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How Headline Testing Can Drive More Engagement

Whether it’s a novel or a news article, every great story needs something that grabs you and makes you want to read it. When it comes to the web, your content needs a great headline. But what does that mean? That it’s optimized for SEO? Does it mean it most accurately describes the adjoining content? While both are important, the real test for a headline is: Did it make you read the article? Most bloggers, journalists and copywriters are used to the practice of submitting multiple headlines for a single piece of content. But how do you determine which one to use? This is where testing comes in.

Headline Testing

We recently spoke about the importance of A/B testing and headlines are a perfect example of the kind of website element you should be testing.

Who should do headline testing?

Companies in the media, entertainment and publishing industry typically generate the most website content and have the biggest need for catchy and engaging headlines. At a conference several years ago, Huffington Post’s CTO Paul Berry revealed that they go live with two different headlines, each being displayed for half of their site visitors. Because of their high traffic volume, they can tell which headline is generating more engagement with their readers within minutes, making for a very quick but beneficial A/B test. They then switch over to that winning headline in real time.

It makes sense for a major publisher like HuffPo to test headlines. As online content has grown in importance, though, every business in a sense has become a publisher and needs to make sure they are maximizing readership of articles, posts, and stories.

What kinds of headlines should you test?

According to Unbounce.com contributor Michael Aagaard, a good place to start headline testing is with these key headline formulas: loss aversion, question, benefit, and creative. If we were going to use these headline formulas for this post (and who says we haven’t!), here is what they’d look like:

  • Loss Aversion: Stop Choosing the Wrong Headlines for Your Blog Posts
  • Question: Wondering Where to Start with Headline Testing? We Can Help!
  • Benefit: Get More Content Engagement with Headline Testing
  • Creative: Blog Schmog; It’s All About The Right Headline

Typically, the benefit formula works the best when you are providing information on a particular subject. Most people are looking for a solution to a problem. When Aagaard A/B tested his own headlines, he found that loss aversion typically had the least engagement unless it was tied to content related to preventing the loss of something tangible.

Choose testing over link baiting!

The whole point of having a great headline is engagement, not just clicks. Testing lets you know not only what is drawing your visitors in but it should also set accurate expectations for the content they are going to consume. Link baiting, while effective for clicks, can often alienate your visitors by making them feel tricked into reading your article. Link baiting headlines often read something like “You’ll Never Believe…” when in fact, the article itself is unfortunately all too believable and the content is usually not nearly that exciting. Remember, your headline is setting the tone, so make sure it’s the right one. Testing helps you determine what works for your audience in an authentic way.

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