Web readers, as you know, don’t really read—they scan. And you’ve probably seen the statistics: The average reader leaves a webpage after 10 to 20 seconds. About 80% of people read the headline only.
If attention is the new currency, most websites are coming up short.
The good news? Applying these simple copywriting principles can help you capture readers’ attention, build relationships, and generate leads:
Use Words Your Customers Use
Have you ever said to a friend, “I wish I had an innovative solution for optimizing my dietary experience”? Probably not. But you might have said, “I just need a quick, healthy recipe for dinner tonight.”
Good copywriters know their audience well. This includes knowing which words they use—not in professional emails, not in annual reports … but in conversation with their social networks.
The online proposal company Bidsketch knows their ideal customer—freelancers and small businesses that work in creative fields. Their website’s subheadline (a quote from a happy customer) uses language that is non-corporate, relatable, and simple.
You have about 15 seconds to capture your readers’ attention. Don’t waste time by being too clever.
The best headlines are often those that succinctly describe what the page is about and what readers will gain by reading more. And if that can be conveyed in as few words as possible—as MailChimp does rather brilliantly—all the better.
“Send Better Email” may not clue the reader in on exactly what MailChimp does, but it certainly piques interest. And below the image is an equally succinct line with the details: “Join more than 7 million people who use MailChimp to design and send 500 million emails every day.”
Speak to the Benefit
What’s in it for your reader? Use words that describe what they’re getting from using your service or product. Language that helps your audience visualize the benefit is even more effective—and an image can help (see MailChimp’s screenshot).
Google approaches its career website with a benefit mindset. They’re not starting with, “What are we looking for in an employee?” nor “What kind of positions do we offer?” Instead, it’s “What do people gain by working at Google?”
Put Important Words at the Beginning
Research shows that web readers often scan the beginnings of phrases—and that includes sentences, paragraphs, and headlines.
Make sure you’re not burying the benefit in the middle of the headline. Celebrity Cruises smartly positions their deal at the beginning of the headline. They draw further attention to it by using a color that stands out.
Specificity can help bring your value prop to life. It adds credibility to your words and helps create a vivid picture in the mind of your readers. It also shows that you have confidence in your offering.
The web-based ticketing service Etix leverages the power of social proof with specific numbers. You can imagine a tepid alternative, right? “Millions of tickets sold each year from thousands of venues worldwide.” It’s vague, harder to scan, and much less compelling than the current headline.
Identify Your Customers
Smart content uses signals that reveal its intended audience. Often it’s through specific language, as Bidsketch does on its home page (“super profesh!”) or by stating it outright. If you serve a specific segment of the population, consider employing this tactic in your headline, as An Event Apart does.
It’s impossible to say with 100% certainty what headline will resonate most with your readers. Perhaps using an ultra-specific headline is the way to go. Or maybe a straight-to-the-point phrase yields the best results. That’s why many companies use split testing and optimization to refine their headlines.
If using A/B testing software isn’t feasible, either because your team is too small or you lack sufficient website traffic, consider using other methods to find out what people respond to, from tracking clicks in Twitter to running Google Adword campaigns.
The Bottom Line
Will a killer headline get your readers to convert on the spot? Probably not. But it will likely get them to spend more than 20 seconds on your page. It will compel them to read on, and, when the time is right, take the next step in building the relationship.
Ren Scott is a creative marketing agency that helps our clients craft effective messages. Contact us today for a quote.