80% of people read headline, 20% of people read copy. True or urban legend?

32 replies
The quote that 8 out of 10 people will read the headline and 2 out of 10 will read the body copy is in many places today, yet it's hard to find any study that proves or disproves this.

As far as I can tell, this originates from David Ogilvy in Confessions of an Advertising Man in 1963, where he states

'On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.'

I don't have a copy of the book, so I can't see the context and see if he was saying this based on his experience, or if he ran any tests to see if this was true. Nor can I easily find anybody that has put this to the test.

Are we really blindly repeating what someone said 50 years ago in an entirely different medium?

How many of us look to find the source of a statistic or the context?
#20% #80% #copy #headline #legend #people #read #true #urban
  • Profile picture of the author SWIG
    I think that's true. I is determined by its behavior. Title is the first thing gaze falls. If I'm not interested in the title, I will never go on to read the rest of the text.
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  • Profile picture of the author agmccall
    Most people will scan or skim articles. That is why it is best to break up your articles and use bolded headlines and sub headlines for paragraphs as well as images.

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    • Profile picture of the author discrat
      Originally Posted by agmccall View Post

      Most people will scan or skim articles. That is why it is best to break up your articles and use bolded headlines and sub headlines for paragraphs as well as images.

      al
      Yep so true, and yet I can't tell you how many huge blocks of endless writings I see everyday from people who have not grasped this Concept


      - Robert Andrew
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  • Profile picture of the author alextrevayne
    You have a point there. I have seen that happen a lot in social media like Facebook, people just post stuff without even knowing if it's a real piece of information.

    Got to do a bit of research before we believe what is said.
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  • Profile picture of the author EPoltrack77
    I love scanning headlines just to see what is going on out there. I have gotten some good ones that I put my own twist on that gets very good open rates. Id say they are one of the most important...
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  • Profile picture of the author Caitlinz
    Yes, people skim, they don't read. They skim through headlines and read only if there is an interesting title for them.
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  • Profile picture of the author Sam JTB
    I believe it. Our attention spans our getting shorter.

    In the 90's people waited on average 8 seconds for a web page to load. Now I think it's around 3 seconds.
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  • Profile picture of the author GordonJ
    Originally Posted by Cartier Zdravko View Post

    The quote that 8 out of 10 people will read the headline and 2 out of 10 will read the body copy is in many places today, yet it's hard to find any study that proves or disproves this.

    As far as I can tell, this originates from David Ogilvy in Confessions of an Advertising Man in 1963, where he states

    'On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.'

    I don't have a copy of the book, so I can't see the context and see if he was saying this based on his experience, or if he ran any tests to see if this was true. Nor can I easily find anybody that has put this to the test.

    Are we really blindly repeating what someone said 50 years ago in an entirely different medium?

    How many of us look to find the source of a statistic or the context?
    To answer your question about looking for the source, less than 1%.

    Which correlates to IM successful marketers, here at WF, it is far less than that.

    Today's marketer KNOWS because she tests and participates. I've been involved in many eye tracking and brain mapping experiments and there are people who do this on a full time basis. Here are a couple of examples,
    https://www.quicksprout.com/2014/04/...cking-studies/

    And The Power of Direct Context As Revealed by Eye Tracking | the Journal of Advertising Research

    which are just two of the many THOUSANDS of studies available for a marketer to use.

    Very few people concern themselves with sources of questionable statistics, probably most of the warriors here, which make them the perfect targets for much of the nonsense we see in the wso section. As the saying goes, a fool and his money are soon parted.

    Plenty of real research and answers for those who seek them.

    GordonJ
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  • What percentagea headlines read the people?

    Prolly those're the babies.
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  • Profile picture of the author Mike Anthony
    I' d say its true but somewhat irrelevant for marketers.

    Buyers read more than headlines. They may not read all copy but they certainly read more than a headline before whipping out the credit card.
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  • Profile picture of the author skymann
    Probably true, but with a video below the headline, the chances of getting the whole page read are much greeater.
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  • Profile picture of the author Victor Hin
    well for me i rather read the headline then the context afterall there a lot things to do then to sit down and reading every word of an article or a book.

    or that just me.
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  • Profile picture of the author Kay King
    i rather read the headline then the context afterall there a lot things to do then to sit down and reading every word of an article or a book.
    ...or a forum thread before you answer.

