Raise more money online with a great headline

If you could change just one thing on your website’s donation page and get a 50% lift in the conversion rate, you’d probably do it in a heartbeat.

To understand what a lift of that magnitude could mean for your online fundraising program, imagine your donation page is converting 12% of visitors, comprised of 10 donations a day averaging $50 ($500 daily revenue). Improving the conversion rate by 50% (to 18%) would net you an additional $250 per day, which translates to $91,250 incremental dollars and 1,800 more donors over an entire year.

That’s starting to sound like real money!

While there aren’t many page elements that can have such a massive impact on visitor behavior, the headline is one of them.

Marketing legend David Ogilvy once remarked that 5 times as many people read headlines as page copy. He was talking about print advertising, but the same applies to web pages. And we know from research by web usability expert Jakob Nielsen that few web users bother to read much on a page beyond the headline.

This is why donation page headlines have such a huge impact on user behavior—and in turn the conversion rate. They are crucial to expressing your organization’s value proposition—and convincing the prospect to keep moving down the page.

Figuring out which headlines motivate best is critical if you want to improve your conversion rate. And getting the answer is easy with A/B testing.

What can we learn from headline testing?

The objective in headline testing is simple. We want to figure out which appeal prompts the greatest number of visitors to a page to complete a specific call to action, such as making a donation, signing up for an email list, or any other measurable conversion goal.

The fact that so many nonprofits still feature donation page headlines with no benefit whatsoever—just an “ask”, e.g. “Donate Now”, “Make a Contribution” or something similar—means there’s an awful lot of low hanging fruit out there.

How to write headlines that convert

Headlines that convert well follow these simple rules. They are:

  1.  Specific & interesting enough to grab the reader’s attention
  2. Express a benefit that’s relevant to the reader’s self interest or social interest
  3. Clear about what you can do on the page
  4. Believable

When writing a headline, try to choose words that can trigger an emotional response in the reader. Avoid headlines that are overly clever or difficult to understand at first glance. At the same time, try not to play it too safe (and boring). Tapping into the interests already present in readers’ minds is key.

In terms of structure, there are two proven techniques for crafting an effective headline appeal. In the first approach, the benefit (to the prospect or your social mission, not to your organization) is presented before the “ask” or call-to-action (CTA). The idea is to get the reader’s attention by appealing to their self interest before you tell them what they must do to satisfy it.

In the second approach (commonly employed by commercial marketers) your aim is to intensify a problem before pitching the solution. It’s based on the methodology of “solution selling”, where the sales professional first seeks to identify the customer’s pain, and only then attempts to address it with their product/service (framed as the “solution”).

For a nonprofit using a solution selling approach, this means expressing why your work is vital (what horrific problem are you working on?) before presenting the call-to-action. This formula can be effective because it helps the prospect quickly connect your offer’s relevance to their needs.

To illustrate these concepts in action, we conducted a headline test recently with our client Americares, the emergency response and global health organization. We developed a specific and tangible benefit-oriented headline & subhead featuring the CTA to compete against their more general benefit + CTA headline, and ran it as an A/B split test.

The two sets of creative are shown below.

IMAGE 1: Control (click to enlarge):

Control headline_snippet

IMAGE 2: Challenger (click to enlarge):

Challenger headline_snippet

The result was nothing short of stunning. The challenger page—with more specific and relevant headline followed by CTA subhead—converted 50% more donors than the control page. Results were significant at a 91% confidence level.

Importantly, similar language to the winning page headline was also featured in an ask on the site’s homepage. Because the homepage drives a substantial amount of traffic to the transaction page we tested, continuity in messaging at each step of the conversion funnel no doubt also played a role in the outcome.

A 50% lift is somewhat rare for a single test. But headline tests in my experience often produce a significant result (either positive or negative) and with it, important insights about audience preferences.

It may take you multiple tests to uncover an appeal that strongly motivates your audience and provides a significant conversion rate lift, but it’s well worth the time and effort given the upside potential.

dawnDawn Stoner is Donordigital’s Director of Analytics & Testing and works with clients to help them increase online revenues with web usability best practices and landing page testing. Dawn speaks regularly about testing and optimization at industry conferences and publishes papers highlighting what’s working and not working with our testing clients.

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