10 Fear-based Headlines That Convert: The Best Headline Writing Guide for Landing Pages, Part 1

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a multi-part headline guide that covers the spectrum from headline creation to A/B testing. Since Halloween is creeping up, we wanted to kick off your creative headline adventure with some fear-based headline ideas (that will earn you a scary number of clicks).

It’s a proven fact that people will go to great lengths to avoid negative outcomes. Whether it’s avoiding fatal errors in business, relationships, or more, people spend hours researching how to avoid making a mistake they fear could happen.

This is why presenting potential dangers in a way that resonates with your target audience can be a powerful attention-grabber to fuel your headlines, clicks, and, ultimately, conversions.

What is a fear-based headline?

Sounds scary!

But it’s not. Trust me.

As marketers, we are always thinking about what problem our product or service is solving for our customers.

Reasons your product is good:

  • My product helps people find their keys easier.
  • My service helps people become better public speakers.
  • My webinar shows people how to use social media.

But the reason each of these solutions is important is that they help assuage a fear the target audience has.

Fears your product resolves:

  • My audience is afraid of losing their keys, they’ll be locked out of their car, and hassle ensues.
  • My target person is afraid they won’t be able to relay their message in front of audiences small or large, resulting in lost business.
  • My webinar attendees are afraid they’re losing money by not having a presence on social media while their competition does.

When appropriate, these are fears you can, and should, highlight in your headlines to further tug at the root of why your audience should sign up for what you offer. Framing headlines in this way tightens the bond between your solution and your customer’s problem.

This problem-first approach will make your audience feel more, which is what helps fuel click rates for landing pages starting things off with a fear-based headline.

Follow along with this post and start writing your own ideas with this free headline formula worksheet.

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What isn’t a fear-based headline?

First thing’s first: “Fear-based” does not mean negative, bad, angry, dream-crushing jargon. Headlines that highlight underlying fears or problems shouldn’t leave your audience feeling downtrodden or hopeless.

You need to perfect the art of poking the bear. Err, prodding at things your customers are afraid of without insulting them.

This means that the rest of the copy on your landing page needs to support your headline. The example below is one of our own landing pages implementing a fear-based headline.

We offered a solution right in the headline (11 ways to fix what you’re afraid of), but you can always put that information in a subhead or the body copy of your landing page.

Another important thing to note is that this headline highlighting a legitimate fear doesn’t put all the blame on the marketer. Instead, the blame is placed on the email list and it’s suggested that you are the one who can fix it now.

Ready to get writing some of your own?

10 fear-based headline formulas for higher conversions

These fear-based headlines focus on the problem or threat that your product or service provides the solution for.

These types of headlines can be used to connect with less aware markets (who are either problem aware or completely unaware).

1. Do You Make These [insert mistakes] Mistakes?

Ex. Do You Make These Muscle Building Mistakes?

Ex. Do You Make These Email Marketing Mistakes?

Alternately this headline could be flipped and written: “Do You Make These Mistakes in Your Webinars?” or “Do You Make These Mistakes at Networking Events?” Either way, the important words in this headline are “These Mistakes.”

2. What Will You Do When [insert undesirable event]?

Ex. What Will You Do When the IRS Comes Knocking at Your Door?

Ex. What Will You Do When Your Website Crashes at 2 a.m.?

3. How Safe is Your [valued item or person] from [unexpected threat]?

Ex. How Safe is Your Ecommerce Site from Ransomware Attacks?

Ex. How Safe Is Your Home from a Category-5 Hurricane?

4. (#) Warning Signs [insert undesirable event]

11 Warning Signs Your Blog Traffic Is About to Dry Up

7 Warning Signs Your Loved One May Be Heading for a Heart Attack

As an alternative, you can simply start this variation with “Warning:” — “Warning: These Coding Mistakes Will Leave Your Software Wide Open to Attacks.”

5. The Shocking Truth About [insert item of interest]

Ex. The Shocking Truth About Your Blood Pressure Medication

Ex. The Shocking Truth About Google AdWords

The flipside of this headline would be to expose a hoax: “The Great Google AdWords Hoax.”

