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.