headline copy strategies

You can test numerous website elements. Some will have very little impact on your ability to persuade and convert your site visitors. Others will have a dramatic impact. A headline has a dramatic impact and they are an extremely important element in your conversion process. It is said that headlines should rank as one of your highest testing priorities.

But why is this the case? Well they are one of the first elements that your visitor will see. Either because they see it in a Google search result, or when they visit the page it is at the top of the page.

Readers will use your headline and sub-headlines to understand the content on your page. Headlines help your site visitors decide whether they want to read more of your copy. Relevant headlines not only improve conversion rates, but they also improve organic search rankings.

Readers skim headlines and an engaging statement encourages your reader to engage more deeply with your content [Notice I said engaging headline. Not click-bait headline which is another topic altogether].

So what sort of headlines can you test?

Here are a few example headlines:

Test fractions or percentages to prove your claim:
  • One out of 50 children in America will be homeless each year
  • 2% of all children in America will be homeless each year
  • 1/50 children in America will be homeless each year
Test asking questions in the headline:

You must make sure you directly answer the question after the headline

  • How can you make a difference in your community?
  • Do you want to make a difference in your community?
  • Can you make a difference in your community?
  • Will you make a difference in your community?
Test using emotion-laden words:
  • Bring care and comfort to the terminally ill
Test different types of formatting:

Such as bold/italics, fonts, colors, capitalizations, sizes

  • Make a Difference In Your Community
  • Make a difference in your community
  • Make a difference in your community
Test the number of words used in the headline:
  • Make a difference in your community
  • Make a big difference in your local community
Test using exclamation points:
  • Make a difference in your community
  • Make a difference in your community!
Test using text to convey the benefits vs. features:
  • Your donations help us make a difference
  • Your donations provide food and clothing for the homeless
  • Your donations go directly to the homeless
Test self-focused vs. customer-focused text:

“we/I” is self-focused, whereas “you” is customer-focused

  • We help make a difference in our community
  • You can help make a difference in your community
Test using quotation marks in the headline:

But do make sure that you consider the length of the headline

  • We are committed to make a difference
  • We are committed “to provide food and shelter for the homeless”
Test the reading level of the headline:

Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: A higher score indicates easier readability; scores usually range between 0 and 100. You can test your text using this website.

  • In a recent approximation, an estimated 1.6 million unduplicated persons use transitional housing or emergency shelters
    • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 4
  • In a recent survey, an estimated 1.6 million people were using transitional housing or emergency shelters
    • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 34
  • A recent survey showed that about 1.6 million people use homeless shelters
    • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 70

Writing a good headline isn’t easy and the purpose of testing is to give you the knowledge of what works or at least what doesn’t work. But like all good things in life it takes time, practice and patience to get it right.

hamburger icon button

When viewing a website on a mobile device I often see the site menu hidden behind a hamburger icon. I am not so sure that it is actually a hamburger icon, but it is called that because it consists of three lines that look like a bun with a patty in the middle.


The problem from a design perspective is that is assumes that the visitor to the site knows exactly what it represents. Sometimes as in the case on the CNN website above they feel the need to add the word menu next to the icon just so you know what it is (which seems to miss the point of having the icon in the first place?).

But on other sites like WordPress.org use it so prominently that it makes me think that designers just assume that every knows that clicking the hamburger icon will show the site menu:


it actually represents a list

According to Wikipedia it was created by Norman Cox as part of the interface for Xerox Star, and reading further it seems that the icon actually represent a list. That is a list of three items, and clicking the list icon expands the list. Seeing it as a list (rather than a hamburger) makes better sense from design perspective.

Some sites have taken this into account and the LA Times website use four lines rather than three and they include the word Sections. They also actually have a horizontal menu of important sections rather than just use a icon:


smaller screens require icons

As more and more people use smaller screen it is necessary to maximize the limited screen space by making use of icons and only time will tell if the trend to use the hamburger icon button as a menu link will continue. There is a good chance that it soon will join other icons like to magnifying glass and the shopping trolley to represent website features without having to use text. My concern is that it does assume that your site visitor knows exactly what it means and what will happen if the click or touch the icon.

Microsoft menu with hamburger icon