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9 Techniques for Writing Headlines that Convert – Part 1 of 9

This is part 1 of 9 in our series: 9 Proven Techniques for Writing Headlines that Convert.

John Caples, the famous copywriter, once said: “The headline is the most important part of an ad”. If he were alive today, he would argue that it’s also the most important part of a landing page.

You keep hearing stories where a simple headline change (and nothing else) results in a significant conversion lift.

In one test John conducted, the winning headline outperformed the control by a factor of 19x. Yes, that means N-I-N-E-T-E-E-N times more revenue!

And, keep in mind, the losing headline wasn’t one contrived to prove his point. It was a real headline written by a professional copywriter that performed well enough to be considered a control. But, clearly, something else is at work. Read on to uncover the secret…

The Power of Persuasion

In 2012, the Obama campaign re-learned this important lesson about headlines. They tested the subject lines of fundraising e-mails. The result? “I will be outspent” raised $2.6m; whereas “Do this for Michelle” only raised about $700,000.

Later, the same thing happened when the A/B tested various headlines in banner ads. The results are mind-boggling.

Obama Ads

So, given that headlines are so important in Conversion Rate Optimization, you need to learn how to craft winners. Here are 9 proven techniques that you can customize and use today:

Three Factors: Personal Benefit, News Value & Curiosity

This is my personal favorite method, pioneered by John Caples. He believed that good headlines need at least one of these important factors as the main appeal element. Read on to see how…

Personal Benefit

As people, we filter everything by the rule of WIIFM (“What’s In It For Me?”). The more a prospect perceives personal gain after reading your headline, the more time they will spend on your landing page and the higher the likelihood of a conversion.

If you know your market well, this is the easiest type of headline to write. It is also the least likely to produce outright duds. On the flip side, it is harder to produce runaway winners because, if the market is mature (as most markets are), prospects will have heard just about every claim.

A good practice when writing personal benefit headlines is using a “How To…” statement. Below are some examples:

  • “How To Lose Weight”
  • “How To Form Your Own Corporation”
  • “How To Win Friends and Influence People”

If you use a simple “How To” headline, you earn a 5 out of 10 on our grade scale. You also don’t actually have to say “How To” but, instead, can allude to it.

If you add a contingency to the headline, you earn a 7 out 10 on our grade scape. This is a handy technique – basically a “How To” with a twist. Here are a few examples:

  • “How To Form Your Own Corporation Without a Lawyer for Just $75”
  • “How To Lose Weight In 30 Days Without Excessive Dieting”
  • “How To Paint Cars Like a Pro in 2 Hours or Less”

News Value

The second type of successful headline is the one with some news value. Here are a few examples:

  • “Announcing: A New Way To Get More Rose Bushes From Your Plants”
  • “Finally: A New Cure For Low Blood Sugar”
  • “Scientists In Cambridge Discover a New Testosterone Formula” (Force Factor)

It’s important to note that the news value generally ties in a personal benefit but, the key appeal element is that there is new or novel way to do something. The method is usually easier, cheaper, faster or all three combined.


The third type of headline is the curiosity headline. Some of the most successful headlines in history have been curiosity headlines but, they can also have a higher failure rate. A safe approach is to start with a “How To” headline and then test some variations.

Here are a few examples:

  • “Do You Make These Common English Mistakes?” (used to sell an English course or find English tutors online)
  • “They Laughed When I Sat Down at The Piano. But When I Began to Plano…” (famously used by John Caples to sell a music/piano playing course)

For one of our clients in the health and fitness space, the best headline is a curiosity headline. Since weight loss is one of the most competitive and saturated markets, a “How To” headline is less effective.

We find that curiosity headlines also work especially well then tied to a story. Here are some classic examples:

  • “How I Raised Myself from a Failure to Success in Selling”
  • “How I Quit My Job, Paid My Debts, and Found Joy in Cooking”
  • “The Story of Two Men Who Fought in the Civil War” (by Bruce Barton, used in selling a business course)                                                                                                                    Civil War HeadlineWhen writing headlines using the Three Factors technique, it is important to maintain believability. A headline with a healthy dose of personal appeal, news value, and curiosity will flop if it lacks believability.For instance, the following headline would fail in the weight loss/fitness space, even if we had a product that did what it claims:

    “Finally! Scientists in Mongolia Discover a New Way to Lose 50 Pounds of Fat in 24 hours Flat Without Dieting or Exercise.”

    John Caples advised that whatever you promise in a headline should sound easy to attain. If you are promoting a TV repair kit, talk of “fixing” rather than “repairing” as the latter sounds like a lot more work than the former.

    This post is by Jasper Kuria at the Conversion Wizards. Got a question? Please write a comment below or email (we are also knowledgeable on the following subjects: Web Analytics, Tagging, PPC, SEM, Email Marketing.

    And, stay tuned for the next posts in this series on crafting powerful headlines. You won’t want to miss it.