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Write headlines for even the most skeptical audiences

Improve your message matching (which can lower your bounce rate)
Avoid relying on lame-o headlines like, The future of accounting just got better!
Punctuate and capitalize headlines for better readability
Support your headline with a subhead thats more likely to perform well
Answer pesky questions like, So what is it that you guys do?
Use so-called cheesy headline formulas to write non-cheesy headlines
Grade your headline using a checklist
Create a high-performing headline without writing at all
Use crossheads to say more than you can in the average subhead

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

1. Why You Must Spend 90% of Your Copywriting Time on the Headline ............................... 4
2. High-Converting Headlines for a Skeptical World ................................................................ 9
3. The 7 Secrets of Attention-Grabbing Headlines ................................................................. 15
4. 9 Formulas You Can Use to Write Headlines That Get Read and Convert ......................... 22
5. Subheads: The Powerful Opportunity Youre Ignoring ...................................................... 30
6. Quick Headline & Subhead Power Tips .............................................................................. 41
7. The Value Proposition Your Ticket to Converting More Visitors ..................................... 44
BONUS: Headline Hall of Shame ............................................................................................ 60


Joanna Wiebe is the original conversion copywriter and a messaging strategist specializing in persuasive
writing that turns visitors into happy, repeat customers. Since 2003, she has been writing, editing &
proofreading online and offline copy and designing interactions for tech companies as well as startups.
She also consults and teaches writing for professionals. She holds an MA in Communications &
Technology with specialization in persuasion in ecommerce environments.
The co-founder of Disco Surveys, Joanna lives with her hub-bub in Victoria, British Columbia.
Twitter: @copyhackers


Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Why You Must Spend 90% of Your Copywriting Time on
the Headline
Advertising maven David Ogilvy claimed that 5 times as many people read the headline as
read the body copy, which means that once youve written your headline, youve spent
eighty cents out of your dollar. Ogilvy was referring to print advertising, but the same
statement may hold true today.
Because, no matter what the media, people read the headline first.
Its true for PPC ads. Landing pages. Product pages. Even pricing pages.
You know it. I know it. Ogilvy knew it. Hell, even the customer may know it.
The headline is the most important copy on your page. Its the first message your visitor
will see, and it has one task: to stop visitors in their tracks.
Let me repeat that:

Your headlines first job is to stop visitors in their tracks.

Your headline can mean the difference between a person staying on your site or bouncing.
If its good enough to keep people around, it will also set the tone for the brand of your
company, the credibility of your site and the rest of a users experience on your site.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Your headline will impact whether people read the next line. It will impact whether people
click on your call to action or not. It affects bounce, engagement, clicks, overall conversion
and even likelihood to return. In fact, on average, 8 out of 10 people will read your
headline but only 2 of those people will actually continue on to read the copy below.
So your headline has to do a ton of heavy lifting.
That said, how much time do you really spend working on your headline?
If you want your copy to be effective that is, if you want it to help make you money you
need to give it due attention. You need to make it your new partner. Spend your valuable
time with it. Wine and dine it. Flatter it. Let it turn you into its bitch for a while. Coax it,
massage it, stroke it until it gives you exactly the explosion of genius youre looking for.
If you plan on spending 3 days knocking out the copy for your site, expect to spend at least
2 of those days on headlines for your pages.
(Here youd thought that big ol Tour page was going to take up all your time! Nope. Itll be
the headlines.)


The burden of keeping people on your page rather than bouncing is almost entirely on
your headline. Each headline has to do a ton of work in as few words as possible. It must:



Match visitor expectations, which means closely matching the language used in the
call to action be it a button or PPC ad that the visitor clicked to land on the page.
People want to find the useful info theyre looking for. That means lower bounce.
Intrigue the visitor enough to keep them moving down the page, be it by
highlighting value or incentives or promising something that is both enticing and
believable. The outcome of this is increased time on page.
Communicate clearly what the visitor can/should do on this page (i.e., page goal).
The outcome of this is qualifying visitors.
Get to the visitors point. That is, write what the visitor needs to see, succinctly
ideally in 12 or fewer words. The outcome of this is improved conversion.
Highlight a benefit. What 1 key outcome will the visitor enjoy after or while using
your solution?

Oh, and it needs to make people want to read the next line, too

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

And if your headline is an H1, it should also solve for SEO (as much as it can), such as by
using the optimum keyword phrase for the page. See? Its got a lotta work to do!
Use this free scorecard from Copy Hackers to assess your own headline options on a pageby-page basis. So you can filter out the blah from the ya!


Your headline can work so hard that nothing else on the page even matters. But thats
rarely the case. That might be true on your beta sign up page but not post-launch.
Because a headline is actually just a way into the page, a way into the message.
Think of your headline as step numero uno in an engagement process that may and
should result in conversion, whether a sale or a sign-up or a referral/like.
Step 1: Headline draws visitor in
Step 2: Subhead holds their attention, builds on headline, and compels them to
continue down page
Each element on your page is a part of this step-by-step scanning process. And at each step,
you have a new opportunity to hold or lose your visitor. But it all starts with the headline
at least, 9 times out of 10 it does.
Keeping reading for details on how to write subheads.


In most cases, your home page headline should be your value proposition, or your single
statement that describes what is unique and highly desirable about your offering. (See
Chapter 7, and check out Copy Hackers: The Great Value Proposition Test)
Your landing pages should have headlines that effectively balance intriguing the visitor,
reflecting the call to action that likely sent them there, and incorporating SEO keywords.
That means that when you write your How It Works page, the headline should NOT be
How It Works. It should speak to how your product works while being intriguing. Your
Plans & Pricing page should also have a headline that does more than simply remind the
visitor what page theyre on.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Your headlines arent stand-ins for navigation. They should match expectations but they
shouldnt stop at that alone.
Theres a lot more work for you headline to do than just that, and youll be doing yourself a
favor if you remember that point when it comes time to write each and every page of your
This book will reinforce this point again and again.
Youve been warned.


Choose any page of your site whether youve already written it or youre about to write it
and write 10 headlines for that page. Yes, 10. At least 10!
Then measure each of those headlines in this free Copy Hackers headline scorecard, which
is also shown on the next page
Assess each headline against the 5 criteria. Be critical! Dont give a high rating on the
scorecard if a third party wouldnt agree with you. Instead, use the handy share feature to
get a link you can use to invite your coworkers and friends to score your headlines with you.
May the best headline win

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions


Visit to use the following FREE headline
scorecard to measure your headlines against the criteria described in this chapter.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

High-Converting Headlines for a Skeptical World
Lets be clear: skeptical people have always existed. There have been and always will be
people who proudly declare, Advertising doesnt work on me! If you write your headline
with those people in mind, youll probably end up with a shy, tentative little weakling of a
headline that says nothing and takes no stand.
On the other hand, if you write headlines as if a large percentage of your prospects will
happily consume whatever slickster, huckster stuff you send their way, your headlines will
probably trigger alarms in your visitors minds and result in really high bounce rates.
So before we talk about writing the test-worthy headlines of your dreams which well do
in the next two chapters lets start with the more universally palatable ones


If you read Copy Hackers Book 1: Where Stellar Messages Come From, youll recall learning
that the best messages come from your prospects, not from your own head. The best
headlines, then, are likely to come from your prospects.
In 2013, I rewrote the copy for the winning treatment in a Crazy Egg home page test. Heres
the headline and subhead from that treatment (see next page):

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

I swiped that headline from a phrase that several survey respondents who were all users
of Crazy Egg had written to describe the key benefit they derived from using Crazy Egg
maps. The phrase most commonly appeared in the data like this:
I love that a Crazy Egg picture tells a story
So where did the word stunning come from? In the same survey, I asked Crazy Egg users
to choose 2 or 3 words to describe Crazy Egg. The word that appeared most frequently?
Can that headline be improved on? Sure! Every headline can. But heres whats great about
this headline for you, dear copy hacker: when you use the same phrasing that your existing
customers use assuming your existing customers are similar to your prospects you rarely
have to worry that youre going to turn off your more skeptical visitors.


