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3 Landing Page Headline Formulas to Target Your Prospects – Vitruvian Advertising
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3 Landing Page Headline Formulas to Target Your Prospects

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by Howard Jacobson.

race-relay-baton-exchangeWhen I ran track in high school, the coach would put slow guys like me in the fifth and sixth heats of races like the sprint medley. This race consisted of two eighths of a mile, one quarter, and one half to finish the race. I generally ran the second eighth of a mile, so I had to receive the baton from the first sprinter, pound the track for 25 seconds or so, and then hand it off to the quarter miler.

The tricky part of a relay is when the baton changes hands. There’s only a small part of the course where the pass is legal, and ideally the baton never slows down.

So when I was receiving, I had to anticipate the first runner and get up to speed within that designated area. Likewise, when I was passing the baton, I had to hope that the next runner didn’t take off too early and leave me holding the baton, or start too late and have me barrel into him.

While I never won any medals (this was before self-esteem had been invented), I did learn how to write landing page headlines for different search terms. The trick is the same as with the relay – timing the offer so your searcher doesn’t have to break stride.

The Landing Page Headline

The headline is a crucial element of the landing page. When your searcher lands on that page, they’ll give you a couple of seconds to tell them why they should stay.

So it makes sense to spend a lot of time figuring out the perfect headline for each landing page. And one of the key characteristics of our prospects that we want to match with a headline is their degree of awareness about their problem and its potential solutions.

If we assume they know nothing, we’re likely to create a landing page that introduces the problem, explains its causes and effects in depth, and only then introduces our solution.

That’s great if our prospects are just starting to think about the problem. But if they’ve been through that, and are now shopping for deals, we’ll lose them to boredom before they ever find our “buy” button.

Likewise, a newbie looking for elementary guidance and reassurance will back away from a “here’s the shopping cart” initial approach.

Here are some formulas you can use to construct three headlines types, originally shared with me by David Bullock, corresponding to three different prospect levels of awareness.

1. Person-Problem Identifier

The person-problem identifier headline describes the searcher, names the problem they’re trying to solve, and invokes their own sense of urgency with a time frame.

This headline type works well when you know who is searching, what they’re searching for, and why they’re searching. In other words, they’ve already framed the problem in a way that is motivating them to take action, and soon.

Here’s what the person-problem identifier looks like:

  • “Are You a _______ Who is Looking to ___________ [+ Time]?”

For example:

  • “Are You a Manager Looking to Get Out of an Unfulfilling and Annoying Job in the Next 60 Days?”
  • “Are You a Parent Looking for a Vacuum Cleaner that Will Protect Your Child’s Health Right Now?”

Follow the person-problem identifier with a sub-head containing a big promise of benefit. Then describe their situation in detail (what Perry Marshall calls “reading them a page from their diary”). If useful, agitate the problem by expanding on the potential future cost of current inaction. Then describe your solution.

Here are a few variations:

  • Story: “How a ___________ Got _____________ in [Time]”
  • Problem only: “Are You Struggling with…” (if you don’t know the who)
  • Double win: “Are You a _________ Who is Looking to ____________ While ____________?”

2. Hold Their Head Underwater

The head underwater headline names their problem, while reframing it in terms of what matters to them.

Use this headline type when you need to reframe the problem to move them to action, because their current framing isn’t sufficiently motivating (i.e., distressing) to move them to action.

This headline focuses their attention on the implications of the problem that aren’t yet in their face. It connects the situation with their own internal voices that are currently blaming others or shaming themselves. This headline uses their regret as a slingshot to action.

Here’s what a head underwater headline looks like:

  • “How Long are You Willing to Put Up with _________?”


  • “How Long Are You Going to Put Up with a Crappy Job that Drains Your Happiness and Wastes Your Potential?”
  • “How Long Will You Continue to Use a Vacuum Cleaner that Pollutes Your Air While it Cleans Your Floor?”

Follow the head underwater headline by explaining the connection between their situation and how it is causing them to lose what they care about. Talk about the significant domains that are impacted:

  • Biological (health, body, well-being)
  • Social (family, friends, communities)
  • Status/achievement (job, career, income)
  • Mythic (meaning, story, future)

Here are some variations:

  • Cost: “What’s it costing you to _____________?”
  • Hero: “What Will it Feel Like When You Finally __________?”
  • Villains: “Are You Letting ____________?”

3. Value Disqualifier

The third headline type, the value disqualifier, simple names the solution and gives it a price.

Use it when the prospect already knows what she wants, and is searching for a simple transaction to acquire it. It can eliminate all possible extraneous competition for the prospect’s dollars. By comparing the solution (i.e., the elimination of the problem) to the price, you simplify the equation.

Now the prospect is asking herself, “Would I rather have this benefit or the money?”

Here’s what the value disqualifier headline looks like:

  • “________________ for $_________”


  • “Find the Perfect Job Much Quicker Than You Could on Your Own and Pay for Our Services out of a Small Percentage of Your Raise.”
  • “A Vacuum Cleaner That’s Also the World’s Best Air Filter for $969”

Follow this headline with as much proof as you can muster, to answer the question, “Do I believe they can do it?”

  • Demonstration, if it’s a product (video).
  •  Testimonials from people like them (with doubts).
  • Endorsements from people they respect.
  • Explanations of process (here’s why it works).
  • Guarantees (with disqualifications and penalty clauses).

And here are some variations:

  • Guarantee: “If You Give Me $________ and [Time], You’ll Get ____________ – Guaranteed
  • Conditional: “If You ______________ (conditions), Then I Guarantee ______________ (Result) in (Timeframe) or (Penalty)


There are many more headline types and templates that are appropriate for different situations and prospect levels of awareness. Hopefully these three formulas will give you a place to start, and a way of thinking about the connection between prospect awareness and your invitation to them at the top of your website.

Because a clean pass of the baton is a thing of beauty.


This article by Howie Jacobson was originally posted on Search Engine Watch.

Image Credit: sangudo/Flickr


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