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Conversion Rate Optimization

Why Maslow's Law Helps You Write Great Headlines That Convert

This post was originally published on LinkedIn

Copywriting is the quintessential skill every marketer should have. Whether you are responsible for advertising, social media, the blog, landing pages, conversion rate optimization, product marketing, or sales collateral, it's a skill that makes your job easier and helps you persuade your reader to click, provide information, or purchase.

Believe it or not, behind every great headline are a bit of science, psychology, and a dose of creativity.

Quick rundown on why we share content that has great headlines

Great headlines sell products, news, experiences, and contribute to the content we consume. Abraham Maslow developed the Hierarchy of Needs, also known as Maslow's Law, and it lays out why we, as humans, share content. It's important to understand why we share in order to write great headlines that convert. So here's a quick rundown before I dive into how to write a great headline.

Why people share:

  1. People share helpful content because it makes them look helpful and satisfies their need for self-actualization.
  2. People share attention grabbing content to get noticed.
  3. People share opinionated content because they want to signal groups they belong to or don’t belong to.
  4. People share content when it evokes emotion within them.

In Maslow's 'Hierarchy of Needs' he lays out in order to attain the top of the food chain, we need to attain the needs below it. At the bottom of the food chain we have basic needs: health, food, sleep. Above those we have safety needs: warmth and freedom from danger. Above those we need to belong and need love, affection, friendships, and tribes to fulfill that need. Then there is self-esteem where we need recognition, respect, praise, and to get noticed. Finally at the top of the needs hierarchy is self-actualization where our morality, creativity, imagination, sense of purpose, acceptance of others and opinions, and spirituality come into play.

Some people have a formula for writing great headlines

As a marketer, how do you get your audience to perform your call-to-action (CTA) of download, share, watch, buy, click, subscribe, add to cart, learn, contact, etc.? Some people follow a formula to write headlines such as:

  • Why ____will make you a better ____
  • ___ ways to get even more from ____
  • Little known ways to ____
  • What you ought to know about ______
  • ___ every ____ wants you to know
  • The secret of ___
  • X reasons why ____
  • __ will make you ___
  • How to ___

Some people write and rewrite a headline 10-15 times before they settle on one. But the basics of a great headline are more simple and can be boiled down into these five tips.

How to write great headlines that convert

1. A good rule of thumb is to keep headlines to less than 50 characters.

Why? Because search engines tend to cut off headlines somewhere after 52-55 characters or so. Your goal should be to try and stay under 50 characters when possible (without sacrificing the message).

2. Odd numbers are better than even numbers because they spur interest. When using odd numbers in your headline you should always use the number over the spelled out word whenever possible, (i.e. don't spell out the odd number even if it is less than 10) — especially in blog titles. Studies have shown headlines with odd numbers generate +20% CTR than those with even numbers.

Why? Because it's been proven our brains tend to trust, digest, and remember odd numbers more than even. Case in point:

3. Follow the 4 U's. Try and make your headline follow at least three of the 4 U’s: urgent, useful, ultra-specific, unique.

  • Create a sense of urgency by providing something they don't know or something they need to take action on right now.
  • Make it useful by using words like: Ways, Things, Best Practices, Tips, Reasons, Lessons, Tricks, Ideas, Ways, Principles, Facts, Secrets, Strategies, or How-to.
  • Make it ultra-specific by giving the reader a sense of what they should expect –– a solution to their problem.
  • Make it unique because search engines reward unique. Search for your headline in Google using quotation marks to see if it returns any results. When you see ‘No results found’ for your headline, then you know it’s unique.

4. Use words to evoke emotion or FOMO such as:

  • Sophisticated/Savvy - everyone wants to be sophisticated, savvy, better at their job. No one wants to be behind the learning curve.

  • Easiest - everyone wants to know the “best” or “easiest” way to do something. Although we may sometimes learn the hard way, we prefer easy.

  • Successful/Effective - everyone wants to be/feel “successful” or “effective” in their job, in their life.

  • Time - everyone needs more time, no matter their job -- whether it's engineer, CEO, or even if that job is 'mom'. So phrases like “now” or “1 hour or less” or anything indicating time savings is a win.

For more inspiration, here are 180 power words for writing emotional headlines.

5. Listicles, How-to's, and 'Why' headlines tend to have higher CTR than other headlines.

  • Listicles are informative and SEO friendly.
  • 'How-to's' instantly communicates helpful or educational content.
  • 'Why' headlines pique curiosity and challenges the reader to learn more.

Bonus tip: Treat your email subject lines the same way you do headlines, so they have a better chance of being opened. Why? Because 47% of email recipients decide to open your email based on your subject line and 69% of email recipients will drag your email to the spam folder based on the subject line. Make it count. Make it convert.

~ Tracy Sestili, VP of Marketing

Tracy Sestili is a tenured marketing executive leading teams at Intellimize, Fountain, SparkPost (acquired by MessageBird), Cisco, and TiVo. She has previously served on the board of Women for WineSense, and co-founded a nonprofit for lung cancer, for which she received a Bay Area Jefferson Award.

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