6. (#) [insert area of importance] Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making

Ex. 7 Fashion Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making

Ex. 12 Negotiating Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making

A powerful variation of the threat headline is the “enemy” headline.

Identifying a perceived enemy can create an “Us vs. Them” connection with your prospective market. These headlines are much more adaptable than you might think.

7. The Biggest Lie [insert perceived enemy] Is Telling You

Ex. The Biggest Lie Big Pharma Is Telling You

Ex. The Biggest Lie Your Freelance Web Designer Is Telling You

Alternately you can test variations of this as “some number of lies” the enemy likes to tell…

8. (#) Lies Your [insert perceived enemy] Like to Tell

Ex. 16 Lies Your Accountant Likes to Tell

Ex. 5 Lies Your Landlord Lives By

9. (#) Things Your [insert trusted person] Isn’t Telling You

This headline format doesn’t have to be nefarious—just revealing a closely held secret is enough to spark curiosity.

Ex. 12 Things Your Life Coach Isn’t Telling You

Ex. 7 Things Your Web Designer Isn’t Telling You

10. How [insert perceived enemy] Gambles With Your [insert item of value]: # Ways to Protect Yourself

Threats by themselves can sometimes be off-putting. The effectiveness of a threat headline can often be boosted by suggesting a solution with it.

Ex. How Google Gambles with Your Ad Budget: 7 Ways to Protect Yourself

Ex. How the Average Doctor Gambles with Your Life: 9 Ways to Protect Yourself

How to A/B test your landing page headlines

Avoiding undesirable situations is a powerful motivator and that makes fear-based headlines effective.

But sometimes your audience will react differently to how you point out the problem in your headlines. If you want to be sure your headlines are approaching your audience in just the right way, start A/B testing.

For instance, you may want to see how basic threat headlines perform against threat/solution headlines. For example:


Or, you might test basic threat headlines against “enemy” headlines. For example:


To get started with your A/B test, create a landing page using your control headline (the headline that you want to test against).

Then, duplicate your page and label it as “A/B Test” or “Version 2,” or some label that will help you identify what it is later.

After your page has been duplicated, start editing your variations. Click into your duplicated landing page and edit the headline. Note: You can always A/B test as many elements on the page as you want, but since this is a guide about writing landing page headlines, let’s stick to just tweaking this element.

Once you’ve written a headline you’d like to test with y our audience, publish your Leadpage, then create a new split test.

You’ll then be prompted to select your control landing page. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to choose the landing page with the headline copy you’re testing as your variation. If you’re testing multiple headlines, you can choose multiple variations to test at one time.

Choose how you’d like to distribute traffic to your control page and variations.

Now start testing!

When you’re satisfied with results and want to end your test, head back to the menu in Leadpages and click “Choose Winner & End Test.”

You can end a test whenever you want, but here are some of our tried-and-true A/B testing suggestions:

  • Longer-running tests provide more robust results.
  • Shorter tests are somewhat less reliable but can allow you to rapidly optimize pages (as you’re not waiting too long to start showing everyone a winning variation).
  • Sending more traffic to your test can decrease the amount of time needed to get reliable results.
  • If one or two opt-ins dramatically affect the conversion rate of any variation, you’ll probably want to keep your test running. For instance, a 66% conversion rate is not reliable if your variation only has three visitors and two opt-ins.

Better headlines are about to earn you more leads

The headline templates we’ve shared above are some of the most proven formats in marketing. If it sounds like you’ve heard them before, there’s a good reason for that.

They work.

When it comes to fear-based headlines, remember to lead with the problem your product is solving, then talk about how your product resolves that problem in the rest of your landing page copy. These formulas will pique interest and resonate with your audience’s pain points.

There are, however, a number of other extremely effective headline types that don’t fit into typical formats. We’ll share them and their potential uses in the other parts of this guide to come.

Whet your headline whistle. Download this free headline formula worksheet and start coming up with your own effective fear-based headlines.

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