8 Ways to Use the Web As a Headline Testing Laboratory

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1. Forum Posts - With all the buzz today around the newest social media platforms, some of the earlier online communication platforms get forgotten. However, anyone who has participated in an industry forum will tell you that headlines are critical in getting your thread read. A forum allows a person to start a conversation by posting a message and then other community members can reply to that message. The great thing about most forums, is that they publicly display the views and replies for each thread.

As a marketer, you should be using this data to write better headlines. Let's say that you are writing a long-form ebook or blog post. Test possible headlines as thread titles on a message board. Include a part of your content in the message and ask for feedback. You can look at the data provided by the forum to see which headlines worked. You may also receive some great content to include in your blog or ebook.

2. Survey Your Readers - To write headlines that resonate with people, you must have a clear understanding of what people want. In an upcoming email newsletter or blog article, conduct a short survey to find out what topics and tone your target audience enjoys the most. Keep in mind that people will sometimes say they want a certain topic or content even if that is not necessarily true because they feel like they are "supposed" to want it. This is why using a survey with other testing methods offers a more accurate understanding of the interests and needs of your audience.

3. PPC Advertising - You might be using pay-per-click advertisements on Google, Bing or Facebook to help drive leads for your business, but if you are willing to spend a little money, you can also use these platforms to conduct some broad title testing. Let's say that you are about to launch an important new ebook for lead generation. I would recommend writing about 10-15 titles that you think would be good for the ebook.

Before you launch the ebook, use PPC to help you narrow that list down to only a couple. Use the same ad but change the headline for each new ad with one of the titles you have drafted. Bid on some important keywords related to your industry and look at the click-through rate and conversions for each ad to see which titles preformed the best. Then, use email testing to evaluate the best two or three performers.

4. Analyze Existing Headline Effectiveness - If you have been creating content for a while, you have a great data set of historical content performance. It is now time to conduct some analysis of your past content. You will want to look at content by subject and also will want to have your success metric next to each piece of content. You should group content by topic and look at the different variables involved in the success of each content piece. If you have 10 blog posts on healthcare payment systems, for example, you would want to look at when these posts were published, the tone of the post as well as its headline. From this analysis you should begin to recognize some patterns for your best preforming headlines. Leverage this knowledge for future headline writing.

Note: If you are a HubSpot customer it is easy to do this with an excel export from the Blog Analytics application.

5. Keyword Referral Analysis - Web analytics should be in the back pocket of every good inbound marketer. Analytics is one of the first things you set up when you start inbound marketing. One of the valuable pieces of information web analytics can give you is the number of visits, leads and customers a particular keyword brings. When working to build better headlines, you should look at your top traffic referring keywords. Make a list of the top 10-20. Place this list of keywords near your computer, so that you can remember to include them when you are working on headlines for blog posts, emails and ebooks. The reason these keywords drive traffic to your site is because they rank well in search engines. That means website pages including these words have generated inbound links, ultimately demonstrating that these terms resonate with your target market.

6. Twitter and Facebook Engagement - How much a piece of online content is shared in social media can be a strong indicator of the success of its headline. Look at the Facebook insights report from your Facebook Fan Page to determine which articles enjoyed the most engagement. The same holds true for Twitter. Again, analyze the headlines with the most shares in an effort to find phrases or formats that work best for generating social sharing.

7. LinkedIn Groups Messages - Email marketing can be a major lead generation source for many businesses. However, if you are unsure of a title for an email offer, you want a way to test it before the release. If you manage a Linkedin Group, you can send a message to your group with your proposed headline to see how well it performs.

LinkedIn's messaging system is pretty basic, so you will need to use a Bit.lylink for your offer and count the clicks on that link through Bit.ly's analytics system. You will then need to take that number and divide it by the total number of members that received your message to get a click-through rate for the send. Look at the click-through rate and determine if it meets your benchmark from previous LinkedIn sends and compare it to your average email marketing click-through rate. While it will take a few sends to establish a good benchmark for LinkedIn, this data could be a valuable proxy to determine if you need to tweak you headline prior to a major email push.

8. Email Testing - When people think about headline or subject line testing their minds go directly to email. Depending on the size of your email database and the amount of time you have available to conduct tests, email is an extremely valuable testing ground for headlines. The best way to get started is with a simple A/B test. Take a random portion of your email list (size will vary based on the overall size of your database) and divide it into two groups. Send each group the same email at the same time. The only difference should be the subject line. Using some of the other testing methods in this post, you now have a short list of headlines/subject lines that should preform well. The last step is to see which one of the finalists best resonates with your email subscribers. Look at the leads and click-through rates for each email send and select the winning send which should then be sent to the remainder of the list.

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