Three dead copywriters — Claude Hopkins, John Caples, and David Ogilvy — can show you how to get users to click your content.
The careers of these advertising giants came decades before we were guzzling GIFs and drowning in BuzzFeed quizzes. And yet these admen offer some of the best advice available for how to reach users in the digital age — how to get them to read your emails, ads, or white papers.
They focused on headlines. Above all, headlines. And the truth is that in the age of hyperlinks, headlines are more important than they’ve ever been.
Successful digital marketing depends almost entirely on this: Can you pique someone’s curiosity while they’re purging their email inbox? Can you get them to pause for a moment as they scroll down their Facebook wall? The success or failure of your online campaigns hinges on getting end users to click your headlines.
Let’s see what these admen have to say about perfecting your role as a fintech marketer.
1. Claude Hopkins
“Almost any questions can be answered, cheaply, quickly and finally, by a test campaign. And that's the way to answer them — not by arguments around a table.” - Claude Hopkins
Claude Hopkins, author of Scientific Advertising, was perhaps the first real proponent of split testing his headlines. Here’s how he did it:
1. He created two sets of ads, each with the same body content but different headlines.
2. He typed a keycode on the coupon portion of each set of ads. Each keycode corresponded with a different headline. Here’s an example of a keycode (highlighted in green):
3. He mailed the two ads to two cities with similar demographics.
4. When they customers mailed in the coupon, he counted which keycode was sent the most. This let him know which headline was most effective.
5. He sent the version with the most effective headline nationwide.
Successful companies use a similar method today. For instance, Upworthy, which is essentially a headline factory, uses split testing with a small audience before releasing the final version of their headline on Facebook. You can read about their process here.
Claude Hopkins wrote Scientific Advertising more than 90 years ago, and its advice on headline is perhaps more relevant than ever.
2. John Caples
John Caples also cared about testing his ads. His book, Tested-Advertising Methods (first published in 1932), outlines 16 formulas that brought him success. We’ve laid out all 16 below, with examples specific for marketers in the financial industry. Think of how you might use these tips to improve your tweets or Facebook posts:
Caples’s 16 Formulas for Writing Headlines
1. Begin your headline with the words “How to”
Ex. “How to apply for a mortgage at ACME credit union”
2. Begin your headline with the word “How”
Ex. “How ACME bank can help you get a car loan”
3. Make an announcement
Ex. “Announcing 2% APY on 5-year term deposits”
4. Begin your headline with the word “New”
Ex. “New: Personal financial management tools for everyday use”
5. Begin your headline with the word “Now”
Ex. “Now offering sweepstakes, with $500 prizes”
6. One-word headlines
7. Begin your headline with “Which”
Ex. “Which bank offers the best rates on mortgages?”
8. Money headlines
Ex. “Get $500 with a new home purchase!”
9. Use the word “Free” in your headline
Ex. “Free personal financial management tools for ACME members”
10. The “Amazing” headline
Ex. “An amazing offer for customers at ACME bank”
11. Begin your headline with the word “Wanted”
Ex. “Wanted — survey participants”
12. Begin your headline with the words “At last”
Ex. “At last — free budgeting software that will actually help you improve your budget”
13. Begin your headline with the word “This”
Ex. “This mobile app will save you time at the grocery store”
14. Begin your headline with the word “To”
Ex. “To customers who are looking for a mortgage”
15. Begin your headline with the words “They laughed”
[This one has been overdone and is no longer useful]
16. Begin your headline with the word “Advice”
Ex. “Advice to members on getting your financial life in order”
If you ever have writer’s block as you create your headlines, use Caples’s list as a template for new ideas.
3. David Ogilvy
David Ogilvy, hailed as “the father of advertising,” cared about the same things Hopkins and Caples cared about. In fact, he endorsed Hopkins’s book Scientific Advertising boldly, saying that "nobody, at any level, should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times.” (If you haven’t read it yet, you can for free here; it’s in the public domain.)
Ogilvy paid careful attention to headlines. He claimed: “The headline is the most important element in most advertisements. It is the telegram which decides whether the reader will read the copy. On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.”
Just like Caples, Ogilvy offered specifics about which words to include in your headlines. Here’s Ogilvy’s list:
how to, suddenly, now, announcing, introducing, it’s here, just arrived, important development, improvement, amazing, sensational, remarkable, revolutionary, startling, miracle, magic, offer, quick, easy, wanted, challenge, advice to, the truth about, compare, bargain, hurry, last chance
Again, use the list when you’re stumped. One could do worse than to trust the father of advertising.
These three copywriters — Claude Hopkins, John Caples, and David Ogilvy — are perhaps more relevant than ever. Their advice on headlines is particularly powerful for the digital age. Use it to amplify your tweets, or supercharge your email subject lines. You might be amazed at how much your traffic improves.