    Which is why a so-called statistic from 1963 might apply to a forum like this one - where people respond (sometimes for years) to the subject line of a thread without ever reading the content....

    Are we really blindly repeating what someone said 50 years ago in an entirely different medium?
    Apparently so - you brought it up. People are repeating what they read elsewhere - to have something to say. If they quote an "expert source" they have an out if challenged to prove it.

    My question is why you would pay attention to ANYONE quoting 1963 quotes to you. To me, that's a clear indicator of "not someone to listen to or learn from". Waste of time when scientific tracking methods can be found today.

    How people viewed ads 50+ years ago is irrelevant when you consider it was the age of the newspaper (now a dying business) - before TV ads grew up - before the internet - before instant videos and the rise of ad agencies and social media and...

    Today's buyer expects info delivered to him. Strong headlines - bullet points for quick info - videos - social media promotions...testimonials ...ads today have tentacles that reach into various forms of media.

    Do a google search for "1963 newspaper ads" (without quotes) - and look at the images...interesting.

    (15+51) Fabulous Ads From The 1960s (Series Finale)
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    • Profile picture of the author dburk
      Originally Posted by Kay King View Post

      ...or a forum thread before you answer.

      Which is why a so-called statistic from 1963 might apply to a forum like this one - where people respond (sometimes for years) to the subject line of a thread without ever reading the content....



      Apparently so - you brought it up. People are repeating what they read elsewhere - to have something to say. If they quote an "expert source" they have an out if challenged to prove it.

      My question is why you would pay attention to ANYONE quoting 1963 quotes to you. To me, that's a clear indicator of "not someone to listen to or learn from". Waste of time when scientific tracking methods can be found today.

      How people viewed ads 50+ years ago is irrelevant when you consider it was the age of the newspaper (now a dying business) - before TV ads grew up - before the internet - before instant videos and the rise of ad agencies and social media and...

      Today's buyer expects info delivered to him. Strong headlines - bullet points for quick info - videos - social media promotions...testimonials ...ads today have tentacles that reach into various forms of media.

      Do a google search for "1963 newspaper ads" (without quotes) - and look at the images...interesting.

      (15+51) Fabulous Ads From The 1960s (Series Finale)
      Hi Kay,

      I have to totally disagree with you on the assertion that marketing and advertising principles outlined by David Ogilvy (the Father of Advertising) are somehow obsolete because they were written in a different decade. What make a principle a "principle" is that it is true in all times and all situations, anything less is not a true principle.

      David Ogilvy is the pioneer of current marketing science, the principles he discovered and documented are as true today as they were the day he documented them, and they will be just as true and useful 1000 years from now. To say otherwise is like saying modern science is no longer valid or useful because it is based on principles that were discovered and documented by Galileo Galilei 400 years ago. The passage of time does not change a truism.

      If something works only during a contemporaneous period then it is a technique, not a principle. Ogilvy is considered the Father of Advertising because he documented and pioneered the principles used in all modern data-driven marketing methods, which are based upon the scientific method first documented by Galileo. His principles are the core of what is now known as Marketing Science. Just because Marketing Science was invented decades ago, it doesn't make it less valid today.

      Personally, I think that Ogilvy's work is 100 times more relevant today than 99% of all best selling books on advertising and marketing that you see on Amazon today.

      You cannot claim to be a competent marketer if you are not familiar with at least a dozen or so marketing principles documented and expertly explained by Ogilvy in his books. Perhaps you could learn them by reading or listening to other people that are familiar with his work, that have paraphrased or plagiarized his work, but give credit where it is due. It was heard first from books and films of David Ogilvy, now everyone just repeats what he has taught us all about marketing.

      I guarantee you that if you read Ogilvy's books you will find nearly all of it transferable to Internet Marketing. Principles are true in all times and situations, else they are not true principles.

      Personally I have seen tremendous lift in sales and advertising performance by implementing Ogilvy's principles in headlines alone. I have personally tested more than a million headlines over the years and have the data to prove his principles are indeed sound. My agency's training manual for ad copy writers borrows heavily from Ogilvy's work and are the baseline for Best Practices in ad copy standards at our ad agency.

