Why your headline is killing sales – and how you can fix it

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen business owners asking for feedback on why their sales page isn’t working.

As soon as I read the headline, I know exactly what’s up.

They’re following advice like this:

This advice makes me furious! And I’ve seen it so many times that I need to set the record straight.

Here’s the truth: Starting a swipe file — a collection of successful sales pages — and relying on proven formulas won’t do squat for you. Unless you do one crucial thing first.

It’s a technique that almost all pros do before they even write a word of copy. Once you finally get this missing ingredient, then you can attract a flood of hungry customers.

I’m talking about wallet-out buyers who order from you without a second thought.

In fact, this technique could double your sales almost overnight. It’s done that for business owners already.

Take Nagina Abdullah — a weight loss coach at Masala Body who was making anywhere from $0 to $4,197 a month with her site. She used this one thing in her copy, and started making over $10,000 a month. (Her best was $15,764 in November 2015.)

Then there’s Bushra Azhar who runs The Persuasion Revolution. After using this technique, people wrote her to say, “We had never heard about you. We landed on your sales page and we bought on the spot.”

And it’s a pillar of our product launches at IWT. We’ve even used it in launches that made $5,524,714 in 6 days. (More on that in a minute.)

This single missing ingredient can set you apart from the masses. And it just might be the thing that takes you from “barely scraping by” to orders coming in 24/7.


Then let’s dive in.

The secret these successful businesses know

You can have the perfect offer, with a great product that people want. But nobody will ever see them if the headline doesn’t do its job.

And the key to a great headline is simple: Use the same words and phrases as your customers.

I’m not talking about the typical “know your audience” crap that’s thrown around in marketing circles.

I’m talking about going above and beyond to uncover not only what your customer wants, but how they talk about what they want.

Let me show you what I mean, with an example from one of our IWT products.

In our Find Your Dream Job program, we knew that our ideal customers were 25 to 35-year-olds who dread cubicle life and want to find a better job.

Now, we could’ve easily written a generic headline around that…

Attention: Young Professionals Who Dread Their Jobs
Discover the Amazing Step-By-Step System to Find Your Dream Job

But that wouldn’t have convinced anyone that we really CAN help them find their dream job. It wouldn’t have built any trust with readers.

To make your audience trust you, you need to make them say, “Yes! Finally, someone who gets me!” You have to use the EXACT words and phrases they use when talking about their problems.

It’s the difference between talking about social media with your friend versus explaining it to your grandparent. You know right away that only one of those people has any idea what they are talking about.

That’s the secret sauce that’s missing when you blindly swipe a successful headline or rely on a formula.

But how do you discover the words your customer would use to talk about their problems?

The simple tool to uncover how your customers talk about their problems

To find the exact words and phrases our readers use, we created a tool called the Customer Desire Map. It’s a way to catalog your audience’s hopes, dreams, and fears.

I’ll show you how to fill one out in a second. But first, take a look at this completed Desire Map for Find Your Dream Job. You’ll see how useful it is to have all this info when you’re writing.

Notice how you can actually picture people saying these things? And how they have a strong emotion behind them? Having these kinds of insights is the key to creating effective headlines.

But how do you find the information you need to fill in a customer desire map?

Here are three easy ways:

1. Talk to them in person: The fastest way to get your customers’ actual words and phrases is to talk to them in person. But make sure the conversation flows. Like you’re in a bar with friends.

Here’s an example of what not to do:

You: “I’m conducting research on a potential career program. Can you tell me about your ideal dream job?”

Customer: “Uhhh…something where I make a good salary and do work that really helps people.”

That’s a generic answer and almost expected. Why? Because it’s natural for people to tense up and say answers they think the other person wants to hear when it’s for “business research.” It’s not what they’re actually thinking or feeling.

Here are some casual questions that’ll help you get started:

  • Have you ever thought about this? Does it ever cross your mind? How do you think about it?
  • What’s so hard about it? Which parts? Why?
  • When do you think about it most? Do you think about it often?
  • What else have you tried? What worked? For how long?

Open-ended questions will always reveal more than yes-no ones. Here’s how a conversation might unfold:

You: Hey, have you ever thought about switching careers?

Customer: OMG! Every day on my 45-minute commute to my desk job.

You: What’s so hard about finding something you like more?

Customer: Everyone says to find my passion, but I just don’t know what it is!

You: What have you tried so far?

Customer: I used one of those career tests and it basically told me that I could do any job and be happy. So frustrating!

2. Tap into the Reddit gold mine: Reddit is one of the most popular sites in the world. People start discussions on thousands of threads called “subreddits.” These can be about anything from weight loss, sports, sex, dating, and even super niche topics. So no matter how specific your business is, chances are you can find a related “subreddit.”

The best part is, everyone posts anonymously under usernames so they’re candid with their thoughts. For example, I just searched a job hunting “subreddit” and found this:

See how much gold is in this one post?

  • “Extremely hard finding any sort of gainful employment.”
  • “I absolutely destroyed (in a good way!) my education and completed an internship and I have done lots of volunteer work within my community.”
  • “I’m having a very difficult time breaking into a career, while it seems that all my friends are doing well for themselves.”

