The Perfect Headline Free Breakfast

The internet provides us with an endless number of ways to test and perfect our marketing communications. Like mad scientists, we can experiment with our website using Google’s Website Optimizer, continuously tweaking it to better. Tim Ferris even talks about testing product names and price points using eBay listings and AdWord campaigns.

Something that I’ve been playing around with is using Twitter and the url shortening service, Bit.ly, to test the effectiveness of headlines. It’s a quick way to find out which phrasings work and which don’t.

Here how you can gain quick insights to perfect your headlines:

1. Pick a URL Shortener

First pick a url shortening service that will let you create two or more short urls for your link and that collects click data on your urls. I like Bit.ly because it is easy to use and it displays data in an clean format that takes no time to digest. (Plus it is the most common url shortening service.)

2. Select Your Content

Now find the content that you want to test headlines for. In this example, I picked an article on the Dachis Group‘s Social Business Design.

3. Create Two Different Short URLs to the Content

Copy the url from the content page you want test headlines around. Create two different short urls linking to this page.

4. Pair Each Short URL with a Different Headline

Pair each of the short urls to a different headline that you want to test. (Using Bit.ly, this is when I rename the link titles so that I know which headline I used for each link.)

5. Tweet the Headlines Followed by the Paired Short URL

Tweet the first headline you want to test with the url to the content page. Then wait a few minutes and tweet the second headline and url.

6. Track the Results

Using your url shortening service, track the number of clicks on each headline. If you are using Bit.ly, the top number is how many clicks there have been and the bottom number is how many clicks there have been total, through Bit.ly, to the long url. That is why the bottom number for both links is the same, because they are both linking to the same page.

Headline Test A

So from this we can see that “Social Business Design” is a much more effective headline hook than “Improving Value Exchange.”

7. Repeat to Find the Perfect Headline

This is where you start the process over. Go back to step 1 pairing up the most clicked headline from the first test with a new headline variation. As you do multiple tests make minor variations in the headlines in order to better understand the results. (e.g., instead of using the word “design” you might try using the word “blueprint.”) Do as many tests as you want, until you are satisfied with your headline. Depending on your timeline and what you are testing for will determine the length of time you want to spend testing.

I should point out that there are some limitations to this testing method:

  • For this to be of any value, you need to have a history of participation and a following of enough size to accurately make a comparison.
  • There is no way of knowing whether or not users clicked on both links.
  • Participants on Twitter won’t always match up to the audience you are crafting a headline for.

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That’s it! A quick way to experiment and perfect your headlines.

Thoughts?