Is the Seemingly Humble Button More Powerful Than the Headline?

Headlines vs buttons
“When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

Are headlines dead?

In less dramatic terms: If you were allowed to optimize just one element of a page, would you optimize your headline… or something else?

Thanks to the great teachings of the father of advertising David Ogilvy, we’ve all come to believe that headlines are where it’s at. They’ve got two turntables and a microphone. They’re like Gstaad – they’re the best.

Now, I’m a copywriter. So I happen to love me some headlines.


I’m also in conversion-rate optimization. So I do a lot of A/B testing. And I’ve gotta say: I’ve seen some shit lately that is shaking the way I think about everything we write. (Watch for more about that in coming weeks.) And I want to show you a few test results that might challenge the power of the headline… and compel us to stop treating the button like some sort of shrunken, impotent and second-rate little square on a page.

Check This Out:
A Very Surprising Headline Test on

This is the control version of the home page of, a cool UK-based service that lets you find clothes you’ll love no matter your size.

Buttons vs headlines

Pretty standard page, right? Looks good. Is easy to read. …But it doesn’t exactly grab you, does it?

The headline, we hypothesized, left something to be desired. In forums and otherwise online, Dressipi users and prospects talked about their bodies (and the clothes they struggled to find) in a more casual, colloquial way than this headline does. They were jokey about it, self-deprecating. They used words like “big bum”. So we decided to test a riskier headline – one written the way Dressipi prospects talk. This is it:

Dressipi treatment weak button strong headline

It’s riskier, right? It’s doing more than the control was doing…

When we tested it, we saw a lift of about 15% that held throughout the test… but that never reached confidence. Visitors were essentially telling us, “It’s better, sure, but… meh.” So, dejected and dismayed, feeling like pathetic little hacks, we paused the test and did the usual post-mortem.

Was the headline too risky?

Were the question marks too much?

Was it too long?

Should we not have used an ellipsis before the third question mark?–maybe all that punctuation was messing with people’s eyes the way these italics are messing with your eyes now!!!

Admittedly, there are a hundred thousand ways you can write a headline to communicate the same message. There’s the uber-awesome Caples-esque Upworthy way. There are simpler, more timid “2.0” ways. There are flashy direct response-style ways. And then there’s everything in between. Yes, this headline could have been wrong. (That’s why we test!) But it didn’t hurt conversion; it just didn’t nudge enough people over the Game of Thrones-sized Wall keeping them from converting.

So here’s what we did…

We Decided Not to Put This Headline to Bed  –
But Rather to Test the Headline with New Button Copy

I am not one to knock the masters of copywriting – the Ogilvies, Bernbachs, Schwartzes, Capleses. (Don’t hate me for how I pluralized those names.) But I am one to challenge shizzle… and to follow a strong hunch. And my hunch told me this: That headline rocks, but it doesn’t matter because that f***ing button sucks!

So we tested this new treatment against the control:

Buttons vs headlines

Same attention-grabbing headline. New button copy.

We went from “Sign up now” to “Show me outfits I’ll love”.

The results: We got a 123.9% lift in clicks on that very button, with 100% confidence (as reported by Optimizely and confirmed with 2 other calculators).

Using the exact same headline but a different button, we went from a wishy-washy, non-significant <15% lift… to a strong-like-bull 124% lift.

That’s One Strike Against the Almighty Headline…
And Here’s Strike Two

VueScan is a solution by Hamrick that essentially keeps your outdated scanner software going strong. Check out the headline Hamrick was running on its home page:


Not exactly the most inspired line of copy ever written, is it?

Like any copywriter would, I looked at that and went, “Come on! We can slaughter that thing without even trying.” But we did try. We developed these new headline-subhead combos to test against the above Control:

Headline testing

As before, say what you will about the headlines, but this much is true: we tested a variety of headlines, some negative, some not so negative. We tested after learning about VueScan’s prospects. And we tested against a headline that anyone would pinpoint as in need of optimization.

The result: nadda.

