Ten words that instantly kill 90% of Facebook ads…and how to avoid them

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A few weeks back, my Copy Chief told me my ad headlines SUCKED.

The shameful truth?

I didn’t really understand what the headline was meant to achieve.  In situations like these, I usually look for ad copy I can reverse-engineer. I analyse the copy to understand the goal and structure, so I can use a similar approach in my own copy. 

I tried scrolling my newsfeed for headlines that caught my attention.  I tried searching for examples of killer Facebook headlines on Google.  

Nothing.

It seems I wasn’t the only one with NO IDEA what a Facebook headline is for, or how to write a good one.  Below is a picture of a typical image-based Facebook ad you might see in your newsfeed.  It’s made up of:

  • An image
  • Body copy (the main piece of text you see in an ad)
  • Headline
  • Description  

With the help of eye-tracking, we know users’ eyes hit the image first.  Next, they look at the headline, then the description. Finally, they might lift their gaze to the body copy.

As you can see, the average prospect will read your headline copy before they read anything else. First, you need to pique their interest.  Then AND ONLY THEN, will they bother to read your main piece of ad copy.

The headline is one of the most botched areas of Facebook ads.  It’s the most prone to being an afterthought.  Most advertisers spend 99% of their time writing the body copy, before chucking out any old headline.  

Truth is, they’re missing a huge opportunity to grab and keep their prospects’ attention. Get your headline right, and you’ll be way ahead of the competition before your prospects have even read a single word of your body copy.

Which is why your headline is so important.  It’s why I spent so much energy levelling up my own Facebook ad headlines.  

So, here’s what I learned about how to transform sucky headlines into attention grabbers that won’t let prospects go, without winning a click-through:

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1) Keep it short 

The character limit on Facebook ad headlines is microscopic.  Around 25 characters for the headline and 30 characters for the description (or sub-headline).

In around 10-15 words, you need to say something sufficiently compelling to get readers to stop scrolling for more cat videos.  It’s not an easy task.

The trick is, to brainstorm as many headline concepts and ideas as you can.  Do this freestyle.  Let your ideas flow. Let your fingers run free.  Let your copy be as bloated as you like.  When you’re in creation mode, you don’t want to be constrained by character limits.

When you’ve come up with enough ideas, it’s time to trim the fat.  The aim is to create a headline so svelte it could join the Russian gymnastics team.  

How do you do that?

Well, you need to cut your words back until the headline ceases to make sense if you cut another word.

E.g. How to increase profits in your business without hustling for leads…

The 5-step secret to attracting clients without breaking a sweat

Becomes…

Hustle-free profit boost

5 Steps to No-Sweat leads

Same meaning, way less words.

Now, the second piece of headline copy is way punchier than the first iteration. But there’s still a huge problem with this headline.  

It’s BORING.

It doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been said at least 1,000,000 times before.  Facebook’s audience has heard claims like this so many times, they’ll probably roll their eyes and keep on scrolling.  

The extent to which this is true depends entirely on the level of saturation in your market.  By that, I mean – how jaded are your prospects?  How many competitors offer similar products or services in a similar niche to yours?  How many marketing messages or ads have your prospects heard for similar products to yours?  

If you’re SUPER LUCKY, you might be selling the first product of its kind. It means (for now) your offer is 100% unique. In which case, you can pretty much just announce what your product does in the headline.

But most online businesses operate in super competitive niches.  They need to work way harder to create a Facebook headline that works.

Which brings me onto step number 2…

2) Get creative 

The sad reality for advertisers, is that most people wish we didn’t exist.  They actively seek to ignore us.  It’s easy for prospects to do just that.  They have the power to divert their attention away from our ads whenever they choose. 

This is particularly true on Facebook.  It’s ridiculously easy for Facebook users to ignore your ad.  They simply keep scrolling.

The job of your image is to stop prospects scrolling past.  The job of your headline is to say something so interesting or intriguing that your prospects can’t help themselves but find out more.  

In an ideal world, your headline will be so compelling it triggers an immediate click-through to your landing page.  At the very least it needs to drive your prospects’ eyes towards your body copy, where you have one more chance to persuade them to click the ‘Learn More’ or ‘Buy Now’ button.

