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5 Interesting Case Studies About Writing Click-Worthy Headlines

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Pratik Dholakiya of SEMRush dissected six case studies that would help marketers break tried-and-tested tricks and learn new ways to craft click-worthy headlines. They’re absolutely useful, especially if you’re relying on social media or blog posts to bring traffic to your sites. In these case studies, you’ll learn what readers just click, and what they actually share.

1. Writing Effective Headlines to Increase Engagement

via Outbrain and Hubspot
Sample size: Studied 3.3 million headlines from over 100k publishers

The most interesting takeaway about this study is that many “catchy words” internet marketers claim to be click-worthy are actually not, or not anymore.

These include:

  • Sense of urgency – “Now,” “Before it’s too late,”
  • Speaking to the reader directly – “You,” “You’re”
  • Describing tutorials and guides – “Easy,” “Trick,” “How to,”
  • Exaggeration – “Cure,” “Magic,” “Amazing,”
  • Mysterious – “Secret,”

Instead, readers do not want to waste time with exaggerated claims or mysterious information. They want to know exactly what they’re going to read or see in the content, even before they click the link. They also don’t want to be told what to do, or how to feel (example: “You’re Going to Love…”.

Readers are more likely to click content with words like “photo” and bracketed information (such as “[Infographic]”) that tells the type of content you’re offering.

2. Investigating the Influence of Clickbait News Headlines

via Engaging News Project
Sample size: 2,000 participants surveyed on how they feel about fake news headlines combined with real big-company headlines)

The case study examines how people react to various styles of writing headlines in news. They grouped headlines into three categories: traditional (clear and straight-to-the-point), forward-reference (clickbait-leaning since it introduces a topic but adds an open-ending idea), and question-based headlines.

The study found out that:

  • Readers are more likely to click traditional headlines
  • Question-based headlines are received negatively, with readers expecting that article to provide less value once they click it.
  • Source of headlines is a deciding factor to click (whether it came from Fox News, USA Today, Buzzfeed, etc.), but question-based headlines from their chosen source still remain unfavorable to readers

What’s interesting about this study is that it tells us readers don’t want to be asked what they think, or how they feel about the news. When it comes to news writing, readers just want to be informed, so the less gimmicks the headlines, the more click-worthy they are to readers.

3. Why Writing Creative Headlines Hurt Conversions

via Sumo
Sample size: Based on 150,000 opt-in and 4 pairs of headlines

If you’re an internet marketer and you’re writing copy for popups, opt-in forms and other list-building campaigns, this will surely blow your mind. Pro copywriters Sean and Sarah of Sumo discovered through their successful 150k opt-ins that spending hours for a creative headline doesn’t guarantee more conversions.

They used 4 headlines, each with a straightforward version and creative version:

  • “The Blueprint Behind Republishing Content” vs. “Don’t Let Your Old Articles Die”
  • “Get Our Internal Website Optimization Spreadsheet” vs. “We’ve Never Given This Away…”
  • “Every Tactic, Ranked (With The Tools And Conversion Rates)” vs. “Are You Collecting Emails Wrong?”
  • “Free Ebook: 15 Emails Everyone Should Send” vs. “Why Aren’t You Sending These 15 Emails?”

In the experiment, they found out that straightforward headlines are being clicked more than their creative versions. On top of this, 88% straightforward headlines converted successfully, compared to 12% for creative headlines. Note that Sean clarifies this study only applies to link-building techniques and not for articles, blog posts, and other content.

4. We Analyzed 100 Million Headlines. Here’s What We Learned (New Research)

via Buzzsumo
Sample Size: Based on 100 Million Shared Headlines across Facebook and Twitter published between March 1 and May 10, 2017

While results from the first three studies are somewhat similar, with readers preferring to click through headlines that are more concise, straight-forward and without gimmicks, it is totally the opposite when it comes to headlines for social media.

When it came to Facebook engagement, the study found out that:

  • The top 3 headlines included the phrases: “will make you,” “this is why” and “Can we guess”
  • Headlines that entice emotions or curiosity about what other people are talking about performed better than straightforward informational headlines
  • List-type headlines (top 10, Best, etc.) are shared a lot
  • Headlines that give a sense of belonging (5 Things only Millennials Would Understand) receive plenty of engagement

Twitter results were surprisingly different from Facebook. Twitter users were more inclined to share trivia or new ideas and are less interested in headlines that entice emotions.

  • The top 3 headlines included the phrases: “this is what,” “for first time,” “things to know”
  • Twitter users are interested about headlines that explain or analyze with phrases like “the rise of,” “things to know,” “what we know,” or “the truth about.”

What you can learn from this data is that the target audience on Facebook and Twitter are totally different. That’s why the headlines they share are almost opposites. This study shows that it is still important to craft headlines based on the audience, and tweaking your headline for specific social media accounts could make a huge difference.

5. What We Learned Analyzing 1 Million Blog Headlines

via okDork.com (guest post by CoSchedule Founder Garrett Moon)

When it came to headlines of blog posts, okDork was able to segregate English-only headlines from a million headlines. From there, they discovered that:

  • Only 1% of posts were shared over 10,000 times
  • Only 10% of posts were shared over 100 times
  • And about 89% of posts were shared less than 100 times
  • From the top 11%, 787 headlines were list-type posts and about 7% included the words “You/Your” with 4% offering something “free/giveaway.”
  • Posts shared on Facebook and Google+ were home-oriented and included phrases like “homemade” or “recipe.”
  • Twitter users shared more posts on technology and business
  • Videos are more shared on Facebook than on any other social media network

Like what the Buzzsumo study discovered, changing headlines for every social media is ideal to make blog posts more share-worthy.

The Bottom Line

Crafting headlines should still be given ample time, as what many copywriters and marketers have been recommending for years. However, instead of just creating one headline for all (blog post, popups/link building content, social media, news), you should now be spending time working on different headlines for every platform.

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