Zip. Squat. Nothing to see here, folks. Even after 36 days of running and tons of traffic through all variations, the result was flat and non-significant. Like in the Dressipi case, even if they had reached significance, the trending lift we saw was never better than a very, very modest 4 or 5%.

So Then We Tested the Button

Again, like in the Dressipi case, we ran a new test that paired an attention-grabbing headline that had done relatively well with an optimized button. We also paired the ho-hum but as-yet-unbeatable headline with the new button copy. Here’s how it all shook out:

button test

By changing the button, we saw a statistically significant lift of clicks on the Purchase button. (Clicks on the red button fell in keeping with the lift on the blue. Why blue beat red here is the subject of a future post.)

So here’s what I’m starting to take away… Changing the headline may not ‘guarantee’ a valid, measurable and meaningful lift the way changing a button seems to. So if the goal is to move people through our funnels, which might we start to think is more important: the headline, or the button?

Two Strikes, Headline!
Can We Get One More?

Before I wrap this post up with this cool test, let me make something clear: I don’t believe headlines are dead. That’s not a cop out. 🙂 Headlines aren’t dead; they’re just not operating in isolation the way, perhaps, they might once have been. We can boost our conversion rates when we optimize our headlines and buttons together.

There’s always a better headline; there’s always a better button. If you optimize one without optimizing the other, you may not see the kind of lift you would if you created new treatments that optimized both together. Of course, that new treatment wouldn’t make for the world’s cleanest test… but it could make for a much better lift, as you’re going to see in this final study.

We tested 3 treatments against the Control on a landing page for Health Insurance Comparisons in Australia. Only the headline and/or button were changed. Check out the creative… and the results:

Headlines vs buttons

This is interesting.

Take a look at V3 there at the bottom. It’s the Control headline with the optimized button. On its own, the optimized button didn’t perform as well as it clearly could have. It still beat the Control, yeah, but it didn’t outperform the two variations where the headlines were also optimized.

So… is the seemingly humble button more powerful than the headline?

No. (At least, we don’t have data to let us say “yes.”)

But it is powerful. It’s directly connected to conversions, and that makes The Button worthy of at least as much attention as The Headline gets. If Ogilvy were around to see the web and mobile worlds, he might even agree. Now, the question is, do you agree?


PS: Thanks to Jen Havice for her excellent assistance running the first 2 tests.


About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copy Hackers"

  • Diego Artola

    Hi Joanna!
    A really interesting post. I wonder about exclamations. As an expert in CRO and copywriting, what do you think? are they helpful for convertion in the headline and the buttom? Thanks 🙂

  • Alex Martell

    The suspense is killing me Joanna, why did the clicks on the blue button of the scanning app increase and not the red? Just reply here, I highly doubt enough people will read these comments to really spoil the surprise for readers of your next post on buttons 🙂

  • Yeah. I do agree. I just created the copy for a new startup, and after spending TONS of time doing copy audits, reading Amazon reviews and getting to understand the specific language of our target market then I started your book on buttons. I almost cried a little bit as I realized that it was as important as the headline. It’s like you said, the button is a door, and what’s written on the door will have a direct and significant impact on how many people open that door.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yay! Nicely said, Jon. Every single element on the page has a job to do – e.g., the button must get people to click the button. If at any point an element fails to do its job, then everything falls apart. (Just like in an assembly line.) So a headline can do its job very well – it can keep people on the page – and the body copy can do its job very well – it can intrigue them – but if the button then fails to do its job – it fails to compel them to click – things fall apart. And that’s totally why the headline is not the be-all and end-all.

  • Jonathan Dune

    Again a bass…ackwards approach to a long term and proven concept.

    Headlines are the main attraction and they are not dead or being replaced by buttons.

    What most of you fail to see is that the main reason… the ONLY reason for the copy at all is to make a sale!

    That being said… buttons ENHANCE a headline when a reader is a BUYER. Anyone else is a lurker and NOT valuable in the process. Just like “visits’ and “clicks” are measured. A big waste when it comes to actual sales.

    Show me the Money! Then… you can make audacious unproven claims that something that IS proven to work is dead or being replaced. This does not do that.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Doesn’t sound like you read the whole thing. Did you notice that I asked questions about headlines instead of making statements like “headlines are dead”? Have another read.