      The point that Ogilvy was making was about the role of a headline and it's importance in sales copy, as a principle. The role of a headline is to capture the attention of the reader. That has not changed with the passing of time. Today, just as it was in 1963, the role of a headline is to catch the readers attention.

      If the headline fails at it's task it doesn't matter how good the rest of your sales copy is, because the majority of your audience are not reading it. You have to get people through an entrance for them to see what is in the rooms beyond. Your headline is the entrance to your sales copy that you must get your audience to go through before they read the rest of your sales copy. Sure, some people might bypass an entrance and look for a side door if the entrance seems uninviting, but you are going to be losing a lot of your audience without the clear and compelling entrance presented by your headline. Whether that number is exactly 80%, or not, is beside the point. The point is to understand the role of the headline and how the 80-20 rule applies to it.

      Oh.. yeah... the 80-20 rule, that's from Ogilvy, like so much other stuff related to marketing. Most of what you already know about marketing came first from Ogilvy, and it is decades old, yet just as true today as ever.

      Here's a clip of an appearance David Ogilvy made on the David Letterman show:


      https://www.amazon.com/Confessions-A.../dp/190491537X
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  • Profile picture of the author Steve B
    The 80-20 rules that you see floating around marketing circles (and there are a number of different ones) are just generalizations based on some kind of "average" that someone is surmising. Whether it's true or not, fact based or not, study validated or not . . . it doesn't really matter IMO. I understand the point that the writer is trying to make by stating the general rule.

    I'm sure the actual numbers of headline skimmers and copy readers will vary by circumstance, niche, and reader intent. Those on a mailing list that are truly engaged with the sender certainly have a higher percentage of copy readers that broad and general marketing offers that are not targeted. But does that really matter? No, it is expected.

    My point being, do the very best you can in your own niche with your own business to engage your readers and present them with information that they will find truly enlightening or valuable. Do the best you can to add enticing and motivating headlines. Make your copy professional, easy to read, on point, engaging, and something that your subscribers will come back again and again to read. Get them yearning and anxious for your next mailing.

    "Rules of thumb" are really not important - they are just averages and who wants to be average in his/her business?

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  • Profile picture of the author Bill Jeffels
    I have a copy of the book and I'm looking at it right now.

    The chapter is called...”How To Write Potent Copy”

    It reads...

    “The headline is the most Important element in most advertisements. It is the telegram which decides the reader whether to read the copy.

    On average five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents of your dollar.

    If you haven't done some selling in your headline, you have wasted 80 percent of your clients money.”


    Bill

    .
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  • Profile picture of the author TeaCozy
    Personally, I read a heading, possibly scroll quickly through and I usually need to know if the format suits the way I like to read.

    If the article has dot points (if it is a blog) and is laid out so that it is easy to read then I could read on, if not I probably click to the next thing.

    I am not sure if it is that cut and dry statistics wise but there is probably something to these figures.
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  • Profile picture of the author BradVert2013
    Let's put it this way: I always read a headline when scanning a website. But I don't always read the article that accompanies that headline. If the headline grabs my attention, I'll keep reading. It's that simple.

    As a more general point, plenty of studies have been done about how people read content online. People generally will scan online content in an "F" shaped pattern.
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  • Profile picture of the author yukon
    Banned
    I didn't even read 20% of this forum thread.

    Does that help?
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  • Profile picture of the author writeaway
    OP, your assertions are true for social media.

    Not so much for blogs.

    Clickbaiting can only get you so far.

    In fact, if you are thinking of trying to build a solid brand, clickbaiting might be counterproductive.
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  • Profile picture of the author st0nec0ld
    Well, I only read the content if the headline is interesting enough. And also, the first few sentences or the first paragraph should instantly justify what the title is, or else I will not bother finishing the content.
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  • Profile picture of the author PPG19
    This are just numbers bu t i agree partly with that. Btw the 80% / 20% statistics is taken from a study made by CopyBlogger.
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    • Profile picture of the author dburk
      Originally Posted by PPG19 View Post

      This are just numbers bu t i agree partly with that. Btw the 80% / 20% statistics is taken from a study made by CopyBlogger.
      Rubbish!

