Writing (really freaking awesome) headlines is hands-down one of THE hardest parts of copywriting.
In fact, I’m willing to bet that most copywriters agree, because the general Official Copywriting World consensus is that headlines are to be written last. And I have a theory that it’s because we need to cross off quite literally everything else from our to-do list before we finally muster up the courage tackle them.
Here’s why I think people find writing headlines to be so difficult:
The most intimidating headline of all? Your homepage headline. The big kahuna.
(I don’t know why I just said that. I’d never say “big kahuna” in real life. I just ignored Primary Copywriting Lesson Number One: write like you talk. Do as I say, not as I do. Anyway.)
The big-daddy, above-the-fold sentence that lives front-and-center on your website’s homepage is a make-or-break moment for your web traffic.
(Was that a record for the most hyphens in one sentence? Probably.)
And, on top of that, you’re gonna want to make it keyword-rich.
[Quick review: keyword-rich = including your ‘main’ keyword—aka the one you want to be recognized, ideally on Page One of Google (eventually, hopefully?) for—and seamlessly integrating it into the sentence.]
This headline not only signals to search engines when to recommend your site (and who to recommend it to), but it also needs to immediately capture your ideal clients’/customers’ attention, so they’ll keep reading.
The ultimate job of a headline? Get your audience to read the next line after that. And then the cycle repeats. With every line of copy, we want our readers to move on to the next one, Domino style.
Side note: I just went to Dominos Pizza website, to see if I could maybe include them in this post—how clever would that have been?—except theirs sucks, so. Lesson learned: Don’t look to mediocre chain pizza restaurants for copywriting examples, I guess. And definitely don’t do it in a crowded Starbucks, because now I’m getting judgy side-eye looks from my fellow coffee shop dwellers.
Another side note: after writing “don’t look to mediocre chain pizza restaurants” I felt like that was too big claim to make without proper research, so I (ignoring the aforementioned Starbucks side-eye) just checked Papa John’s, Little Caesars, Papa Gino’s, and Pizza Hut.
Papa John’s was the winner—they were the only ones who had an actual headline that wasn’t just a sale on pizza or a “start your order” prompt.
All the other pizza sites were wicked crowded with busy-looking photos, and I’m not gonna lie, it didn’t make me want pizza at all. It made my eyes hurt.
Papa John’s, though, has one clear pizza photo, and a prominent statement about their differentiator: “NY Style Pizza” (whether you trust Papa John’s to actually give you New-York-esque pizza is…debatable… but that’s not the point.)
Then, they hit you with their value proposition: “oversized, foldable slices.” This backs up their “NY pizza” claim in an easy-to-understand way. And then, after you’ve read exactly what you’re going to get when you order from them, they give you the option to order delivery or takeout.
Props to Papa.
John, not Gino. Gino’s is objectively disgusting and I will not be elaborating further.
(Are you even still reading? Probably not. But hopefully. If you are, pat yourself on the back, because chances are most people who clicked on this blog post skipped straight to the pictures. I don’t blame them.)
[Quick Interruption (Again): Proofreading Sara here, a few days later, to tell you that I don’t know why the universe is obsessed with me seeking out pizza-copy, but while I was driving to a client meeting, I passed a Dominos truck and it had THE best truck copy (is that a thing? “copy on a truck” sounds weird) EVER. I scoured the Internet in search of a picture for you, but… found nothing. Subscribe to my newsletter to be notified if I ever find one.]
I wasn’t planning on getting to the examples this early in the post, but… ADHD can be a strange and beautiful thing. ANYWAY! Moving right along to what I intended to tell you in this intro-that’s-not-really-an-intro-anymore (??? Oh well.)
ANYWAY! I’m here to fuel your headline-drafting fire with some good, old-fashioned inspo, and helpful headline copywriting tips along the way. Keep reading to see some killer homepage headlines and why they work so well.
Stupid-simple, to be precise. The best headlines are so direct and so simple that they almost trick people into believing the copy is extra amazing and clever.