Ever notice how hard it is to believe someones funny once theyve told you theyre funny?
Or how hard it is to see someone as good-looking when theyve said theyre good-looking?
Some claims are more credible when a third-party says them. In life. In comedy. And in
Thats one reason why headlines in quotation marks can work so well.
(Another reason is because quotation marks catch our eye and can signal human
interaction, which we, as social beings, seek out.)
For Flow by MetaLab (2014), I recommended quoting Business Insider instead of using a
traditional headline:

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

When quoting someone else, keep in mind that youre writing a headline and, as you
already learned, a headline has the burden of matching expectations, among other things.
So do your best to use quotes that incorporate keywords your prospects need to see. In the
case of Flow, the phrase task management app matched expectations.
On (2014), Amy Hoy quotes her own customer in her headline:

That headline matches expectations for visitors seeking a time tracking solution. It also
explicitly references a challenge that good prospects will be likely to relate to. (2014) also uses customer testimonials as headlines:

On (2014), I wrote a headline that appears to quote someone else

but in fact just takes a common prospect problem and puts it in quotation marks:

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Its preceded by a line that helps explain whos likely to say such a thing. And its followed
by supporting bullets that expand on the but, which intentionally hangs on the headline.
As you may be starting to notice, these headlines dont necessarily follow any formulas you
may be familiar with, and theyre not jaw-dropping heart-stoppers. Sure, they tick the boxes
referenced in Chapter 1 but the reason theyre so good for skeptical audiences is because
they let someone else do the talking.
Skeptical audiences are skeptical of marketers and sales people.
That doesnt mean that they are closed off to hearing your message.
They just need it to be somewhat more credible than your average hard-hitting headline is.


Promises and guarantees are great for boosting conversion but they can come off as
skeezy sometimes. You have to make a promise elegantly, without trying too hard or
thinking too much like a slickster copywriter might.
How do you know if youre being a slickster?
I use the Nana Rule:
If I learned that my sweet, wonderful nana had purchased something with
this headline, would I worry that shed been ripped off?
You can leverage the power of promises without breaking the Nana Rule.
For App Design Vault (2014), we saw over 51% more paid conversions from the home page
with the treatment that used this headline:

Notice the promise we make in that headline? We dont explicitly promise anything;
instead, we make a realistic and implied promise of value: youre going to stand out in the

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

App Store if you use App Design Vault templates.


If you havent yet heard that you should lead with the benefit, let me be the first to tell you.
And please dont ever forget it. Although there are some rare cases in which leading with a
feature is the best method, leading with a benefit is almost always better and leading with
a clear, uber-tangible benefit is best of all.
Take a look at this headline, from Australias Health Insurance Comparisons (2014):

Now compare that headline to this one, which we tested against the one above:

See the difference? The word Save in the Control is replaced with the phrase Get the
Right Policy at the Right Price in Variation B. The only other element that changed on this
page was a tweak to the button copy, where we went from Get My Quotes to Show Me
My Quotes. Can you guess which one won?
The longer version beat the Control, bringing in 21.1% more form submissions.
People will tell you that you need to edit your headline until its fewer than 7 words. But
repeated experiments show that breaking up summary words, like save, and highlighting
the benefits hidden within those summary words can lead to higher-converting copy.
You dont have to make dramatic claims or shock-and-awe people for your headline to
perform well. Some of the most palatable headlines bring in amazing results without
raising the ire of skeptics and, importantly, without compromising brands.
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

That said, when you push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you usually either see
incredible results or take away great insights. So check out the next two chapters and
commit to testing the headlines and subheads of your pages using the techniques youre
about to learn


Whether you have customers or not, you should, dear copy hacker, have at least a little
market research. What are the top pains your prospects are experiencing? Write 1 pain out
in the first person (I) or first-person plural (We) with quotation marks around it. Youve
just written the first draft of a home page or landing page headline.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

The 7 Secrets of Attention-Grabbing Headlines
Amazing headlines dont happen by accident. They take work. But what kind of work?
How do you get to the point of having an amazing, attention-grabbing headline? the kind
that will stop visitors in their tracks? Well, youll be happy to know there are a few tricks the
best copywriters know and employ repeatedly.
Secret tricks that can lure visitors in.
Secret tricks that not only can but will be the difference between boring copy and
memorable copy. Those tricks are here. Theyre the ones youll want to test to see how
your audience responds to them and exactly how much money theyre bringing in.
And each trick is supported by headline examples that reflect some of the copywriting and
direct-response masters, like Eugene Schwartz, Gary Bencivenga and Lawrence Bernstein.


The goal here is to make one just one intriguing promise thats so appealing to your
target audience, they cant help but read on. Even if theyre slightly suspicious.
If you want to get this trick right, youre going to need to be a bit of a tight-rope walker.
Youre walking a fine line here between being believable + credible and coming off as a
snake-oil salesman. Keep visitors slightly but not greatly suspicious, and youll be doing
this one right.
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

How to Build a Memory in 4 Short Weeks So Powerful It Is Beyond Your Wildest

Dreams Today!
This book could remove your fear of death forever
Dont forget that there are advertising standards preventing lies or gross exaggerations. So
be sure that any claim you make is a claim you can support and do support on the page.


Lets say you create an amazing claim. Good work. But you want to drive it home with some
extra oomph.
Or lets say you cant create an amazing claim because your hands are tied by a
conservative legal team or partner. But you have a general claim. And now you need to
pack that claim full of power.
Introducing secret number 2: give people a time limit in which your claim whether
intriguing or not will be realized. (That is, if you claim your product can do X, add that it
will only take 6 days.) Hours, days, maybe weeks. But not months, and definitely not years.
For this secret to work, it needs to tap into the same desire that makes the lottery,
gambling, and other get-rich-quick schemes so enticing. That is, it needs to happen in a very
short period of time.
Change Your Life by Next Week
Hollywood plastic surgeon releases 7-day crash course for new youth and beauty


Your visitors will come to your site with objections. The visitors you want to speak to that
small portion of visitors I discussed in the first book in the Copy Hackers series will have a
handful of key objections.
Your headline doesnt have to overcome all of them. In fact, your headline only has to
address one of them. Just one.
But that one objection has to be either:
The most common major objection, or
The most curious major or minor objection

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

When you stomp the biggest or most curious objection to pieces in your headline alone,
people tend to believe youll bash the other objections to bits, too. Or they just plain forget
about their smaller objections because youve taken care of the biggie. Yes, they can forget.
If your headline is powerful enough and the copy that supports it is persuasive enough,
people as consumers looking for the least amount of friction possible in life while also
looking for a miracle drug people will believe it. They actually want to believe you.


Yogas too hard its only for really

flexible scrawny chicks

Is This the Worlds Easiest Yoga?

