Use the Right Bait to Land the Most Profitable Prospects

I have seen cases where changing a headline alone can produce over 100% lift.  Sure, this isn’t typical, but it does illustrate how using the right headline can make a world of difference to your bottom line.

Some optimization gurus will tell you that they have tested headlines before, and it never made a difference to their conversion rate.  It’s true that if you test one ineffective headline against another ineffective headline, you probably won’t see much improvement.    So, the question is, how do you determine if you’re using the best headline for your product or service?

Fortunately, advertisers have been at the game of creating effective, attention-grabbing headlines for over a century.  While some headline gimmicks have come and gone, human nature hasn’t changed much.  People still want products and services that solve their problems.  Your headline’s job is to convince them to buy them from you.  You’ll do this using what I call the “CUB” system.

Each letter of the acronym CUB relates to the first letter of a word which describes a technique for improving your headlines:

  • Curiosity
  • Urgency
  • Benefits


Look at your email subject lines, PPC titles, and landing page headlines, all of which serve the purpose of beginning a conversation.  Do any of them cause you to ask yourself, “I wonder what this is all about?”  They might cause you to think, “This could be interesting.  I want to learn more.”  Curiosity-based headlines sell millions of alternate newspapers at the checkout stand of grocery stores everywhere.  You probably don’t believe that the “bat boy” is real, but you might think it may be worth a chuckle.  Maybe the person in line next to you wants to believe that if they eat rice pudding twice a day, they’ll lose 25 pounds a month, so they discretely slip one of these newspapers in with their groceries, something they had never intended to buy.

To add the curiosity factor into your headlines, start by finding facts about your industry or product that people probably don’t know—facts that would surprise or interest them to learn more.  If you couple curiosity with benefits (more on that later), this can engage your audience like almost nothing else.  You have to capture your audience’s attention and interest before you can move on to creating desire for your product, and curiosity is a great way to do that.


It’s one thing to explain why your prospect should use your service.  It’s another to get them to stop what they’re doing and sign up now.  That’s where urgency comes in.  If you convince someone that you’re the best, they may nod their head in agreement.  They may intend to sign up for your services, “When they get around to it.”  They may even bookmark your web page, convinced that they will return later—and maybe they will.  If your company was the only one selling your services, that’s probably exactly what would happen.  However, that’s not the world in which we live.  If you don’t make your case right away, chances are great that your competitors will, before you get a second chance to make your case.

“A cold lead is almost indistinguishable from no lead at all,” often proves true, so your email, PPC ad, or landing page must get a visitor to take some action right away.  How do you do that?  Wherever possible, create the sense of a “ticking clock.” Put yourself in the mindset of a visitor you want to attract.  What keeps them up at night?  What worries them, steals their productivity, robs their money?  These are their pain points.

Remind them that until they do something, the pain will continue.  If you can couple this with a limited-time offer, you start the clock ticking in your visitor’s mind.  Make it clear what they will lose if they don’t act right away.  Many studies have shown that the desire to avoid loss is greater than the desire to gain something, so consider how you can remind your visitors about what they’ll miss out on if they don’t act now.


Go to any carnival and you’ll hear them.  Barkers yell out to get your attention.  You have probably never heard one say something like, “Throw the ring around the bottle for a slim chance to win one of our cheap prizes.”  Of course not.  Instead, the carnie might look at you with a smile.  He points to your date and say something like, “Win the big bear for your sweetheart!”  They hit you with a benefit right away.  In this case, it might be an appeal to your vanity (“you can do it”).  Maybe it’s that you’ll make your date happy.  Either way, they waste no time answering your unspoken question, “What’s in it for me?”

The carnival barker must shout loud enough that you hear him over the noise of the rides overhead.  He competes with others who also cry out for your attention.  In the financial services industry, you’re probably not the only one offering your services.  However, you may do so cheaper, better, or easier than your competition.  These are examples of benefits you can provide your customers, and they are what you must get in front of your prospects right away, or you lose their attention.