      The point is that even a great headline can’t perform online if the button is undesirable to click. Headlines and buttons work together, and so buttons deserve the same respect headlines get.

      • Michael Scott

        However…..not to rain on anyone’s parade…..this concept is not exactly new or earthshaking.
        It’s the old “Do you like this?”……”Yes, I want some” or, “Doesn’t anyone care?”…..”Sure, count me in!” conversational approach that has been adopted successfully by thousands of marketers including such notables as Macdonald’s restaurants, etc, etc, etc…..albeit not always having occurred in the e-world.

  • Oh this is interesting!

    I’m so new to really working with the metrics of copywriting, so I’m going to make a generalization that might not be supported by data at all, or it might be such a beginner’s observation that I’m going to show my ignorance.

    But – I’ve noticed that pairing copy that is “you” directed (sounds like the brand is talking one on one with the prospect along with a button that is “me” directed (gets the prospect to identify with the feeling of having the solution) is the key.

    Maybe I’m just stating the obvious that everyone else has already figured out, but it makes sense why that would be a powerful combo!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Everyone else has definitely not figured that out — or, if they have, they’re not applying it on their sites. 🙂 That’s a great trick: second person for headlines and body copy, and first person for buttons. Fab. Now test it and see how it works!! 🙂

  • Hi Joanna,

    Thank you for sharing this very interesting blog post.

    I do agree with you that Headline is still important in the website and the marketing message in the button is equally important too.

    From my own personal testing, if I am going to give away a free report, I will mention it on the headline and I will have a call to action in the button. This give me a better conversion.

    You do provide lots of great examples and I think it is time for me to do more testing on different variation.

    Thanks again for your great content 🙂


  • Jason

    I think this boils down to audiences not reading copy…at all. And looking for those color cues for the “meat” of the offer. This seems to be generational, with younger people not reading. But I’ve seen plenty of older audiences do the same. Zero attention spans! 😉

    • Joanna Wiebe

      It’s amazing how hard it is to get people to pay attention to the words. That said, some people definitely do — and I’d dare say that our best prospects will read our copy. It’s those with lower awareness and shakier motivation that are unlikely to care enough to dedicate the time to reading… so they gravitate toward images and buttons (or “color cues”, as you said). But testing platforms aren’t necessarily meant to filter out bad prospects and boost conversion rates for your better prospects — at least, not out of the box — so what does that say about the ‘insights’ we’re taking away from such tests?

  • jeremy

    If the headline/button for dressipi did so much better, why are they using the originals today?

    • Joanna Wiebe

      haha! It’s still running. The primary goal (button click) finished over the weekend, but engagement goal has only just reached confidence (with the new variation winning), and we want to wait and see if the bottom button will be impacted or not. So clear your cookies or try a new browser — you’ll find the other variation.

      • jeremy

        Tried different browser, etc. Even different network/computer. Still getting the original headline and button, “Clothes you’ll love perfect for your shape and style” and “Sign up now”.

        Just curious! 😉

  • Aaron Orendorff

    Inspired! I’ve run frustrating and lack-luster headline tests before on homepages … and yeah, homepages with plenty of traffic. They weren’t frustrating and lack-luster simply because I couldn’t beat the control. It was more because (like you said) “nadda.” No change … at all.

    I actually never thought about manipulating the button copy. I mean, not in conjunction with the headline anyway.

    Now I’m all amped up to try it out. Thx! 🙂

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Cool, Aaron! Some headlines get killer results — like the Upworthy headlines — but those won’t work all the time or for every product (and now that the whole world is rallying against such headlines, there’s less cause to want to try ’em). Button tests bring in better results, I’ve found. Does that have to do with the fact that the button is the site of conversion and thus its impact on conversion is immediately measurable? Probably.

  • Joanna Wiebe

    No, you’re not missing anything. 🙂 You’re just looking for a button to do more than its built to do. A home page button can’t be expected to lead to big results down the funnel; it may inadvertently do that, but it’s rare. A button’s job is to get people to click – that’s it. That’s a pretty big job, actually, and there’s a lot to it, so we’ve found that it’s best not to ask a page element to do more than it can do immediately.

