results to speak about and you could be able to put them in your headline. A typical headline might be, ‘Who Else Wants to Get a 125 Percent Increase in Conversion Rate?’ That can be based on testimonials and case studies from your primary MVP launch.

Tony Clark: Exactly. We talked about all these different elements of the headline, and really, in this episode the headline wraps up everything we’ve been talking about in this Conversion Buster series. What are the main takeaways here for this headline episode?

Chris Garrett: First of all, don’t use clever headline, even if you’re tempted to write Shakespeare. Shakespeare doesn’t convert. Then test. Don’t trust your own instincts. Don’t even trust what we are saying here. Make sure you test, and at least have two versions of your headline to compete against each other. Use split testing. Finally, make the headline about what you’re going to deliver to people. What is the outcome? How are you going to change things for people? After all, in most cases, that’s what they’re buying.

Tony Clark: Exactly. That wraps up this Deadly Conversion Buster series. In our next episode, we’re going to start going into some more specific things that we have been talking about. We have a lot to cover, and we’ll start in our next episode.