      The 80/20 rule, also known as the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity, or the Pareto principle, was first made popular in 1941 by management consultant Joseph Juran. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who noted the 80/20 connection while at the University of Lausanne in 1896.

      I'm pretty sure Copyblogger copied the idea for his study from someplace else. Let's give credit to Pareto and Juran, the true originators of the principle that Copyblogger simply copied and validated.
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      • Profile picture of the author PPG19
        Originally Posted by dburk View Post

        Rubbish!

        The 80/20 rule, also known as the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity, or the Pareto principle, was first made popular in 1941 by management consultant Joseph Juran. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who noted the 80/20 connection while at the University of Lausanne in 1896.

        I'm pretty sure Copyblogger copied the idea for his study from someplace else. Let's give credit to Pareto and Juran, the true originators of the principle that Copyblogger simply copied and validated.
        Rubbish!!! Ok but i thought we were talking about blog headlines in 2016 which in my opinion is a little different from what you are talking about but i see where you are coming from. I agree, let's give credit to those guys for this 80%/20% rule but i think back then the ratio was much less...

        I personally and publicly on this forum apologize to Mr. Pareto and Mr. Juran for not giving them credit for the 80/20 rule.
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        • Profile picture of the author dburk
          Originally Posted by PPG19 View Post

          Rubbish!!! Ok but i thought we were talking about blog headlines in 2016 which in my opinion is a little different from what you are talking about but i see where you are coming from. I agree, let's give credit to those guys for this 80%/20% rule but i think back then the ratio was much less...

          I personally and publicly on this forum apologize with Mr. Pareto and Mr. Juran for not giving them credit for the 80/20 rule.
          Hi PPG19,

          The 80/20 Rule is a scientific principle that has been studied, tested, and validated for 100 years.

          The OP was asking if we are "blindly repeating what someone said 50 years ago", and some people may in fact be blindly repeating it, just as many people today "blindly repeat" Newton's Laws of Motion. How could we possible know if those Laws of motion are true if we haven't conducted a scientific study of those laws in the year 2016? Afterall, maybe the laws of physics have changed sometime during the past few years, ya know... due to common core education, right?

          Well, just as we can easily observe Newtons Laws of motion in our everyday life we can also easily observe the 80/20 rule (law of the vital few) without conducting and publishing an experiment using scientific methodology and statistical analysis. It's just plain obvious without going to the trouble of proving it scientifically. In other words, it's not only scientifically sound it is also common sense.

          So, yes, we were discussing the relevance of the Law of the Vital Few in 2016, and you know what, there's a reason these are called "Laws" it's because they are timeless.Which is another thing that I believe should be common sense, even in the year 2016. (Common core be damned. )
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          • Profile picture of the author PPG19
            Originally Posted by dburk View Post

            Hi PPG19,

            The 80/20 Rule is a scientific principle that has been studied, tested, and validated for 100 years.

            The OP was asking if we are "blindly repeating what someone said 50 years ago", and some people may in fact be blindly repeating it, just as many people today "blindly repeat" Newton's Laws of Motion. How could we possible know if those Laws of motion are true if we haven't conducted a scientific study of those laws in the year 2016? Afterall, maybe the laws of physics have changed sometime during the past few years, ya know... due to common core education, right?

            Well, just as we can easily observe Newtons Laws of motion in our everyday life we can also easily observe the 80/20 rule (law of the vital few) without conducting and publishing an experiment using scientific methodology and statistical analysis. It's just plain obvious without going to the trouble of proving it scientifically. In other words, it's not only scientifically sound it is also common sense.

            So, yes, we were discussing the relevance of the Law of the Vital Few in 2016, and you know what, there's a reason these are called "Laws" it's because they are timeless.Which is another thing that I believe should be common sense, even in the year 2016. (Common core be damned. )
            Hey there dburk, maybe you misunderstood but i actually agree with you and feel that the 80/20 statistic could be true even today. I am just saying that over the time might have changed quite a bit. Laws of physics do not change but people behavior does.
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  • Profile picture of the author zdebx
    dburk, point well made re David Ogilvy's marketing principles, which obviously still apply today.

    Yes, nowadays not as many people read newspapers, yes less people watch TV, because it's all on the Internet, but human psychology doesn't change in 50 years and it won't change in the next 200 years either.

