Headline Test to Success

We all know that a headline can make or break your stories, but given all the competition for reader attention, your ability to write engaging headlines is critical to your audience’s health. Audience data can help with headline writing, but at the end of the day, it’s more art than science. Metrics are there to supplement your news judgement — not replace it. By experimenting with Headline Testing, we learn more about how to connect with our audience.

Make the most of your homepage audience with Chartbeat’s Heads Up Display and Headline Testing tools. By combining your own editorial expertise with real-time performance metrics, you can maximize the effectiveness of your content, get to know your audience on a deeper level, and promote your content with headlines that you know are more likely to grab — and keep — readers’ attention.

The first step is to identify headlines you want to test. Choose the stories that will have the most impact on your readers:

Test in high-traffic areas.
Optimize the marquee areas on your site to make the best use of your time. It can be tempting to test every single headline, but time is limited, so make it count. Stick to the top of the homepage.
Fix your underperformers.
Chartbeat’s digital overlay will alert you in real time if one of your headlines isn’t performing as well as it should. That doesn’t mean the story is bad — it means you need a new headline. Perfect opportunity to test.
Spend extra time on your high-value journalism.
Getting readers to click on the mayhem stories — the bleeders, the burners, the scandals — is easy. Getting them to click on serious, investigative journalism is hard. The deeper stories need the right headline to accomplish their purpose of informing readers. We spend more time to produce these stories. Let’s give them some love after they’re published.

Once you’ve decided where to test, keep these six tips in mind to make the most out of every experiment you conduct:

Always be testing.
Since there’s no limit on how many experiments you can run at the same time with our Headline Testing tool, you always have the opportunity to learn from your audience’s behavior. Our research shows that the winning headline in a five variant experiment typically has more than a 50% higher CTR than the average headline, whereas you may only see a 23% benefit for a standard A/B test – so the more options you test, the better!
Know which audience you’re testing.
Homepage audiences are usually loyal, visit often, and know what to expect, whereas social visitors tend to be new and interested in the buzz of the moment, so it’s likely they’ll prefer different headlines – tailor your headline strategy to each nuanced audience.
Don’t stop tests prematurely.
It might be tempting to stop a test when one headline quickly takes the lead, but you’re likely to see cases where the tides shift halfway through the experiment and the initial success trails off.  
Don’t get discouraged by ties.
It’s possible that two great headlines are attracting similar levels of engagement. If you’re frequently seeing similar results, it might be that the headlines you’re testing are too similar.
Keep track of what works.
In an analysis of 100,000 headline tests and 250,000 individual headlines, we found that words like “what” and “where,” as well as numbers, quotations and superlatives (like best and worst) lead to more readership, whereas using question marks or time references can actually hurt. Interestingly, short headlines actually have a negative effect on readership of content as well, whereas notably longer headlines have no effect. Keep track of your headlines that lead to real engagement – do these findings hold true for your audience?

Check out our Headline Testing Infographic here and reach out to headlines@chartbeat.com if you’d like more information.

More in Product