How do you do this? 

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You need to say something they’ve never heard before.  In brand new markets this is relatively easy.  In more competitive markets it’s extremely challenging.  Prospects have pretty much heard everything.

That means you have 10-15 words to present your offer in a way that’s a) totally unique b) hyper relevant to your prospects’ fears, desires or beliefs.

It requires you to take one of your products’ standard features or benefits and transform them into something weird, controversial, confusing, intriguing, counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, or contradictory.

You want to use your headline to open a loop that can only be closed by visiting your landing page.

There are a few routes you can go down to achieve this:

  • Name and claim your mechanism – if you’re a coach, this would mean giving your coaching process a name, like the “Borrowed Bestseller Method”.
  • Say something that sounds impossible – David Deutsch often uses this example: “Cure cancer with a pen?”

That would surely be impossible.  But the idea is interesting, which makes ideal prospects keen to find out more.

  • Link a feature to something unusual – This works particularly well in the supplement niche, where many products contain similar ingredients.  I like to Google, “weird facts about…[insert ingredient/feature]” to come up with ideas.

For example, hibiscus blossom is a common supplement ingredient.  Mentioning it in the headline would be too boring. But it’s sometimes called the Rotting Corpse Blossom.  You can swap out any reference to hibiscus and replace it with its unpleasant sounding nickname to make the ingredient sound more intriguing.  

  • Say something counterintuitive – I recently worked on a health product that helps increase nitric oxide levels in the body.  It’s a common benefit in that market.  So, I swapped any reference to nitric oxide with car exhaust fumes, which aren’t normally associated with better health.

The goal of your headline is to make your prospects say, “Wait? What?” so they feel compelled to find out what the hell you could be talking about.

But don’t worry if this doesn’t make sense – I’ll show you some examples in a minute.

3) Speak to your prospects actual fears and desires

Many business owners are so close to and so passionate about their products and services that they think buyers will automatically be as excited as they are.

They speak about their offers through their own lens.  It means they focus on their own perception of the problem they solve, instead of looking at the problem through their prospects’ eyes. 

For example, I presented my Copy Chief with a headline like this…

“Bolster your eyes’ natural defences”

It got a great, big thumbs down.  Why?

Because no one ever woke up wishing their eyes’ natural defenses could be bolstered.  They probably didn’t even wish their eyesight was better.

Chances are, they perceive their goal/problem to be:

  • Not wanting to wear glasses 
  • Wanting to see the TV more clearly
  • Not wanting to end up in a nursing home 
  • Wanting to read their favourite books

Too often, we try to sell products based on the problem we WANT to solve.  When we should sell based on the practical or emotional problem our prospects actually want to solve.

The problem you solve, the solution you provide or the person you serve should be clear in your headline.   And it should be presented in a way that connects with your prospects’ ACTUAL fears and desires.  

A few headline examples: 

I promised you some examples of solid Facebook ad headlines.  As I mentioned, examples were few and far between.  So the headlines you’ll see below are a selection of my most recent submissions to the ad machine:

Struggling to cut salt? 

Persian baker holds key to healthier hearts

(This example uses the headline to ‘call out’ to ideal prospects and help them identify themselves as potential buyers.  Notice that the headline speaks to the problem of cutting out salt, not heart health)

Exhaust fumes protect heart? 

Pollutant supports healthy blood pressure 

(This example plays on two counterintuitive ideas.  How can exhaust fumes help protect your heart?)

Need stronger glasses? 

Armenian fruit offers eyesight-saving alternative

(This example presents a common feature in an interesting way.  The armenian fruit is a cantaloupe melon, which is a source of the product’s key ingredient.  Note that the headline speaks to the problem of needing stronger glasses, not declining vision.  It also calls out to ideal prospects)

Next time you put together any ad copy, spend some time thinking through your headline.  If anything, it deserves more time and attention than your body copy.  That’s because it’s the first piece of copy your prospects will read when they look at your ad.

When you give your headline the attention it deserves, your Facebook ads will be stronger than 90% of the other ads in the newsfeed.

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