Did you miss last week’s webinar on Engaged Headline Testing? Saw it and want to review the fundamentals? No fear. You can watch Adam and his friends here.
Last week, our illustrious Chartbeat Publishing Product Lead Adam Clarkson joined three top digital media specialists to discuss headline testing best practices, and how they use the Chartbeat Engaged Headline Testing tool to drive visitors to their most engaging content. Joining him were:Ally Tubis — Head of Digital Analytics & Insights, Rodale
Joseph Merkel — Assistant Front Page Manager, Bleacher Report
Travis Hunter — Front Page Manager, Bleacher Report
Here are a few key takeaways:
- Data gives you an opportunity to learn. Take advantage! When testing, it’s critical to review why particular headline writing strategies succeeded and to employ meaningful metrics for measuring that success.
- With headline testing, you can be more creative, take more risks, and write more adventurous hooks.You’ll know quickly if a headline isn’t working as you expected, and losing headlines won’t get seen.
- This tool creates less, not more, work. By eliminating superfluous debate and deepening familiarity with your audience, Engaged Headline Testing streamlines newsroom workflow.
- The purpose of a headline is to get visitors into a story and reading it. As such, audiences respond to headlines with familiar language, imperative verb constructions, and teaser devices like ellipses or question marks.
Hungry for more? Here’s a condensed version of their discussion:
Travis: Before Engaged Headline Testing, there was a much longer discussion that preceded choosing a headline. We’d still try to write a couple options, but, as you might expect, there’d be debate, clash, even arguments.
Adam: Before you started using Engaged Headline Testing, what was your headline writing process? How were you thinking about headlines?
“Really, the big difference is now we have the freedom to try a lot of different kinds of headline options all at once. Engaged Headline Testing allowed us to take creative risks.”
Ally: At Rodale, we’ve had a similar experience to what Travis just described. Previously, editors wrote and judged headlines based on their experience, their insights. Now, we have cold, hard stats to help us make decisions and evaluate headlines. Headline Testing, it totally changed the game.
Adam: So how did it change the game? How did Headline Testing improve your operations?
Adam: Same question for you, Bleacher Report. How has Headline Testing changed your approach to headline writing?Travis: The biggest change for us is the freedom it’s allowed us. The freedom to take more risks when writing headlines. The freedom to really get creative. Adam: Right, the tests don’t last long. Even if you’re taking a big risk, it’s only for a short time. If a headline starts losing pretty dramatically all of a sudden, it goes away very quickly. The losers don’t get seen; it’s de-risking the whole situation. Travis: Exactly. And as a result, our approach to headline writing has become so much more adventurous, so much more creative. Joseph: I’ll also just add that now we know better how to avoid clickbait.
“We’re always keeping our eyes on the Engaged Time numbers, because we don’t want our headlines to mislead anyone, or oversell too much.”
Adam: Totally. The Engaged Headline Testing algorithm doesn’t only reward headlines that get clicks, but also the ones that generate fifteen seconds of engagement on the article itself.Ally: Headlines shouldn’t preclude engagement. They should invite engagement. That’s why we’ve seen headlines evolve to become more social. But not clickbait-y. A headline should give enough information so that engagement doesn’t drop.
Adam: So let’s dig deeper. What are some headline writing strategies that you’ve developed?Ally: We definitely have a bunch of strategies. But, sometimes, we’re still surprised by what people click on. So we’re constantly trying to learn, looking at the data and learning from it. As far as concrete strategies go:
Of course, keep in mind, that there is no full-proof strategy. It’s always dependent on your audience.Joseph: I agree. People respond to conversational hooks. They respond to the kind of language you’d say out loud. Hipper diction almost. It gets the reader more involved in the content, and it vitalizes the page. Travis: Certainly our strategies have evolved over the years. Even our goal in writing headlines has evolved with the company. For example, used to write a lot of puns. But now, no more puns. Maybe every once in a while, we’ll throw in a pun. But like Joseph said, mainly lots of conversational language because that’s what get’s readers from the headline into the story.
Adam: After all, the point is to get people into the story and get them reading. That’s the point of a headline. On a separate note, do you guys find that headline testing is more work? Do you need additional, dedicated personnel.Joseph: No, quite the opposite. If anything, it’s sped up our work. We don’t waste time debating or arguing over headlines. Now, it’s just — go. Ally: Most importantly, Engaged Headline Testing gives us opportunities to learn about the headlines that succeed and those that doesn’t.
“Learning from the data is critical and makes our work easier, more efficient, and more effective.”
I’d say that Headline Testing saves us prophylactically from work we’d otherwise have to do.
As well, the crew answered some questions from our live-studio audience!
What is the recommended number of headlines to test?
Certainly, there is no set number. Your headline creativity should flow straight from the content, so the total number of headline variables might depend on a case-by-case basis. Generally, you should avoid subtle tweaks in the headlines to increase the number of test variants. Try to make sure that each headline variable is sufficiently distinct when running a test. For those looking for a concrete answer, in the Webinar, Ally suggested that four is the ideal number of headlines to test.To give some context, here is a graphical distribution of Bleacher Report’s headline testing numbers:
What kind of headlines yield engagement with subsequent content?
Engagement starts at a concept level. After thoroughly thinking out the concept and writing quality content, the next step in promoting audience engagement is a good headline-content fit. Flashier pieces require flashier headlines; shorter pieces require shorter headlines, etc. Travis put it best: the Engaged Time metrics on your Headline Testing display are “clickbait insurance.” Audiences don’t like to be bamboozled. So, headlines should accurately reflect the substance of the content.
Ready to get started with Chartbeat Engaged Headline Testing? Want to learn more? Get in touch.