Researchers at the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, Norway were out to determine what factors make certain headlines drive more click-throughs than others. They performed two experiments, one using Twitter, the other using popular Norwegian auction and shopping website FINN.Putting aside possible cultural differences among readers in different countries, the major takeaways from the study were these:
- Question headlines are more effective than statement (declarative) headlines.
- Question headlines that reference the reader (you, your, etc.) are most effective.
Kevan Lee agrees about the importance of “you” words. In “How to Write the Perfect Headline: The Top Words Used in Viral Headlines”, he discusses headline analysis based on twenty-four different websites. Question headlines referencing the reader were the most effective, with “you” and “your” both making the top-20 word list. Question words “what”, “which”, and “when” were all important, while “why” appealed to the ‘curiosity gap”.
Superlatives in headlines “sell”. “The most successful people”, “The happiest people”, “The most interesting people” – these are people we want to know more about. ”Readers enjoy discovering, learning, and challenging the details behind blanket assertions like this,” Lee explains. There’s also a certain level of authority when you say “the most”. At the same time, that phrase taps into readers’ argumentative side – does the superlative really ring true? “How to” posts promise a certain level of education, Lee continues, and valuable subject matter will generate clicks.
Whether in magazines or blogs, there are two types of titles, I’ve noticed. The “Huh?” titles need subtitles to make clear what the article is about, and the “Oh!” titles are self explanatory. The“Huh?s” startle and arouse curiosity; The “Oh!” subtitle then clarifies what the focus of the piece will be.
As a business blog content writer, I love the tongue-in-cheek remark by Thomas Umstattd in “Top 5 Blog Title Mistakes Authors Make”. In school, he says, your teacher probably taught you that the purpose of a title was to describe your writing. That’s wrong, he says. The purpose of a title is to tell readers why they should bother to read your writing!