We like headlines, it doesn’t take much to notice that when you look at our San Diego web design portfolio. I think by now it is well known that your website visitors are deciding whether to stick around or bail within a few seconds. An initial headline can tank your bounce rate (the number of people who visit your page but immediately leave without doing anything else on your site). Alternatively, it can significantly improve your click through rate (how many people click on something to dive deeper into your website) ultimately leading to better conversions. So that headline is pretty important.

What should a headline do?

I usually explain to clients that after visiting a home page your users should understand the following concepts:

  1. Who you are
  2. What you do (or, better yet, what problem you are solving)
  3. Why you are better than everyone else

An effective headline is not long and not likely to be able to address all 3 of these within 6-10 words. So the next step is to prioritize these 3 concepts and a headline should focus on making clear the most important.

How to determine which of the 3 concepts is most important?

First, I think in most cases the main headline can skip the first concept. The user has landed on your site because they were either searching for a specific type of service or they already knew who you were and went to your website directly.

The next step is to understand your audience, the users coming to your site. Who your users are and what they already know will help prioritize. As mentioned, some users may already know you. Here is an example:

We often get clients who do all their prospect building in person, usually through trade shows or direct referrals. Their industry just isn’t one where potential clients are searching Google for a business to work with. As such, the client has already introduced themselves and talked about who they are, what they do and maybe even why they are better than other companies. As a result, the importance on the first two has significantly diminished if users are going directly to your site with an understanding of the first two concepts. That leaves the priority to be the third concept. Please note, the overall home page should still address all 3 concepts.

What to consider when writing a headline and how to get started

Headlines are clear and concise, usually about 6-10 words. It is not all that hard to write 6-10 words, right? I hope you are feeling a sense of sarcasm. Writing a headline is in fact not simple, but it’s also not too hard either. Here are some things to consider:

Write for users that are more likely to become new clients

Many websites have a variety of types of users. Maybe past clients come back to reference something (like a phone number or find help with your product or service). However, those people have already been sold and don’t need any more convincing. Your site should not ignore those people, but the primary headline of your site should not be targeted at them.

Tell your users something that is highly desired or unique to you

If you need to explain what you do, tell users you were the first one to do it, or you do it faster, better or more thoroughly. Maybe you do it with less problems.

Iterate

Come up with many versions of your headline, 20-25 of them should suffice. Most of them will be horrible, some will be good, others you will be able to take and transform into something truly effective. While writing these, don’t delete any – they serve as a reminder of where not to go.

To get that many versions of a headline, a thesaurus can be your best friend. “We help you save time and money” is fine whereas a thesaurus can help you unlock more memorable words that will stand out to your users.

Another good source of inspiration is customer surveys (you are doing customer satisfaction surveys, right?). Seeing what people really like about your business can help you write a headline to tell potential new clients about what makes you awesome.

Remove the junk

Now is finally the time to remove the junk. What does a bad headline look like?

  • Trying to be funny, but may not really be funny to anyone but yourself.
  • Unnecessarily long headlines, remember 6-10 words is a good place to be
  • Way too short to have significant meaning. “We mow lawns effectively” would not be a good example for a landscape company.
  • Uses industry terminology that some people may not understand without much thinking.

Make it flow with the rest of your site

A home page’s content has flow, one section naturally leads to the next. Check your headline against other content you want to include on the page and pick one that seems to flow naturally into the other information on the page.

Test

One important aspect of web marketing is conversion optimization. This means testing various aspects of your website to see what works better. Headlines are one of the best, and easiest, things to test. A single word in a headline could increase your overall conversion rate noticeably.

Consider SEO

Search Engine Optimization is important for almost every site. So once you have found what seems to be an effective headline, see if you can squeeze a little more quality in there by including a keyword phrase for which your website is trying to rank. If you are able to get a keyword in a headline which improves your overall conversions then you have hit the sweet spot, congrats!

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