This is probably some snake-oil BS where

theyre gonna take my money and run

When I Was Able to Rattle Off 20 Digits of

Pi, I Knew This Memory Course Was Worth
Every Penny And How Cool That I Still
Had 18 More Days Left to Try Before

Now, you may think that those sorts of headlines are cheesy or that they feel a bit scammy.
And thats fine. You dont have to use each trick here. But if your current headline isnt
working why not A/B test one that makes you uncomfortable?
An example of this trick at play comes courtesy of (2014),
which I happily coached Michael Simpson to write. The objection? Raising money is too
hard for me to do. The headline that stomps it to smithereens?


Imagine what blogs, newspapers and magazines would be like if the headlines all sounded
just as readers expected them to sound. If there were no surprises. No one would read em!

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

When information is just as you expect it to be, its not interesting. Its just research.
Being unexpected with your headline copy usually means going against your natural
inclination to be explicit and direct. Were told to get to the point, and were told not to
waste time so we think we must simply relay information. But thats not entirely true.
Winning headlines relay information but then they go the extra mile. They:

Use unexpected analogies

Reference other known goods that are exciting or unusual
Ask unusual questions
Make statements that are seemingly unrelated to the product at hand

Consider the following 2 headlines, both for the same product:

Now Doing Your Taxes Is Easier Than Ever
What If Doing Your Taxes Felt As Indulgent As Licking Icing Off A Birthday Cake?
Both are trying to make you believe in a product. But only one is unexpected. And guess
which one is more memorable? Guess which will stick with more people?
To be unexpected, simply start by using interesting words. Any word that youre not used to
seeing is interesting. Some of the most intriguing words in marketing include:












The list could truly go on endlessly. The point is to be aware of unusual words and to use
them alongside or in the midst of more typical words.
You might also try your hand at unexpected analogies. But how do you arrive at an
unexpected analogy? It requires a little skill in contrasting and juxtaposing. Like comparing
something beautiful to something painful. Or comparing freedom to capture.
Ill Make You a Mental Wizard as Easily as This
Will This Be the Most Explosive Turn Around in the History of the Stock Market?
Pick Yourself a Fortune from the Money Trees
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Since this book was first published in 2011, tricks like this one have become somewhat
overused by content curation services like Im personally not against those
services or their headlines but its important to recognize the backlash here.
Be careful not to overdo any trick. But, on the flip side, dont be afraid to try using headlines
like Upworthy uses just because you think someone will misjudge you for it. The problem
people have with Upworthy is not that they have great headlines; its that their headlines
often fail to reflect the content theyre selling accurately: (2014)


The adjective visceral simply describes a drive that is deeper than reason and is related to
core emotions or feelings. Visceral feelings are not things like happiness, joy, sadness,
anger. Nothing that could be covered in a kids book.
Theyre deeper than that. Theyre human.
When you tap into something visceral in your headline, youre really tapping into ugly but
insanely powerful emotions, like:


Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

These are not pretty emotions. But theyre powerful. Which is why they sell.
Is It Immoral to Make Money This Easily?
Why Models Stay Young Till Sixty!
Can You Save Twice What Your Father Retired On Before You Turn 35?


The word secret carries more power than you may want to admit. The more secret
something claims to be, the more intriguing it is. Even when people are suspicious that
theyre about to read something secret, they still go ahead and read it just to satisfy their
Which is why the word curious is also powerful.
Secret and curious are two trigger words. Theyre words that pull a trigger in our brains,
stopping us and making us grapple through an internal dialogue about whether or not we
should stick around and read.
The good news is that most people do stick around. Most people believe in their heart of
hearts that theyre out of the loop. They believe others have secrets, and theyre curious
about those secrets.
Other trigger words and phrases include:



The reason

One and only

Yes, you really can

While you sleep


Combine trigger words together to build intriguing headlines. For example, the littleknown reason or the one and only way to train your brain while you sleep.
And to take things even further, use trigger words in questions that tap into a visceral
emotion in an unexpected way.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions


When youre writing for a group of nameless, faceless visitors to your site, it can be hard to
imagine what words or images will resonate best with those people.
Should you risk being unexpected? Should you bother emphasizing an almost unbelievable
promise and the time in which you guarantee that promise will be realized? Will anyone get
it? Will anyone care? Its easy to talk yourself out of it.
But let me tell you the simple trick I use to shove that negative talk out the window, where
it belongs. Its a visualization exercise I do.
Visualize 3 of your target customers standing together in a parking lot, looking bored. Just 3
of them. No more than that. These are the 3 people you have to win over with your
Now write a headline that will completely excite almost to the point of arousal those 3
people. Focus on just 3 because, if you put 100 people in that visualization, youll likely end
up diluting your message in an effort to please more people.
Write a variety of headlines that use a few of the above tricks. Then visualize putting those
headlines in front of those 3 people. Which one or two would they be wowed by? Which
would get their attention and hold it enough that they read the next line?
Those are the ones to test against a more straightforward control.
And if that doesnt work, try this: think of what a Fortune 500 company with shareholders
would write and write the opposite.


Take a headline youve written, and rewrite it using each of the above secret tricks. You
should end up with a handful of headlines; dont try to cover all the tricks in one headline.
Are you ready to go to your site and test a few of these headlines? Whats stopping you?

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

9 Formulas You Can Use to Write Headlines That Get Read
and Convert
If you had to write every headline on your page from scratch, out of the corners of your
brain, youd probably end up with the usual drab stuff littering ecommerce sites today:
Choose from Our Top-Rated Products
Online Travel Booking Just Got Fun
Welcome to Our Site
Product Features & Benefits
How It Works
Plans & Pricing
Its hard to keep your creative juices flowing while balancing everything else thats required
in a headline, like motivation, keywords, previous page call to action the list goes on. (Its
what this whole book is about so, yeah.) Not to mention actually growing your startup into
a fully operational, money-making business.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

So why craft a headline from scratch every time?

Why put yourself through that torture?
As you test headlines on your site, list them on a
sticky note or in Notepad or anywhere you want to.
But just be sure to document them so you can refer
back to them and, where appropriate, replicate them
with (hopefully) similar success.
Or simply use any of these 9 tried, tested and true
formulas for writing your next headline. They all
satisfy the stop visitors in their tracks requirement
of any great headline.

Dont worry about getting your
headline right immediately. In
fact, try not to start a page by
writing your headline at all.
Write everything else, then the
headline! If youre compelled to
write a headline first, use a
placeholder. Whatever you do,
dont fixate on it. Therell be
plenty of time to stress about
your headline later.

FORMULA: Highly desirable thing + time limit + consequence if highly desirable thing not
Your Dream House Blueprints in 7 Days or Theyre Free
Setup Your Next A/B Test in 15 Minutes or Well Do It for You

FORMULA: Now + highly desirable thing you can do + even if objection
Now You Can Build an iPhone App Even If Youre Not a Programmer
Now You Can Run User Tests Even If You Have Almost No Budget


Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

FORMULA: How to + [verb + noun] + benefit

How to Support Customers 7x Faster with GizmoJo
How to Transform Your iPad into a Money-Making Machine

FORMULA A: [Numeral + noun(s)] + verb + object
64,456 People Have Already Told Their Friends about Blastobot
FORMULA B: Verb + [numeral + noun]
Made with a Special Blend of 11 Herbs & Spices
Get 1,000+ New Twitter Followers

FORMULA A: [Numeral + noun] + pronoun + big, scary problem
7 Signs Youre Trapped in a Contract
The Top 16 Reasons Business Owners Choose to Bleed Time Using Spreadsheets
FORMULA B: [Numeral + noun] + to verb + benefit
3 Insanely Satisfying Ways to Put Your Analytics to Immediate Use
FORMULA C: Do You + verb + [numeral + noun] + subject of intense curiosity?
Do You Know the 11 Things Your Kids Are Doing on Facebook?