In reality, though, the “stupid-simple” effect is just the copywriter being really great at target audience research, and knowing exactly what you’re thinking, hoping, and needing, and then saying that in YOUR voice.
Make your point briefly and clearly. You’ve got limited space (remember: 62 characters is the Google-approved sweet spot) and limited time, use it wisely.
The main goal of your headline is to get your reader to continue on to the next line of copy, and the line after that, and the line after that. When your copy is specific, it speaks directly to your intended audience, and when they read it, there’s no doubt at all about whether it’s for them. Think of your headline as a “HEY, YOU!” statement.
Specificity may not be sexy, but it does stop your audience in their tracks and grab their attention. By saying something actually that calls them out and piques their interest, you keep them engaged.
First things first, I want to show you a really great headline with an easy-to-recreate formula.
I was considering leaving this headline for an eventual “how to write value propositions” blog post, but I didn’t want to deprive you of the perfect simple headline.
Like, this is actually textbook-worthy perfect. It may not seem like anything special, but let me explain:
As soon as you land on flodesk.com, this is what you see: a stupid-simple explanation of exactly what you’ll be able to do with Flodesk. Note that I said what you’ll be able to do, and not what Flodesk does. Because Flodesk has purposely written this headline so you’ll inevitably envision what YOUR experience with them will be.
Every single word in this 28-character headline was intentional. “Design” so you’ll know that your emails will be aesthetically pleasing. “People” to be inclusive of all industries. “Love” to demonstrate how your emails will make people feel. “Open” instead of ‘read’ because they know that getting your emails opened is the next thing that happens after sending emails out.
Obviously your hope is that people will read them—their goal with this headline was to make everything sound EASY, so they instead went with the first step, instead of the main goal.
Flodesk is clearly demonstrating that they’ve passed Copywriting 101: Benefits over Features. They don’t say shit about features of their platform—only the benefits you will receive in using it. You’ll get the privilege of designing emails people love to open. People will actually open your emails! What a dream.
They also want you to know that when you use their email marketing service, not only will it be easy, but it will also look professional. After all, as their subheading states, both “beginners and experts use Flodesk to grow their business.”
This subheading addresses the “is it for me?” objection, because if beginners and experts use it, that means everyone in between does, too.
Then, after answering that objection before you even had time to think it, they’ve explicitly stated how easy it is to get started using the platform in 3 different ways: start now, try it free, and no credit card required. Hook, line, and sinker—you’ve just signed up for Flodesk.
And that, my friend, is the perfect, stupid-simple headline, supported by a perfect subheading, to make the perfect value proposition.
(And if it’s done its job of convincing you its also the perfect email marketing platform for your business, I’ll go ahead and throw my two cents in & tell you that it is. Use this link or code “btlcopy” for 50% off your membership.)
I’m not listing this as a formal “S” of headline writing, because spicing things up isn’t a necessary part of the Best Headline Ever Formula, and it doesn’t work in all situations.
Take the Flodesk example from above. That headline worked insanely well, and it didn’t need to add any spice. In fact, it would’ve probably been inappropriate and weird, and cheapened the integrity of the headline.
As I mentioned above, the goal is to keep your peeps reading. And what’s more exciting than a little bit of unexpected spice? (When the vibe—and brand voice—is right, of course.)
Here are a few ways you can do that:
(Want more ideas for spicing headlines up? I have about a million. Join the waitlist for my online course, BTL’s Site Series, & I’ll teach you even MORE about writing great headlines! PLUS—this is the whole point, actually—how to write website copy that converts.)
I do have to leave you with a disclaimer about the whole *spice* thing, though.
Cardinal copywriting rule: never sacrifice clarity for cuteness, because confusion is the enemy of conversion, and more often than not, going too hard with the “spice” (or the cute/clever) factor doesn’t land as well as you think it’s going to…
But when it does land, and it’s used appropriately, it’s perfect.
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