3. Get free market research through Amazon: You might not have a big company’s budget for market research. But you can still get high quality insights through Amazon’s product reviews. Look specifically for 3-star reviews. These are products that have failed to live up to customers’ expectations. And they were fired up enough to write about it.

I looked up “What Color is Your Parachute” by Richard Bolles. One of the best-selling career books of all time. Here’s what I found in one review:

  • “If you’ve seen entry level jobs that require knowledge of a specific software and three years of experience, you understand how frustrating this can be.”
  • “Bolles doesn’t address how to overcome a lack of experience, nor does he seem to understand how the economy is changing for the worse for job-seekers.”

These are some great words and phrases from a few minutes of research, and it’s all free.

As you research, note any phrases that come up repeatedly. Write these down on your Customer Desire Map. You’ll be ahead of your competition and copywriters who just “wing it” with the headlines.

But we’re not finished yet. We need to bring your product into the picture.

Show customers that you have the answer to their biggest pains

Almost every copywriting article, book, or course will talk about features versus benefits. But, just like the headline, there’s one more step. You have to talk about the benefits with the actual words your customer would use.

For Find Your Dream Job, here’s what that might look like:

Feature Benefit In Customer’s Words
9 modules System to identify and get your dream job Even if you don’t know what your passion is, you can follow this system to find a job that you’re excited to wake up for every day.
Networking word-for-word scripts Connect with hiring managers Even if you’re introverted, and hate selling yourself, you can connect with VIPs.
MP3 files and PDF transcripts Study on your own time Use your dreaded commute time to work towards something you’re excited for.
Q&A with real hiring managers Learn what hiring managers actually look for You’ll see exactly what you’re doing wrong in interviews. You’ll also learn what hiring managers are really looking for when they ask, “What’s your biggest weakness?”
Successful resume/cover letter examples Get the attention of hiring managers Stop sending out dozens of resumes and cover letters without hearing back. Proven examples show you how to get attention.
Lifetime access Learn everything at your own pace. Revisit parts that you’re unclear about. The best job security is getting good at finding jobs. You can use this system again if you ever want to find a new job or change careers.

See how much more appealing product features become when you connect the dots for your customers?

Once you do this exercise, writing to them will almost become second nature.

Now you finally have the ingredients to “assemble” an irresistible headline

This is where you can take your classic copywriting formulas and show all the benefits of your product using your customers’ words and phrases from above.

Let’s walk through some Dream Job examples through a few headline templates:

  • Ask a question – “What if you never had to wake up for a job you hate again?”
  • Give a command – “Write your resume today!”
  • “How to” headline – “How to find your dream job.”
  • A story – “How one recent college grad found his dream job in the middle of a recession.”
  • A list – “9 steps to go from ‘vague passion’ to multiple job offers from your dream companies.”
  • Announce news that’s relevant to the reader – “Finally…a proven system to find your dream job!”
  • Make the headline time-sensitive or urgent – “Get multiple job offers before the end of the year!”
  • Address a pain directly – “Are you sick and tired of sending out resumes and cover letters without hearing back?”
  • Give useful information – “What hiring managers really look for. (Hint: It’s not what you think)”
  • Create mystery – “Find your dream job even if you’re not sure what it is yet.”

It’s critical to write multiple headlines and pick the best ones. This stacks the deck in your favor so that you’ll come up with a winner.

But how do you know which is the best? We have a system for that.

The GrowthLab Copywriting Scorecard that can eliminate 90% of your headline problems

We’ve found that 5 criteria account for 90% of all writing problems. By tackling these, you can turn good headlines into great ones. Then, you can take them and systematically pick your best ones.

Here’s how the GrowthLab Copywriting Scorecard works:

Pick any headline from the list you drafted. Then, give it a score of 1 to 5 (1 being terrible, 5 being amazing) for the following five criteria: Message, Clarity, Emotion, Connection, and Flow.

Let’s take an example Dream Job idea through this exercise.

“Write your resume today!”

That’s a total score of 12. Message and connection were my weak points. If I address these, I might come up with something like this:

“Write your resume with these proven tips to avoid the ‘black hole of doom’ and get the attention of hiring managers.”

Boom! See how much stronger it becomes? We took a bad idea and made it into something that has potential. I’d probably give this new version a 4 across the board for a total score of 20. And it’s even using a lot of the words and phrases from our Customer Desire Map in the beginning.

If you can do this for every headline that you’ve drafted, even your worst scoring headlines will be 10x better than a random swipe.

Your best headlines will be irresistible.

But you can take it a step further. If you want a headline that practically guarantees to stop readers in their tracks, test your 4-5 highest scoring ones. Go read them to your friends or target audience if possible.

Look for any body language changes, because people can say things to avoid hurting feelings, or for the sake of agreeing, but body language is hard to fake.

If you read a headline to someone and they sit up in their chair suddenly, you’ve hit the jackpot.

That’s your winner.

Discover how to create mouthwatering copy without actually writing anything