Study: What Makes You Click On A Headline?

The form of the headline for this article — a question headline with “self-referencing cues” (“you”) — is more likely to generate a click than a question-only headline or a pure “declarative” headline. However  the success of question headlines reportedly varies by topic or category.

That’s according to new academic research from BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo Norway. The researchers sought to determine empirically what sorts of headlines drive more click-throughs (CTRs).

They performed two experiments, one exposed various headlines in Twitter and the other involved writing different types of headlines for four different product categories on a Norwegian auction and shopping website called FINN. The study design was fairly rigorous it appears.

In the case of the auction/shopping site, here are the example headline types:

Examples of headlines are “For sale: Black iPhone4 16GB” (control condition), “Anyone who needs a new iPhone4?” (question headline without self-referencing cues), “Is this your new iPhone4?” (question headline with self-referencing cues), and “We all do agree that iPhone4 is the best phone available?” (rhetorical question headline).

In the case of Twitter here is the research methodology:

The experiment was performed over a 4-month period in which the followers of the profile were exposed to messages (“tweets”) that were presented by headlines that were either formulated in a declarative manner based on suggestions from the scientist (control condition), or as questions that were either without self-referencing cues (experimental condition A) or with self-referencing cues (experimental condition B). Question headlines were formulated based on the key findings of the research and with no specific question format in mind. Yet, in order to reduce error-variance, attempts were made to avoid using hypothetical, rhetorical, leading, or tag questions.

The academics qualify their findings and include the usual caveat that more study is necessary. They also noted in the shopping-related context that there were somewhat differing results by product category.

Something not discussed in the document is the potential for cultural bias. It might be possible that from country to country and culture to culture there would be differences. What might work in Northern Europe might not work in South America or Asia.

Putting that possibility aside, the major takeaway from the study is that question headlines are more effective and question headlines that include or reference the reader (i.e., “Is this your new iPhone 4?”) are the most effective vs. a simple, declarative headline (“iPhone 4 for sale”).

There has been considerable SEO-related writing about headlines and CTRs. What are your thoughts about the research and the accuracy of the findings of this study?

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Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Features & Analysis | Statistics: Email Marketing | Statistics: Online Behavior | Statistics: Popularity & Usage | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Ali Gammack

    Looks like those annoying Twitter virus spreaders have read this study. You know the ones…Is this you in this pic? http:xxxx”

  • Gary Chesnut

    Numbers are great for getting a “click”. Adding the question factor to the headline generates curiousity. People are naturally curious.

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