Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Headlines and Readers

The Times has been running an  experiment in which they post the same article with two different headlines and randomly give one or the other to each visitor to its web site:
And so, for a short while on March 15, one reader might have seen this:

$2 Billion Worth of Free Media for Trump

While another saw this:

Measuring Trump’s Media Dominance

Any guesses on which won the test, and by how much?

The top one got nearly three times as many readers, which underlines the crucial role of headlines in the digital age.

A story might be 1,000 words long, but tweaking the tiny handful of words that promoted this one on our home page gave us 297 percent more readers.

In other cases, headline tests have increased readership by an order of magnitude.

When this:

Soul-Searching in Baltimore, a Year After Freddie Gray’s Death

was paired against this:

Baltimore After Freddie Gray: The ‘Mind-Set Has Changed’

The test showed a 1,677 percent increase in readership for the second one. . . .

Can you tell which of the headlines below resulted in a tenfold increase in readers?

Is Everything Wrestling?

It’s Not Just Wrestling That’s Fake. It’s the World.

It was the conversational two-sentence version, with “fake.”
The article is here, but you may find it paywalled.

It has occurred to me that I might be able to get more readers by tweaking the titles of my posts, but between laziness and a snobbish disdain for clickbaiting I haven't bothered.


Thomas said...

All snark aside.

For a site like yours, the trick is search engine optimization (SEO,) not clickbait headlines. Clickbait headlines are for sites with wide viewership that want people to stick around or share their links. For blogs, the best thing to do is try to use words that get you near the top of more Google searches. What terms are people Googling that might lead your target audience to your site?

You'll still want some clickbait in the title, but more important will be where your articles show up when normal people search for the topics you cover.

If you had thousands of readers who come to your page regularly, headlines can change which articles they read and share on Facebook or Twitter, which can have a snowball effect, but to get to those thousand, you want to apply SEO techniques.

There are whole websites whose business model is based on SEO. They want to get to the top of search results, and they have a lot of knowledge about how to do so. This is why changes in Google's algorithms can really mess with businesses like TripAdvisor.

G. Verloren said...

"The top one got nearly three times as many readers"

"tweaking the tiny handful of words that promoted this one on our home page gave us 297 percent more readers."

It seems The Times isn't very good with math. Having 297% more readers would mean 397% total, which is nearly four times the readers.

They probably meant "297 percent as many readers".

leif said...

i'm convinced that most media outlets staff reporters who are not only innumerate but it appears increasingly unable to spellcheck and grammar-check their work. i recently sent an e-mail to a local reporter who had an otherwise useful story on expansion of local internet coverage. the reporter it was clear had no idea what the difference was between a megabit and a megabyte, didn't know that power is not a measure of throughput, and several other core errors. he graciously replied and thanked me for helping him clear up the misconceptions, which was nice, but still, what's published is out for all to see and learn (incorrectly) from. even staff reporters for science daily and physorg routinely oversimplify and harm the content they're presenting.

has it always been like this?