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

FORMULA: Why, When or How + statement of great intrigue
Why SEO Is No Longer a Mystery
When GalleyHoo Had IBM Shaking in Its Big, Fat, Expensive Boots
How Mint Is Saving Consumers $300 Each Month in Credit Card Charges

FORMULA: The Ultimate X
The Ultimate WordPress Theme Gallery
The Ultimate FREE Anti-Virus Software
The Ultimate in Customization and Happiness

FORMULA: The + [Adjective, Adjective + Way] + desirable but difficult thing
The Brilliant, Hassle-Free Way to Tweet Every Day
The Lightning Fast, Easy Way to Run Free Background Checks

FORMULA A: Do X + like + Y

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Expertly Manage Your Books Like an Accountant

Save Money Like Scrooge
FORMULA B: X + thats as amazing as + Y
Email Support Thats as Amazing as In-Person Help


I admit that I can be a copy snob. So I may read some headlines that come off as formulaic
and scoff at them, thinking how Id never write such a clichd thing as that.
But sometimes for some markets clichd headlines work wonders. Who am I to stifle
your boosted conversion rates just because I am fundamentally bothered by a formula?
Here are a few formulas you may recognize and either love or loathe, with some examples
pulled straight from startup sites. Most of these are evil because theyre so overused.

FORMULA: The future of X is here
The future of home contracting is here
The future of online gold sales is here

FORMULA A: Welcome to + anything
FORMULA B: Welcome to the next generation of + anything
FORMULA C: Welcome to the future of + anything
Welcome to the future of radio

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions


FORMULA: Noun + just got + adjective
Internal cross promotion just got exciting
Creating videos just got better

Note: Theres nothing wrong with taglines.
But they shouldnt be used as headlines.
FORMULA: Word. Word. Word.
Play. Laugh. Achieve.
Dont. Stop. Believing.


When youre writing copy, you need to stay CREDIBLE. Yes, you want to intrigue and entice.
But dont let things go so far that your visitors start to think youre messing with them.
The moment people realize theyre dealing with a salesman, they back away.
The clarity, relevance and credibility of your headlines are critical to keeping people on
the page, helping them to trust you, and converting more of them.
In a Marketing Experiments test conducted in 2008, six headlines were tested on a landing
page. The offering was a service that tracks sex offenders in neighborhoods; the topic has
intrigue baked into it. But that intrigue also comes with fear, anger and worry powerful
emotions that can be hard to get under control once theyre unleashed.
Of the six headlines tested, the winner which converted 34% better than the next best
headline was the one that lead with a clear call to action and an implied benefit. It did not
attempt to amplify intrigue by using a question or playing into fear. It was simply this:
Identify Registered Sex Offenders Living Near You
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

This proves that, in times when intrigue is already high, the best strategy may be to stick to
these basics rather than push emotions even higher:
1. What can a person do on this page?
2. What benefit will they derive from doing so?
Dont overdo it.
Do it just enough.


In the first edition of this book, I used an example from Basecamp. As a 37signals/Basecamp
nerd, I cant help but want to compare the old Basecamp headline to the new: (2011)
Its hard to believe that projects will manage themselves, but Basecamp makes the claim. (2014)
Basecamp has moved away from a harder-hitting claim to social proof.

Although Basecamp is no longer taking the big-claim approach, other tech businesses are. (2014) (2014)

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions (2014)

Yes, startups are actually using these techniques to write their headlines and subheads.
Theyre just doing it with better design than anyone ever saw in the old-school Donald
Draper-esque days that first made these headline formulas popular.
Startups are making their headlines more believable than traditional intriguing headlines
by putting them in websites that look gorgeous. And theyre supporting their claims with
great social proof, like Facebook likes, testimonials, and PR mentions.


There are 2 things you need to do now.

The first: Go to your site and identify any of the previously mentioned evil formulas.
Heres hoping you dont have any on your site. But, if you do, your task is to replace those
headlines by testing them, of course with headlines that follow the proven formulas.
The second: In your analytics, find some low-hanging fruit (that is, an easy opportunity)
by locating a page with very high traffic but rather low conversion. Take the headline on
that page, and rewrite it using any of the formulas you learned in this chapter. If you can,
also add in elements from the most recent 2 chapters.
Now test one or more revised headlines against the control on that page. If youre working
on a headline on your home page, consider reading the chapter on value propositions
before running this test.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Subheads: The Powerful Opportunity Youre Ignoring
When we talk about subheads, were talking about two different things:
1. The supporting line of text beneath the headline at the top of the page
2. The small headlines that introduce copy chunks or sections down the page
Those two types of subheads are similar in that their chief goal is to compel readers down
the page. But not in many other ways. And, after all, isnt the goal of almost all your copy,
except maybe your call to action, to move people down to the next line of copy? Yes, it is.
So those two types of subheads actually have very little in common other than their
Thats why, to get the most out of your subheads, you need to learn how to write each
type. Why? Because subheads are for scanners. Making them insanely powerful copy.


Subheads are where most startups put the message they really wanted to use as a headline
but didnt think was clever enough. Theres this terrible rumor going around, it seems,
that a headline needs to be a short, almost poetic line and the subhead is where the meat

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

To see what I mean, take a look at the following example, which is taken from (2014), a solution that lets groups of people pool their funds to pay for

Between the headline and the subhead, which tells you what PayByGroup does?
Does it actually bring people together? No. Trains do that. Busses do that. Cars do that.
Heres what PayByGroup, as a service, lets you do:

Organize and Collect Money

From Friends and Family
For Anything You Dream of Doing
Thats the subhead. But isnt it a much clearer headline than Bring People Together?
So why do so many people insist on pushing all their best stuff into the subhead and
leaving the headline to do so-called emotional work? After all, Bring People Together isnt
even attention-grabbing. Whats it trying to do as a headline?fade into the background?
The subhead here is one of many examples of being far better copy than the headline.
So the first thing you should take away from this chapter is this:
Do not hide your best stuff in your subhead.
Test your existing subhead as your headline.
Take the following example from a site that otherwise kicks butt:

That headline falls into Evil Formula 4 it is really just a tagline. The goods are stuffed
into a rather nice line that comprises the subhead.
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

If you swapped the headline and subhead, youd have:

The Best Way to Find & Compare Parking

Find, Park and Go
Obviously the subhead would need to be worked on. (Well get to that right away.) But the
headline is suddenly great. It matches expectations, intrigues and clearly communicates the
value the visitor wants to see
With that headline in place, fleshing out the subhead to make it as clear and benefit-y as it
is short would be straightforward.
Now, if you were to turn your existing subhead into your headline, what would you do to
write your new subhead? What should go under a headline like The Best Way to Find &
Compare Parking or Organize and Collect Money From Friends and Family For Anything
You Dream of Doing?
Well, given that were trying to overcome objections, neutralize anxieties and highlight
value in our copy so well see more stuff it makes sense to write a subhead that
addresses any objections or anxieties the headline may introduce and/or highlights the
value that comes from that headline. At least as a starting point. So you might fill this in:
What objections
might a prospect
have after reading
this headline?
The Best Way to
What makes it the
Find & Compare
best way? What
do you know about
my current parking
Organize and
I can already collect
Collect Money From with email money
Friends and Family
transfers what
For Anything You
makes this easier or
Dream of Doing

What anxieties
Can something
might this introduce
that need prompt
beneficial or
valuable be added?
Am I going to have
Tell them how much
to install an app? Is
money users have
it free?
saved on average
with our app.
I dont want my
family to think Im
cheap. My uncle
isnt tech savvy;
thisll be too hard.

