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Increase CTR With These 8 Scientifically Proven Headline Tips

Companies like Outbrain have done a huge amount of research into what headlines can increase CTR (click through rates) the most. This means that marketers, as well as small business owners, now have an invaluable insight into how people behave online, as well as what steps we can take to ensure that our content reaches more people.

A little over a decade ago, it would have been hard to get this kind of information and insight without spending £1000s on market research. However, these days anyone with a little know-how and an internet connection can find out exactly how people behave when surfing the web.

Here are 8 actionable headline tips you can use today to increase CTR (click through rates) for your online content, pay-per-click adverts or SEO titles.

1. Use Questions

A Norwegian Study recently showed that headlines that posed questions increased click through rates by as much as 5 times, with an average increase of 150%.

Psychologists think that questions prompt more interaction as they compel the inquisitive part of our brains to find out more. As humans, we are all hard-wired to acquire more knowledge and answer questions.

This is great, as without this impulse we’d probably still all be sat in caves wearing loincloths. Thanks to our collective thirst for knowledge, not only do you not need to catch your dinner with a point stick tonight, but you can also exploit this innate need to learn by including questions in your headlines, like Copyblogger does with these examples

Could This Headline Technique Double Your Click-Throughs Too?

I Hated This Headline…So Why Did It Work?

2. Don’t Include Brand Names In Headlines

headline tips

Studies show that mentioning brand names or crediting companies in headlines actually decreases the click through rate of headlines.

This may sound counter-intuitive to any small business owner who is familiar with content marketing, after all isn’t the whole point to increase brand awareness? Unfortunately, after being barraged by spammy online ads masquerading as “content” for years, most web users have developed something of a sixth sense for these kinds of ads. To many people, including your brand name in your content is a pretty good indicator that it might be an ad, and as a result it will immediately make potential readers suspicious.

3. Think Negative

headline tips

When writing headlines, it pays to look on the downside. Words like “Never”, “Terrible” and “worst” increase CTRs by up to 30%, whereas positive words actually decrease clicks by around 30%!

So, next time you’re in a terrible, curmudgeonly mood, break out the notepad and start scribbling down some headlines!

Here are some great examples of negative headlines:

Why Your Online Content Needs To Be More Like Terrible Journalism

The Biggest Disasters in the History of Marketing

5 Obstacles That Prevent Career Success and How To Overcome Them

4. The Chinese Are Right: 8 Is the Lucky Number

headline tips

In Chinese culture the number 8 is considered extremely lucky. This is because the Chinese word for eight, sounds very similar to the word for wealth (pictured). Superstitions are so strong that the Beijing Olympics began on the 8/8/08 at 8 sections and 8 minutes past 8pm, whilst the recent asking price for a license plate reading “A88888” was a whopping £108,713!

Trivia lessons aside, it turns out that headlines consisting of exactly 8 words increased CTR by an average of 21%! So it looks like the Chinese are onto something, at least in terms of compelling headlines.

5. Write Longer Headlines

“What?!” I can hear you saying, “But you just said…”

Yes, I did just tell you that titles with 8 words performed much better than longer headlines; however, research has also shown that long headlines, of around 120 characters, actually boost the number of shares on social media.

Therefore, if you’re focusing on sharing your content across social media platforms, write your tweets/statuses accordingly.

6. Know The Power Of Multi-Media

Images, infographics and videos are the most widely shared and highly viewed content online. Often, infographics and images can condense big ideas into an easily digestible format, being at once a quicker and more entertaining way of delivering information, compared to the written word.

Therefore, if your content does include videos or infographics, be sure to explicitly say this in the title, so that readers know straightaway and will be more inclined to click through to your content.

7. Make Them an Offer They Can’t Refuse

headline tips
©Paramount Pictures

The content you produce should be truly valuable to your target audience. Great content teaches, improves and inspires your readers, so why not let them know what they have in store for themselves in your headlines? By telling your reader how they can specifically benefit from your content, they’re much more likely to click through and read it.

Some good examples include

How to Lose 20 lbs of Fat in 30 Days… Without Doing Any Exercise

16 useful social media metrics your CEO will love.

8. The Importance of Trial and Error

headline tips

Marketing is all about trying, failing, learning and then trying again. Marketing rarely improves in overnight leaps and bounds, but rather in small, incremental steps. Similarly, learning how to write headlines which compel potential readers to click through to your content is a process of trial and error.

In order to improve, it is important that you keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Pay attention to headlines that do particularly well, and particularly poorly, and try to identify what it is about those headlines which worked/didn’t work and try and use that knowledge when you write your next headline.

Many content marketers swear by A/B testing too, which is a great way to get an idea of what will work for your readers and what won’t. A/B testing is essentially setting up a controlled experiment where you can compare and measure how people react to one thing compared to another. For example, many web designers use A/B testing to see how people behave on differently designed versions of the same website. You can find out more about A/B testing and get a number of great free A/B testing resources here

So there you have it, 8 tried and tested things you can add to your headlines right now to increase CTRs of your online content. Be sure to let us know which techniques proved effective for you in our comments section below.


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  1. Ryan Biddulph says


    Super! Longer headlines, questions and #8 – or higher – work so well for me. We spot patterns and stick to them and prosper or fail. Follow the patterns, no need to re-invent and of course, build your blog like a pro.

    Thanks for sharing!

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