Whether it’s the subject line of an email, the top line of a pay-per-click ad, or the headline for your landing page, your headline must promise a benefit.  Let your prospect know how buying your product or service will solve a problem.  If a prospect has any interest in investigating what you sell, that interest probably begins with a problem they have.  It might be that their current bank charges excessive fees.  Maybe a prospect is just starting their business and needs a line of credit.  They may want to buy a new car and need financing.  Identify a benefit they will receive by signing up for your solutions, one that solves their problem better than your competitors.  Clearly state this benefit in your headline.

Putting CUB to Work

Evaluate each headline, email subject line, or PPC title you use now using CUB, assigning it a score between one and three like this.  Start with a score of zero for each headline.  Then ask these questions:

  • Does it invoke curiosity?
  • Does it create a sense of urgency to act now?
  • Are important benefits (not just product features) highlighted?

Add one to the headline’s score for each of the above questions to which you answered “yes.”  You’re working for a perfect score of three, but at a minimum, you want to achieve a score of two.  Urgency and benefits are the most important of the three, in my experience, but your audience may be different.

Let’s see if I practice what I preach.  Here is the headline and subheadline I used for this article.

Headline: Learn Why Prospects Ignore Your Headlines and How To Fix Them Now

Subheadline: Use the Right Bait to Land the Most Profitable Prospects

Do they generate curiosity?  Maybe when you read the headline, you thought something like, “Why do prospects ignore my headline?”  Urgency?  You might think, “My prospects may be ignoring my message.  I must do something about that, so I get their attention and stop losing prospects.”  Benefits?  The headline and subheadline make a big promise, that you’ll learn how to fix your headlines, so you’ll land more profitable prospects.

Testing Improves Your Odds

All headlines can be improved, including my own.  One of the biggest mistakes that many make when crafting headlines is to stop too early.  They come up with a few headlines, and then choose the one they like best.  I have found that when creating headlines, the best ones usually come last in the process.  Stretch yourself to come up with 10-20 headlines, rather than just a few.

Here are some of the headlines I considered for this article, along with my thoughts about each in italics:

Possible Headlines – Subheadlines

  1. Headlines – Attract Visitors  (bland)
  2. Headlines – Use the Right Bait to Land the Best Results
    (better, but you don’t ‘land’ results)
  3. Headlines – Use the Right Bait to Hook Your Prospects (better)
  4. Headlines – Learn How Using the Right Bait Hooks the Best Prospects (‘Learn How’ can be engaging)
  5. Effective Headlines – Are You Using the Right Bait to Hook Your Best Prospects? (engages curiosity better)
  6. How to Create Effective Headlines – Use the Right Bait to Land the Best Prospects
    (‘How To’ has proved effective in headlines)
  7. How to Create Attention-Grabbing Headlines – Use the Right Bait to Land the Best Prospects
    (Not bad, but it lacks ‘punch’)
  8. Learn How to Create Headlines that Improve Conversion Rate (good benefit, but doesn’t engage powerfully)
  9. Headlines that Work – Attention, Interest, and Desire (Mentions first letters of marketing ‘AIDA’ method – but too passive)
  10. How to Create Attention-Grabbing Headlines (not bad, but still lacks punch, too passive)
  11. How to Create Headlines Your Prospects Won’t Ignore – Use the Right Bait to Land the Most Profitable Prospects
  12. Learn Why Prospects Ignore Your Headlines and How To Fix Them Now – Use the Right Bait to Land the Most Profitable Prospects

How To Test to Find Your Best Headline

I chose the last headline, but I still don’t know if it’s the most effective one.  When you work through the process above, you’ll probably find that many are variations on a theme.  Choose the best headline from each category of benefit type.  Design a test which pits the best headlines in each category against the current “control” version of the headline.  When your test reaches statistical confidence of 95% (if possible), determine a winner.  If it’s one of the challengers, replace the current control with the winning headline, but don’t stop there.

Design a follow-up test to refine your leanings by challenging the winning headline with alternates which are variations on a theme.  This kind of iterative testing is a proven way to achieve consistent, incremental wins.  Above all, keep testing, so you will continue to improve your site’s conversion rate.