Give examples of
when this can be
valuable, like for
milestone gifts.

When youre completing your table, you may find youve got a lot more objections to list
off. You may also want to prioritize them as some messages are going to be more important
than others. (See the worksheet at the end of this chapter.)
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Ive found that countering objections and highlighting value make for great subheads. Many
anxieties dont need to be addressed until your prospect is closer to the point of
purchasing, but test subheads that address anxieties nonetheless to be sure.


Sometimes your headline will introduce something so huge, it cant be addressed in the
subhead. It might, instead, be the subject that your entire page will be trying to support.
Take, for example, the headline I created for (2014):

What questions or objections might that headline raise? So many that half the page was, in
fact, dedicated to addressing those questions. After all, the Crazy Egg picture referenced
is actually any of 4 maps in Crazy Egg and the stunning story can be 30 or more insights
youll derive from a Crazy Egg map.
Now, the reason I didnt directly address objections associated with the headline wasnt
simply that the objections were vast and numerous. Rather, I found, during research, that
people often didnt know quite when to use a Crazy Egg heatmap. That was a product
objection: When will I even use it? It wasnt an objection necessarily raised by the headline.
So instead of directly supporting the headline, I directly addressed a common objection to
signing up for Crazy Egg: When will I even use it?

If you know you have a major objection to address, dont hesitate to test it in your subhead.
In this case, it may also have been something to address in the headline but that wasnt
the route we took. (And we had a winner with the above copy. Of course, theres always
room for improvement!)
Another option is not to have a subhead at all.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

When you have a particularly lengthy headline, you may not find it needs any sort of
support. Or you may introduce it with a shorter line that needs to be said above the fold but
doesnt need to be positioned as a subhead usually is: under the headline.
For example, (2011) positions a supporting point above the intriguing

And check out (2014), which has no subhead:

This page brought in 51% more paid conversions for App Design Vault than the previous
home page, which spoke more to money-savings, did. Its based on the value that App
Design Vault customers said they derived from using these clean and modern templates.
Now, to look at this headline, you might quickly come up with an objection that a subhead
could address such as, If itll set me apart, prove it! Give me the name of an app Id know
that its worked for. We could have added a few well-known names to a subhead because,
in fact, founder Tope Abayomi has tons of representative apps on his site. But such a
subhead actually felt like a bit of an unnecessary tangent.
The goal of your subhead is not to close the story. Its to move people to the next line with
confidence that they can trust what youre going to say. So dont feel the need to say
everything in your subhead.

Subheads as Small Headlines Down the Page

The second type of subhead is the kind that introduces copy chunks or groups down the

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Every time you transition from one point to another, you should use a subhead to
introduce the new point. Which means every block of text you use and every callout box
you have should be introduced by this type of subhead.
These subheads often act like mini-headlines. Their goal is to draw the visitors eye and get
them intrigued enough to keep reading. That said, you rarely want to employ the headline
secrets taught earlier in this ebook when youre writing these mini-headlines. You want to
build credibility and prove the depth of your solution by writing subheads that are:

Sometimes slightly cute or clever

If your subheads sound too salesy, you may run the risk of compromising your credibility. If
theyre too cute, though, you run the risk of confusing your prospect; of course, if theyre
bland, you may lose the opportunity to develop a brand voice with which people can
That said, experienced copywriters and long-form copywriters can write subheads that have
all the power of primary headlines with a hint of humor or levity. And you can, too. But I
caution you to do so carefully and intentionally and always with your customer hat on.
After all, if every subhead you write expressly communicates a really valuable benefit, then
you will be doing what all the great headlines do, anyway. And then it becomes the job of
the body copy below your subhead the chunk of text, the bullets, the numbered lists, the
testimonial or data point to support that subhead.
So, a reminder: effective subheads in this category are short, clear and benefit-focused,
with only a touch of cleverness.
Lets look at a few examples of startups that get this really right.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions (2011) (2014) (2011) (2014)

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Of course, there is always going to be a plethora of examples of startups that fail to

appreciate the power of a good subhead and just throw down a few boring words.
The following shows a subhead that can only be described as lazy because, although its
short, its unclear and its benefit-free. Its an example of what not to do.

The next example is simply one of failing to think of the benefit of security as a feature. Its
fine to lead with a feature sometimes, but this particular startup leads with the feature
every time and never touches on the benefit. Shame, shame, double-shame.

Have You Tried Crossheads?

As I discuss in Copy Hackers Book 5: The Dark Art of Writing Long-Form Sales Pages,
crossheads are powerful subheads that are centered in the middle of the page. Theyve
been traditionally used in long-form sales letters, but theyre making their way into more
progressive, conversion-optimized one-pager sites which is something Ill dare to take a
small bit of credit for, given that I use crossheads on the pages of every client Ive got.

What is a crosshead? Its your subhead, centered and bolded, but made much, much better.
Its written just like a page headline. Imagine that every section or group youre introducing
has had its own page written for it. That page needs a headline. That headline is your
Take a look at crossheads on a few hybrid long-copy pages Ive worked on.
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions (2014) (2014)

Flow by MetaLab (2014)

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions (2014)

Instead of trying to squeeze your best messages into a little subhead shoved to the right or
left of a screenshot, why not allow your visitors the ease of reading a high-impact crosshead
that says so much more than a subhead ever could?


Refer back to one of the headlines you worked on in the last few chapters. Now complete
the table on the following page to get closer to finding the message you should cover in the
subhead that goes below a headline. With your table complete, write at least 2 variations of
a subhead for a headline.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions


Print this page from your PDF copy, or visit for a full selection of printable
worksheets, including this one.

PAGE: ______________________________________________
HEADLINE: __________________________________________
What objections might a
prospect have after reading
this headline?

What anxieties might this

introduce that need prompt

Can something delightful,

beneficial or valuable be

SUBHEAD OPTION A: _______________________________________

SUBHEAD OPTION B: _______________________________________

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Quick Headline & Subhead Power Tips
I realize that sometimes I make assumptions about how much people already know
about writing copy. Sometimes Im wrong. After all, a lot of it is pretty common-sense.
But then theres the stuff thats not. Or the stuff thats important enough that it bears
Thats what this chapter will cover off: the bits and pieces you need to know to write
great headlines, crossheads, subheads and, hell, any copy!

Test Your Headlines

Headline tests are among the easiest tests you can run right up there with buttons.
Because so much is riding on your headline, it behooves you to always be running a
headline test. Always. Why not? Just do it! Your business will thank you for it.

ABC: Always Be Clear

If you have a choice between being clear and being clever, be clear. But dont forget
that a great analogy, simile or metaphor can be both clear and clever at the same time.

Target Pain
The best headlines hit on a real customer pain in clear, powerful language that proves
that each and every customer must have your solution if theyre ever to be happy again.

Dont Be Tentative!
Make a statement that someone might later describe as rocking their socks off. Give it
a shot! If you test it, youll know fairly quickly if your risk will pay off or not.
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Think Twice about Punctuating Headlines

Periods at the end of a headline have been shown to mentally jar your visitors reading
experience. This causes an interruptive pause. Not good. So avoid periods and even
exclamation marks at the end of your headlines. But use question marks for questions.