    A home page headline shouldn’t try to sell; that’s not its job. A home page testimonial shouldn’t be asked to boost paid conversions; that’s not its job. And a button shouldn’t be asked to generate signups a step ahead of where it’s placed; that’s not its job.

    If you let each element do 1 job and only 1, and optimize for that job, you can widen your funnel. If you ask a button to do more than to get people to click, you’ll surely be frustrated by its failure to do so. If you focus on getting the click, then all you have to do is optimize each element on the next page. And then the next page. Right up to the Thank You page. 🙂

    Now, the question I’ve been wondering is this: can a headline on one page positively influence conversions on subsequent pages? I haven’t seen buttons do that, but I have seen home page headlines impact form completes on the next page in the flow. So that’s an argument in favor of the power of headlines (i.e., they’re more powerful than buttons in the long-term).

    • Argh

      You obviously can’t do things that way.

      If you’re optimizing by parts and not looking at the funnel holistically, why not just change that CTA to “See exclusive leaked J Law pix inside”?

      Surely that’ll give you some extra clicks.

      Now your funnel is larger at the top, but incentives are completely off.

      So your conversion rate on the next funnel step drops.

      What do you do now?

      Do you optimize the next step, even though the traffic has been misled and is less qualified?

      How do you know you’re not optimizing for sub-optimal customers (i.e. lower ARPU down the line)?


      Bottom line: if those optimizations don’t translate into real improvements on metrics that move the needle, what’s the point?

      Sure, people who expect big revenue increases from a CTA change will be “frustrated”. What that means is they shouldn’t drink so much of the CRO Kool-Aid.

      • Joanna Wiebe

        I’m not talking about tricking people into clicking. The goal of the button is to get clicked… but I guess I have to spell this out: you shouldn’t lie or mislead or trick to make it happen. I thought that went without saying.

      • Hey Joanna! Although I get what Argh is saying, I totally understand and agree with you on this one.

        It appears Argh is underestimating the significance of a value-motivated click, and assumes you are not concerned how that click affects the funnel.

        You clearly state the next step is to optimize the form, the emails, the sales pages, etc….all the way to the thank you page. Makes sense.

        The question is “When to optimize the next page, and the next?”

        The answer may seem obvious, at least in terms of testing one thing at a time; but your “debate” with Argh got me thinking:

        “Why not align the subsequent form copy with the headline and button from the lead/home page, and test for sign-up conversion as well?”

        Yes, doing so would definitely add a layer of complexity to the test. But you could still test against controls for each page and get reliable data. (If the site has enough traffic to support it)

        It’s simulaneous multi-page multivariate testing. You could use the same traffic to test for clicks, as well as sign-up conversions on the following page.

        Even better, the same folks who click through a button variation on the home page are providing test input for the form page, versus random people at a later date (I’m assuming this is valuable).

        Now, I’m not a math wizard, but I assume since they are separate pages, you are not necessarily adding variation complexity. You are simply running two separate tests.

        You have to test that signup page anyway. Right?

        Take Dressipi, for example:

        Variation #1 > control form
        Variation #1 > Form var #1 with “Big bum, saggy boobs” copy
        Control > Form var #1
        Control > control form

        You can test the effect of “carrying the scent” to see how it influences conversions.

        Anyway, that pretty much wraps up my thoughts and questions.

        What do you think?

        BTW – Great article! And your postcast with Brian Clark was helpful too – Thank you for sharing!

  • It’s worth mentioning this translates into email as well. I’ve started split testing design along side copy and it’s had some great results.

    Also a good rule of thumb for the copy on buttons is that it should say what the result is, not the action. You can see this in the way ‘Show me my Quotes’ performed better than ‘Get My Quotes’. Result is more powerful than action.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Totally, Owen! We’ve been calling those “calls to value” (rather than calls to action) around these parts. Agreed in full — and love your point about email (and would dig seeing your email tests).

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