    There are a lot of theories that were explained many years ago, but they are still very true today. Countless examples....Think about the "The Strangest Secret" by Earl Nightingale or Joe Girard's selling books?

    I rest my case.
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    • Profile picture of the author PPG19
      Originally Posted by zdebx View Post

      dburk, point well made re David Ogilvy's marketing principles, which obviously still apply today.

      Yes, nowadays not as many people read newspapers, yes less people watch TV, because it's all on the Internet, but human psychology doesn't change in 50 years and it won't change in the next 200 years either.

      There are a lot of theories that were explained many years ago, but they are still very true today.
      Today more and more people have less and less time. It is still relevant but that is why it is different in my opinion. If it was 80/20 70 years ago, today the gap might be even more.
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  • Profile picture of the author Kay King
    There are a lot of theories that were explained many years ago, but they are still very true today.
    True - and many repeated over and over today but never tested to see if they remain true...

    Ogilvy was brilliant - and most of what he wrote about concerning marketing is valid today. What I've noticed is for years as the internet has grown...statements like the one that began this thread have been repeated
    on dozens of sites as "gospel".

    We have the technology today to accurately judge such percentages...but I can't find where anyone has done it.

    Today's headline may be 90% and copy 10%. No longer is an ad an image or a TV spot with a headline just above the copy. Now the "headlines" are often what brings you TO the page where the product or the ad copy is.

    A great headline can increase the "eyes" on your ad pages by 500% - there's another "statistic"...

    I don't think it's heresy to question whether the same 80/20 (Pareto Principle) applies today.
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  • Profile picture of the author Daniel Evans
    Originally Posted by Cartier Zdravko View Post

    The quote that 8 out of 10 people will read the headline and 2 out of 10 will read the body copy is in many places today, yet it's hard to find any study that proves or disproves this.
    I think they were referring to cats and Whiskas.

    There's a study on that, because it was their headline on TV which needed to be legally abiding.


    Daniel
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  • Profile picture of the author dburk
    Hi PPG19,

    Yes I think we agree in principle.

    I want to point out that the wisdom in that quote by Ogilvy does not rely upon the data showing a precise 80/20 ratio. Anyone reading this thread that is focused on that precise ratio as a point of validity may have missed the point that Ogilvy was making.

    The point Ogilvy was making is that many people will see your sales copy, but not everyone reads it all, in fact, most people just give it a passing glance. Unless you can draw your audience into reading your sales copy it has been time wasted.

    The primary device used to draw your audience into reading the sales copy is your headline. People read headlines the most because that is how they decide if they want to read the remainder of your sales copy. Therefore, you should invest most of your effort in crafting compelling headlines since the remainder of your sales copy is useless to those that pass on reading your sales copy based on the headline alone.

    Many people that operate eCommerce websites, selling well known products, have found that often all you need is a clear and concise headline, a picture, a price, and a clear CTA to get above average conversion rates. While poorly written headlines, or no headline at all, is a common conversion killer. Yet, it always surprises me how often I see web pages without a clear and relevant headline.
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    • Profile picture of the author PPG19
      Originally Posted by dburk View Post

      Hi PPG19,

      Yes I think we agree in principle.

      I want to point out that the wisdom in that quote by Ogilvy does not rely upon the data showing a precise 80/20 ratio. Anyone reading this thread that is focused on that precise ratio as a point of validity may have missed the point that Ogilvy was making.

      The point Ogilvy was making is that many people will see your sales copy, but not everyone reads it all, in fact, most people just give it a passing glance. Unless you can draw your audience into reading your sales copy it has been time wasted.

      The primary device used to draw your audience into reading the sales copy is your headline. People read headlines the most because that is how they decide if they want to read the remainder of your sales copy. Therefore, you should invest most of your effort in crafting compelling headlines since the remainder of your sales copy is useless to those that pass on reading your sales copy based on the headline alone.

      Many people that operate eCommerce websites, selling well known products, have found that often all you need is a clear and concise headline, a picture, a price, and a clear CTA to get above average conversion rates. While poorly written headlines, or no headline at all, is a common conversion killer. Yet, it always surprises me how often I see web pages without a clear and relevant headline.
      Yes we agree and i actually think that your correction (that this study was not from CopyBlogger) was quite important.
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