Dont Overpromise
Dont overpromise with your headline or you will be quickly found out and your
credibility may be irreparably tarnished.

Consistently Capitalize
You can capitalize all the words in your headline (i.e., use Title Case) or you can
capitalize just the first word (i.e., use Sentence case). But whatever you do, do it

Questions Arent Questionable

Yes, you can and often should use questions for headlines. Be careful not to go
overboard and make every headline into a question. Oh, and some of the best questions
are those that the reader will answer in agreement with you, like rhetorical questions.
You want your visitor nodding with you, not sitting there and pondering a question.

Dont Be Too On-the-Nose

If youre using a list-formula headline, consider using an odd or imperfect number
rather than a 10 or 20. Perfect numbers come off as contrived, compared to odd
numbers, which can feel more organic and less like marketing.

The Number 7 Is More Noticeable Than Seven

If youre using a list-formula headline, use a numeral (e.g., 5) instead of the written
number (i.e., five) to draw more attention to the number in the midst of letters. The
written word is, after all, just a bunch of symbols. Some of those like numerals stand
out more.

Mirror Language from the Previous Call to Action

To reinforce for users that theyre on the page they wish to be on and to reduce
bounce mirror in your headline (or your subhead, if your headline just wont work) the
language from the call to action that drove visitors there. AKA message matching.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions


All the tips Ive covered for headlines and subheads are included in this checklist. Print this
page from your PDF copy, or visit for a full selection of printable
worksheets, including this one.

I am 99.9% confident this headline will stop visitors in their tracks
My subhead is not an afterthought but a power-packed mini-headline
The message my visitor wants to see is clearly communicated in a way that
will make sense to anyone with a grade 6 reading level
I address a specific pain with a tangible benefit but I dont overpromise
I highlight a value or incentive in an enticing, believable way
The most likely call to action that will lead visitors here is reflected in the
headline or subhead
Im either asking a question or making a bold statement
If Im using a list, my numbers are believably imperfect
All numbers that appear in my headline are written as numerals
Any included SEO keyword phrases read naturally not like theyve been
jammed into an otherwise good headline
The headline is less than 12 words or, if its more, its intentionally more
and cannot be shortened without losing its impact
Interesting words are interspersed with normal words for impact
My punctuation and capitalization are intentional
The headline makes people want to read the subhead, and the subhead
makes people want to read the next line of copy

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Your value proposition is possibly the most important headline you will write. One of the
primary recommendations I make to every startup that reaches out to me is that they use
their value proposition as their home page headline. And Im making the same
recommendation to you now.
A value proposition is essentially a succinct, specific, sticky statement describing whats
unique and highly desirable about your solution. It can be a headline. Or a headline and
subhead. Or a headline, subhead and bullet points.
Value propositions dont use gimmicks. Or tricks. The secrets to getting it right are not
hidden at all.
And yet a good value proposition is almost impossible to find.
Why is that? Why dont startups, agencies or large organizations alike use value
propositions on their home page to communicate the core of their value?
Because its deadly difficult to get the value proposition right.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

(Hows that for motivating?)

Let me rephrase: if you dont know your products
value, if you have no differentiators, and if you dont
know what your customers truly want, it can be
deadly difficult to get your value proposition into a
shareable condition.
The point of the remainder of this book will be to do
exactly that.
So you end up with a value proposition that wins on
your home page and primary landing pages and
unmistakably sells the value of your solution to the
people you want to convert.

Value propositions are so

important, we dedicated an
entire book to them. Copy
Hackers Book 7: The Great Value
Proposition Test


When I first started working with my friend Shereef
Bishay over at (and, he needed a reminder that hes
writing for visitors who may not be as techie or brilliant as he is.
At least, I wasnt tech-savvy or brilliant enough to understand his messages.
(Being slow on the draw tech-wise has helped me as a copywriter in a tech world. Amazing
that a low attention span and trouble with big words can actually be a good thing.)
The headline on the BetterMeans home page was this:

open, democratic, decentralized

social enterprise management
The only word I didnt have to think about was open, and thats because I was
misinterpreting his use of the word.
So imagine my concern when I first landed on that page and saw that headline sitting there,
staring me down, reminding me of how simple my brain is. A message like that has a deep,
ominous voice for people like me. A message like that sends me scurrying under my desk,
praying itll be gone when I look again, praying itll be replaced by something friendlier.
It was my job, as his copy consultant, to find that friendlier version of what was trying to be
a value proposition for what is an insanely cool project management tool one that just so
happens to be targeted to people who also might not understand those words.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

So heres what I recommended Shereef do to improve his headline, and heres what Id
recommend you do with your value proposition, for starters:
Use words that would be easy for a grade 6 student to grasp instantly, without
flinching or re-reading
Give up on trying to cram in everything you think is important
Use words people recognize and would associate with your product, like project
management tool (bonus: this also helps with SEO)
Incorporate words that indicate who your product is best for (e.g., ideal for
Now, dont get me wrong. There are a lot of people maybe youre one of them who
might read that 6-word headline and not break out in a cold sweat.
Im just not one of them.
And Im willing to bet that the majority of people looking for project management software
would be just as dumbfounded by that headline as I was.
Of course, Im not one to point out a problem without recommending a solution except
with my hubby, but thats what keeps him on his toes.
After thoroughly reviewing Shereefs site and the sites of his main competitors, as well as
watching his fantastic demos, I offered him these value propositions to test against his
scary would-be value proposition:

Vote up the best project ideas.

And make every team member a key contributor.
The innovative project management solution
for innovative small businesses
The smart, affordable and democratic way
to tackle complex problems in your org
Rethink command & control in your organization
Why did I think those messages were better than what Shereef had?
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Do I have a superiority complex? Am I a picky SOB? Worse, am I unable to see the flaws in
my own work?
Yes to all of the above, but that has nothing to do with why I proposed those 4 messages.
I proposed them because they communicate What visitors want to see without
compromising What Shereef wanted to say about his offering. As the first message on, a service that was new at the time and had no brand equity, that single
statement was and is the most important statement Shereef could communicate.
The same is true for any startup which means its true for your startup.
In the absence of universal awareness of your brand, you need the headline on your
home page or your highest-traffic landing page to do the heaviest lifting.
That one headline can be the difference between an 80% and a 60% bounce rate.
That one headline can keep visitors on your site longer.
And that one headline can, in the end, cause more visitors to convert into customers.
The headline on your home page should be your value proposition. Let me remind you what
a value proposition is:

Your value proposition is a succinct, specific, sticky statement describing whats

unique and highly desirable about your solution. It can be a headline.
A value proposition is closely related to a unique benefit statement, and you could call it
that if it makes you feel better. More importantly, it is the single statement that will signal
to your visitors what you do best and what about what you do they both need and want.
For a startup, your value prop will normally appear as your headline on your home page
and/or on the page that receives the most traffic. (This could include your blog.) If I look at
your site, I want to see it there. Because potential customers need to see it there.
Which means that all that work youre putting into your headline the 90% of your time I
recommended you dedicate to writing headlines on your website overlaps with your value
prop writing time. (Yay efficiency.)

