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The Other Side Of Headlines

By Bob McElwain
Posted Saturday, August 23, 2003

Since as many as 80% of visitors will never finish even the headline on a page, it's clear we need to put our best effort into creating them. And the headline on our home page is the one that matters most. Here's why.

We can never be sure of the page upon which a visitor may land. This may not matter as much on your site as it does on some, but it holds true to some degree on all sites. Most of the listing returned by search engines do not point to a home page. So if a surfer clicks such a listing, they land on the page to which the listing points.

Next Stop, The Home Page

The articles on STAT related to site building or promotion are submitted to the search engines as soon as they have been uploaded. A lot of the traffic at STAT comes from these submissions. While my statistics are not good enough to prove the following, here's what appears to be happening.

Visitors who get past a headline, which is the title of an article, may click off the site at any time, as in the middle of the article or when finished reading it. But *if* they click to another page, it is most likely to be the home page. This is what I do when I land on an inner page, and want to know more about the site. It appears that on STAT at least, this is common behavior. It is likely so on most sites.

A Good Headline Matters

One of the early headlines on the home page at STAT was, "Newbie-Friendly Site Stuff." Since there is a lot of good information and pointers to free resources on the site, this is descriptive of site content. That services are also offered that must be paid for does not come as an overwhelming shock. In short, this headline does not mislead a visitor as to the site content or purpose.

This matters because a surfer expects the headline to provide such an easy-to-read description. If it misleads, the visitor will quickly click off, if not angered, at least frustrated that his or her time has been wasted.

An Aside: The same thing happens if the listing clicked at a search engine site does not lead to the implied or promised content. Since listings are usually generated from the title and description tags on the page, they need to accurately describe the content in addition to compelling a click.

Free Stuff And Freebie Seekers

Visitors who read beyond the headline, scan subheadings. They will remain on the site only if they find one of interest. The right most column on STAT was headed with "Free Stuff." Options available proved popular. And they generated lots of email from people looking for further explanation or suggestions about where to find more of the same.

After a time, it became clear that while most of my email was from serious minded people (excluding spam), most of it related to free resources and services.

There is no question about it. Free stuff does draw visitors. But while I repect the needs of freebie seekers, what I really want to do on my site is sell my services.

Targeting With The Headline

After much pondering, I changed the headline from:

Newbie-Friendly Site Stuff


Affordable Newbie-Friendly Support

I also moved the "Free Stuff" in the right most column down below the first fold.

The results were noticable immediately, and quite positive.

In the new headline, the first word is, "Affordable." No visitor who is freebie hunting is mislead for an instant. The number of visitors clicking off into cyberspace from the home page increased dramatically. Why is this good?

It is not profitable to waste time, energy, resources, or bandwidth with those seeking a free ride. With this small change, the quantity of email dropped dramatically. And the quality of questions asked increased markedly. More important, the people writing were, in the main, far closer to being propects.

Drive Them Off!

The need for a narrowly defined niche and targeted traffic is accepted by most webmasters. There may also be a need to drive non-targeted traffic off your site as soon as possible. And you may be able to do so simply, as with a change in the headline on your home page.


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