Every Time Content is Published Without Testing a Headline a Kitten Loses a Life

Over the course of almost two decades, Jeffrey and I have worked directly with hundreds of content writers. Many of them were our secret weapons in many of our most exciting client success stories. Once the writers understood the personas they were writing for, had a clear sense of the narrative flow of the scenario and the context (where their content piece fit with in that scenario) they almost always delivered content that was both relevant and persuasive.

However, a recurring theme is that few if any of them were testing headlines continuously.

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” – David Ogilvy

I’ll admit it wasn’t always easy to test your headlines (remember in the 1990s through the early 2000s the software didn’t exist) but in today’s environment of thousands of headlines, subject lines and content titles assaulting readers, more like a dam bursting than a firehose, you need to develop the skills to throw readers a virtual life raft for them to grab hold of.

Let’s take this recent example from one of my past columns. Which headline makes you want to click through? To read it? To share it?

  1. How to Manage a Legendary Brand
  2. The One Technique You Can Use Tomorrow to Get Amazon Results

Here are the results of my test:

headline test

It took a couple of minutes to come up with a alternative headlines. We tested one and we got a 217% lift.

Not bad!

Upworthy traffic resultsThere was no change to the content, all I did was frame the title differently. What do you think publishers like BuzzFeed, BusinessInsider or UpWorthy are doing? They are choosing content that other people are creating and then framing the content and title from a different angle. They see spectacular results, go look at their traffic numbers if you have any doubt.

In fact, Upworthy has even created some fabulous SlideShares that tell you exactly what they are doing. It’s worth spending a few minutes to look through it in detail. Of course, I’ll share a couple of the relevant slides here:

So what is it exactly that Upworthy is doing? Glad you asked.

Here is my take on what they say:

What Does Upworthy do1. They find good content that hasn’t quite reached it’s potential.

2. They re-frame it so that others want to click on the title, consume the content and share it again.

3. They amplify the content through channels.

4. What they don’t tell you, but I will, is that they test multiple versions of headlines to see which produces the best lift.

5. They enjoy the results.

Here is another one of my recent headline test examples:

  1. How to Convert More Blog Visitors
  2. Proven Techniques for Converting Blog Visits
  3. Is Your Blog Doing it’s Job Effectively?
  4. Is Your Blog a Lead Generation Machine, if Not Here is Why

Which one do you think performed the best?

headline test 2

Notice 2 of them, had a better than 100% lift and one had a negative lift.

This isn’t rocket science!  It takes only a few minutes more.  And it is obviously worth the additional effort,

How about your content?

Which headlines and titles are you running on your website or blog? Ones that get more people to click through, read and share your content or ones that push people away.

What do you need to do to get these results?

1. Brainstorm a bunch of headlines, as Upworthy suggests in their SlideShare.

2. Pick the best ones to test.

3. Plug them into your site. If you are using a WordPress powered site, I highly recommend the Headlines plugin by KingSumo (among the best $99 you will ever invest).

4. Let the test run.

5. Enjoy the extra traffic, readers and business.

2014-07-23_08-51-39Please start testing your headlines. Please invest the time and effort.  How about if I tell you that it will save a kitten every time you do?

Please share if you think others would benefit.