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions


In the first edition of this book, I recommended you think about just four things when
youre working on your value proposition but, after running 11 A/B tests on value props in
2013, I added a fifth. Here are the 5 qualities:
1. UNIQUE: The part of your solution or the outcome of your solution that your
competitors cant say or that they dont say
2. DESIRABLE: How much do your prospects want whats unique about your offering?
3. SPECIFIC: It includes something definite and graspable, such as an identifiable
reference to your niche or something quantified
4. SUCCINCT: Its not as wordy as a mission statement, but its not as short as one of
those awful four-word taglines
5. STICKY: Its likely that your visitor will remember it not recite it, but recall it
Youll notice that the definition written in green on the previous page covers off all five of
these points. The first three points comprise what should go into your value proposition,
and the final two will help you with how to write your value prop.
Of all five qualities, two are the most critical and your value prop wont even qualify as a
value prop without them. They are: unique, and desirable.


Please pay very special attention to what Im about to tell you: If your product has
no exclusive element, you will have a very hard time selling it. A very hard time.
Like, were talking George McFly trying to get with hottie-mctottie Lorraine. Hard.
Selling your product will not happen unless your future son flies through time to
save your butt. Hard.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

The good news is that, even if you cant see

on the surface whats exclusive about your
product, something must be. It really must
or, unless youre a robot, you wouldve
stopped building it by now.
That exclusive something might be your
execution, such as your kick-ass visual design.
Or your customer service. Or how lightningfast your app is. Or its low cost. Theres gotta
be something. Look for it. And if you cant find
it, build it in now before its too late. Just
make sure its something your prospect
desires or its not worth bothering with.

Find whats different about your

solution! Check out Copy Hackers
Book 6: The Startup Guide to

For your value proposition to work, it will

need to include the one highly desirable benefit that is essentially exclusive to you.


In Copy Hackers Book 1: Where Stellar Messages Come From, I discuss the
importance of listing your features, finding their benefits, and then ranking both as
well as comparing them against competitor features and benefits. I also encourage
you to create a product positioning document that documents exactly those things.
So if you havent read that book yet, I encourage you to. Understanding your
features and benefits are fundamental and they will help you through exercises
like this one.
That said, if you havent and cant buy the book (FYI, you can go to
right now and download it in seconds), all you really need to do is determine what
your customers desperately want.


So, here are some things that a value prop isnt:

A discount youre offering

A slick marketing message that could apply to anyone
A paragraph explaining all the odds and ends of your offering
A list of features
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

A list of benefits
An about us statement
A mission statement
It is unique. It speaks to value (and that doesnt mean price!). And it is a proposition, which
means a suggestion for another persons consideration.
Sometimes, it can be your tagline but keep in mind that most taglines are so soft and
flavorless, they dont meet the exclusivity criteria for a value prop.
Here are some well-known examples of companies/brands with clear value props.
Fresh, quality, great-tasting fast food made with real ingredients.
The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hands.
Compare hundreds of travel sites at once to find the deal thats right for you.
Some of those brands have translated their value proposition into a tagline. For example,
M&Ms actually used their value proposition word-for-word as their tagline.
(Interesting fact, M&Ms is the first company ever to have a value proposition, and its
founder, Forrest Mars Sr., is the character on whom Donald Draper in the Mad Men TV
series is based.)
Kayak, on the other hand, morphs their value prop into their tagline: Search One and Done.
The coffee brewing system Tassimo has a fantastic tagline that is also its value proposition:
The barcode brews it better.
You may be wondering right now and I wouldnt blame you who the Helsinki Joanna
Wiebe is to come in here and say who has a good value prop and who doesnt. So lets
unpack the M&Ms and the Tassimo tagline-cum-value propositions so you can see if Im a
total nut-job or if I may be on to something here.
Remember I said that a value proposition, to be effective, needs to do 4 things:

Highlights the benefits or values of your offering that are most desirable to visitors
Applies only to your brand or offering that is, its exclusive to you
Is stated in a single, succinct, meaningful and clear statement
Gets specific
Is memorable or sticky
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Using those four points as criteria, lets assess a few of my favorite value propositions.

The milk chocolate melts in

your mouth, not in your hands.
The barcode brews it better.





The M&Ms value prop is a no-brainer. Its perfect. If you want to model yourself after one
products value prop, thats the one to copy. It hits all 5 points and stands the test of time.
Lets move on to Tassimo. As a coffee drinker who gets very, very annoyed at family
functions, church events, etc. where the coffee tastes like dirty water, I was and am thrilled
by the idea of the Tassimo brewer. Im their target customer no question about it.
If Tassimo actually does brew a better cup of coffee [desirable] thanks to its barcode system
[exclusive], Im sold. (And as soon as my espresso maker is toast, Ill be heading to Tassimo.)
Which brings me to the other 2 important parts of crafting a value proposition and writing
all copy in general:
1. Your message must be honest. You cant make something up that you wish were
true of your product and expect that not to backfire on you. It will.
2. Your message must be believable. If I didnt believe the technology existed to read
brewing directions from a barcode, Id have a hard time buying the Tassimo value


Lets see how Shereefs original value proposition does against the five criteria.

open, democratic,
decentralized social enterprise





Although the solution itself is desirable, the value prop doesnt give anybody the chance to
understand that desirability that inherent value at a glance. As it is, the words, though
specific, arent remotely sticky, and theres no sense of whether others offer what they do.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

To get this value prop to a place where it can be successful requires working on the copy
again and again until the average sixth grader could read it and get it.
As someone external to BetterMeans and basing my assumptions of the BetterMeans
offering on the copy already on the website and on nothing else I proposed the 4 value
props that I discussed a few pages back. Theyre in the leftmost column of the following
table, ready to be assessed against the 5 criteria.

Vote up the best project ideas.

And make every team member
a key contributor.
The innovative project
management tool for
innovative small businesses
The smart, affordable and
democratic way to tackle
complex problems in your org
Rethink command & control in
your organization





Although the first and fourth value propositions may flow well and read like decent copy,
when measured objectively, neither satisfies a critical component of a well-crafted value
proposition: uniqueness.
If your value proposition does not easily state what is uniquely different about your
company and/or offering, throw it out and start from scratch. There are better value props
out there; you just have to work harder on finding yours. In some cases, that may be
identifying a gap in the marketplace and actually adapting your product so it is the only
offering that does X making it exclusive and, bingo, valuable.
Your customers need to want what you offer.
Your customers need to understand what you offer.
Your customers and your competitors customers need to know that youre the only one
to go to if they want what you offer. And your customers need to remember your value
today and ten years from now.
With those criteria in mind, only one of the proposed value props could work: The
innovative project management tool for innovative small businesses. Id push that value
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

prop further to make it clearer and crisper, but you can see its an improvement.


Shared on your home page and primary landing pages (e.g., PPC), your value proposition
will help your visitors stick around while also building your brand in their minds and giving
them a reason to convert. Thats reason number one. Its the obvious one.
Reason number two is less obvious but just as critical. And it is this: a clear value
proposition keeps your team on track.
Once you have defined the absolute best value proposition for your offering, you should
post that value proposition on the wall by your monitor. Or carve it into your desk. Or get it
tattooed on your forehead and put a mirror on your desk that you stare into every 5
minutes. Whatever helps you and your team keep it front-of-mind.
A well-defined value prop for your solution can help your team:
Recognize and recall your key differentiator(s)
Assess your possibility for ongoing success as competitors encroach on your
territory, diluting the uniqueness of your offering

If you want to find a companys value proposition and its not visible on their site, check out
the meta-description for their home page. Its usually there.
If TechCrunch has already written about you, check out the line they use to describe your
product or service and use that for your value proposition. Nine times out of 10, the
writers at TechCrunch home in on the most desirable and exclusive elements of your
offering in clear, succinct statements.


