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6 Characteristics of headlines with high conversion rates

Published January 19, 2017 by PLATFORM

Information overload is causing us to shift our attention very fast. Often times, we only read a headline before we decide to bounce. In fact, studies suggest that 80% of readers never make it past a headline and traffic can vary by as much as 500% based on the headline. Not surprisingly, this means you need to grab people’s attention while you have it by a carefully designed headline. A great headline however is not the panacea, you still need to have a great website and a product the customers will be interested in once they react to your headline.

The average person today processes more data in a single day than a person in the 1500s did in an entire lifetime. It is more important now than ever to grab their attention.

Headlines with high conversions use numbers


Many different studies confirm that we are attracted to headlines that use numbers. In fact we also search for numbers when we are trying to learn about something. “Top 5 destinations to see in the Caribbean” or “10 ways to save money” are examples of headlines or search strings one might use.


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Interestingly, some studies suggest that odd numbers perform 20% better than even numbers and depending on the context, large numbers might perform better than smaller numbers because we feel we are getting more of something. For example “60 days” may get more attention than “2 months”. Sometimes however smaller amounts work better, especially if we are talking about money. Four payments of 19.95 sound much better than paying 79.80 for something. Lastly, if appropriate, use a count down rather than a count up, it builds anticipation.


Headlines with high conversion rates use between 5-9 (or 16-18) words


A study conducted by the Guardian reported that headlines consisting of 8 words actually performed the best with 21% higher conversion rates than all other headlines. While it is not entirely clear why this is the magic number, it could have something to do with our attention span and our ability to remember. It has long been suggested that people can remember 7+/- 2 pieces of information. However it is not just the number of words you use that is important, of course the content matters as well.

Your headlines should be concise and informative, every word needs to have a purpose.

So why did we suggest using 16-18 words? This length is reserved for headlines when you are speaking about a product or service users may not know much about. Sometimes, it is necessary to give them a bit more context so they do not fear the unknown.


Headlines using a two part model convert better


In addition to understanding how to construct the main headline, it is important to understand that headlines work as a two part model with sub-headlines further supporting the message of the headline. A subheadline can help you improve the clarity of your message. With more complicated offerings, even this may not be enough and you may choose to follow up your headline and sub-headline with a bulleted list of benefits or a short paragraph that will help you deliver an even more effective message.


This is one of the principles we always follow when we help our clients with their web designs. It is always our goal not only to help our clients with their technical needs but also to help them improve their business and conversions. A well designed mobile app will help, however only those that follow business principles and understand how people work will be successful.


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Negative headlines perform better than positive


Research shows that headlines using negative words such as never and worst perform much better than those using positive words such as always and best. In fact they perform significantly better, with negative headlines performing 30% better than neutral ones and 60% better than positive headlines.


Why is this the case? Perhaps we are weary of always hearing about something being the best and are sceptical. Or maybe we are obsessed with the negative side of things and conditioned to hear about tragedies and disasters. Just think about the evening news, what do you hear about in every story?


Users prefer headlines that use sentence case


According to a conductor study users react better to headlines that use sentence case. Only 8% had no preference while 64% prefered sentence case in headlines. The next most widely prefered style was all capital letters with 21% preference.


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The clearer the headline the better the conversion rate


You may think that headlines that are mysterious perform well, however this is rarely the case. People do not like uncertainty, especially when they are pressed for time. You are better off writing a clear headline than trying to guess what is just the right amount of mysteriousness that will peak someone’s interest.

In the end it is pretty simple. Make sure that your headline says what it is that your website offers, what the user gains by using your product and what they are able to do with it. Please remember, that these tips are great to get you started, however the only true way to figure out what works best for your product with your target market is to split test a few different headlines and see which one converts the best.

Anna McNab is a product strategist at PLATFORM and an associate professor at Niagara University

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