Your headline is the most important part of your sales copy, whether you’re writing copy for direct-mail postcards, emails, or website landing pages. In fact, some copywriters report at least half of the time they spend writing any given marketing piece is devoted the headline – and some spend as much as 90 percent of their time on headlines. Unfortunately, many small businesses don’t devote nearly as much time to headlines as they should; resulting in missed opportunities and lost sales. The following details why writing headlines is worth 90 percent of your time.

Headlines dictate read rates

Copyblogger states that eight out of ten people read headlines, but only two out of ten read the rest of any given copy. That powerful statistic illuminates the critical nature of headlines: the better your headline, the more people will read your postcard/email/web page body copy. All that’s left is for your body copy to reinforce and expand upon the ideas presented in your headline, reveal a special offer, then deliver a call to action.

Great headlines make money

The more people that read your body copy, the greater your response rate. The greater your response rate, the more money you make; thus, we can surmise the better your headline, the more profitable your campaign.

Quicksprout quotes acclaimed copywriter David Ogilvy, who said five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. The piece goes on to state that headlines are worth 90 percent of every advertising dollar.

Ninety percent sounds like a lot, even hyperbole, but consider this: Upworthy co-founder Peter Koechley says a great headline can increase click-through rates by as much as 500 percent. Now consider the implications of that statement: if you can get your headline in front of 1,000 people and you have five clicks, then make a headline revision that increases click-through rate 500 percent will result in 25 new clicks for a total of 30.

Let’s say you routinely generate 100 clicks from your headlines and net an average of two percent conversions from those clicks, with a $5 ROI per click. So, 100 clicks nets you $10. Now, let’s say you can increase your click rate by 500 percent – a total of 600 clicks. At a two percent conversion rate, you would net twelve sales instead of two and generate profits totaling $60. In this scenario you could increase profits 500 percent simply by changing your headline.

Now, let’s apply that at mass scale. Say you currently generate an average of 1,000 clicks and profit $200. Increase click rates by 500 percent and you get 6,000 clicks and profit $1,200. Starting at 10,000 clicks? You’d be making $2,000. Increase clicks by 500 percent and you’d be making $12,000.

As you can see, your headline can be the difference between a lackluster campaign and thousands of dollars in profits – and that’s not including the lifetime value of a customer.

The four “U’s” of headline writing

It’s far easier to see the power of a great headline than it is to actually write one. Some copywriters are known to spend several days – even a week or more – perfecting their headlines. That doesn’t mean you can’t craft a great headline in a few hours; in fact, there’s no reason to overcomplicate matters. Many copywriters ascribe to the four “U’s” of headline writing, which state headlines must be Unique, Ultra-specific, convey a sense of Urgency, and be Useful.

Let’s say you’re a financial advisor and you have a planning package that helps public employees retire early. You set up a seminar to introduce potential clients to your service. You could go with a headline such as:

“Get sound retirement planning from ABC Financial Advisors”

This headline is accurate, but does it really inspire potential customers to take action? Not really. It’s not unique, it’s not ultra-specific, there is no sense of urgency, and though it’s useful, it doesn’t differentiate your company from so many competitors. Now, try this:

“Teachers, Skip School Next Thursday and Retire 5 Years Early!”

This headline is unique because it asks teachers to skip school (to attend your seminar). It’s ultra-specific in three ways: first, it’s only for teachers; second, it’s specific to “next Thursday;” third, it delivers a clear benefit (“retire 5 years early”). It creates a sense of urgency with a specific date in the near future (“next Thursday”). Finally, it’s useful – who wouldn’t want to retire early?

Both headlines are advertising the same thing, but the second is far more likely to generate response.

Conduct a bit of research to learn more about how to craft winning headlines, then put your own to the test – literally. Test different versions of your headlines and measure response rates. Over time, you’ll learn what works best so you can continually market your business with reliable results and predictable profits.

Taking the time to write great headlines isn’t just about improving isolated campaigns, it’s a long-term business growth strategy. The better you become at writing headlines, the more your business will grow. That’s why writing headlines is worth 90 percent of your copywriting time.