In November of 2010, I worked with Eric Su on assessing and revising the value

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

PicLyf is this richly layered way to take your photos and turn
them into stories. The only problem is that, as fun as
stories should be and as wicked as the stories actually look
in the end, it can sound like a lot of work to craft a story
out of your photos. is now

Other photo-sharing sites let you do little more than upload, organize and tag photos but
theyve trained users to share their photos quickly.
So PicLyf needed a way to express their value in visitor-centric language that highlights just
how desirable the solution is.
When I started the project, the PicLyf home page had this as the solutions value

The easiest way to turn your pictures into STORIES.

You look at that value prop and you think, sure, looks good. Short, snappy, readable. But
thats only solving for 1 of the 5 characteristics of an effective value proposition.
What about desirability? Do visitors to PicLyf want an easier way to share their photos?
Seems to me that most photo-sharing sites are totally easy.
And what about exclusivity? It felt a bit like STORIES was trying to do a lot of work but
falling short.
And what about lasting? Could anyone read that phrase, walk away, and remember it later
when telling their friends about PicLyf? Its nearly impossible to know, but my gut told me
no. Because I couldnt remember it, for starters.
I explained to Eric that his value prop was too marketing-focused, using words that peoples
eyes glaze over, such as easiest (overused!) and stories (unspecific!). He needed to
think more about what his solutions users actually wanted and less about what he
thought sounded good.
So we listed out his 4 key differentiators:

Contextualizing pictures
Optimized user interface ideal for social networking
Game mechanics, like badges
Intelligent integration with social networks

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Unfortunately, only game mechanics seemed to have the potential to be sexy enough to
garner any attention but we doubted that it was desirable enough to hold up a whole
value prop.
In fact, we determined that the best differentiator was the ability to contextualize pictures.
We just needed an interesting way to express this.
We also determined that, given how innovative the PicLyf solution is, the value prop might
work best alongside a strong demo that explains how PicLyf works.
Finally, we forced ourselves to answer 2 key questions before proceeding:
1. Why would visitors switch from their current photo-sharing tool?
2. Who are the early adopters we should be speaking to?
Thankfully, Eric understood his visitors well.
We determined that the PicLyf value prop would need to express the PicLyf value versus
that of its competitors and that it would need to speak to women organizing family photos
and teenagers marking up photos with friends.
But sometimes, you just need a brainwave.
It occurred to me, while wading through tech jargon about interfaces and integration, that
you may take tons of photos today, thanks to digital photography, but the ones you keep
and share are the ones that capture a truly fun event.
Like rolling your kayak in Hawaii.
Or watching your boss breakdance at happy hour.
Or dressing up for an Ugly Christmas Sweater party.
That, with everything else, led me to the following PicLyf value prop proposals:

Layer captions, tags, notes & more on your fave photos. And share em!
Where photo-sharing is almost as fun as being there.
Seriously fun ways to tag & share your photo stories.
Make your pics tell better stories easily + for free.
Your life isnt boring. Why should your photos be?
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

I assessed and ranked all proposals, and I recommended Seriously fun ways to tag & share
your photo stories because, although it did not speak to exclusivity, it satisfied the other 4
criteria and suggested the difficult-to-pinpoint value of contextualizing pictures.
Eric tested my value proposition against his control, and I am happy to report that mine
beat the control. It became the new headline the value prop on the home page.


The all-in-one system for delivering awesomely responsive customer support.

Unique (The all-in-one system, where the suggests others dont do the same)
The easiest way to preserve your familys history.

Unique (easiest)

Fingerprint (FingerPrintPlay .com)

The first mobile learning & play network for kids and their grown-ups!
Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Unique (the first)

Sticky (especially with the interesting twist on parents)
Investors earn better returns, borrowers pay lower rates.

Unique (better, where better suggests the competition cant match them)

The worlds first marketplace for mobile app components

Unique (worlds first)


The Fastest Way to Great Customer Support

Unique (fastest way)


Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions


You need a value proposition on your home page. Not just any value prop, though. You
need one that hits all the marks.
Your task now is to list out the top distinguishing features of your solution and their
emotional benefits; highlight the features that are unique to your product. If youve already
completed Copy Hackers Book 1: Where Stellar Messages Come From, then you can refer to
your product positioning document here and save yourself a heap of time.
With your features and benefits in hand, brainstorm 6 to 10 value propositions.
Then, use the table on the next page to assess each value prop.
If none of them come close to meeting the mark, start all over again. This exercise is worth
the time it will take!
Once you find a value prop that hits 3 of the 4 points, simply revise that value prop until its
just right. (Refer back to the secrets and formulas in the headline chapters for help
breathing life into your value prop.)
And then this is the most important part test it as the headline on your home page.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Value Proposition Template

Print this page from your PDF copy, or visit for a full selection of printable
worksheets, including this one.



Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions



Sometimes the best way to learn what to do is to see what not to do. Thats what this
bonus power-chapter is for. The identities of the shame-worthy sites have been eliminated
cos Im sure theyre perfectly nice people who meant to write well

What?? Please, I dont care how savvy you think your audience is, its almost never okay to
use words like monetize. Especially not if you follow those with cross promotion and
direct deals. Im in the biz, and I dont even know what direct deals means.

Im sorry, but this is a headline? Its a sentence. A sentence filled with lots of boring words,
which totally negates the coolness of the solution theyre offering.

High-definition what meets high-speed what? Come on. Tell me. Yes, I can fill in the blanks
myself. But if we went around writing copy that demanded the visitor fill in gaps, wed be
wasting everyones time. Fill in the blanks for potential customers. Its the least you can do.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Okay, but why? Just because? Using authority like largest professional network and
Facebook should not be the basis of either a solution or a headline on a home page.

Really? Thats it? Snoozefest. Surely they have some sort of benefit or differentiator to
communicate in the headline on their home page, no?

Its almost hard to believe that someone who offers something so potentially useful that
is, desirable and valuable would fail to note a single benefit in their headline. Even worse?
Theres no supportive subhead! Just a button to sign up now. Oy!

I wish I could say the subhead or other supporting points clarify what this headline is trying
to communicate, but nothing on the site in question helps. Unfortunately. Im lost.

Too clever. Its using parallelism well, which is probably why the writer and/or approver
thought it was good copy. But it doesnt make immediate sense.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

Founded in 2011 by Joanna Wiebe and Lance

Jones, Copy Hackers started like most startups:
as a minimum viable product that launched on
Hacker News.
Nearly three years later, were pleased to see
that the market has validated our idea and
then some. Copy Hackers books are on the
Kindles and laptops of over 10,000 startup
founders and, based on the emails we get almost daily, are responsible for
helping busy programmers and marketers write higher-converting copy with
greater confidence.
You dont have to become a copywriter.
But you can write like one. And sell like one.
For more to help you grow your startup or small biz, visit

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions

to find easy-to-consume copywriting blog posts, ebooks and videos
All brand features referenced within are protected by applicable trademark, copyright and other
intellectual property laws.
2ndSite Inc.
37signals, LLC.
Crazy Egg, Inc.
KISSinsights and KISSmetrics.
Magisto, LLC
mDialog Corp.
The Rocket Science Group.
Twidl Inc.

Headlines, Subheads &
Value Propositions