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Clickbait headlines hurt clickthrough rate, report for content marketers suggests

A report for content marketers on how to write better headlines suggests that clickbait titles that lure the reader with superlatives and hyperbole only succeed in lowering the likelihood that a reader will click on the article.

Research by content discovery platform Outbrain and marketing software firm HubSpot suggests from a study of 3.3 million paid link English language headlines that words that promise quick-fix solutions, are pushy and stress urgency also turn readers off.

Headlines with the words “easy,” “always,” “best,” “how to,” “cure” and “free” all have the tendency to decrease clickthrough rate.

Outbrain study on headlines

Words that decrease clickthrough rate. Source: Outbrain, October 2013 to September 2014

The words “simple,” “tip,” “trick,” “amazing” and “secret” when used in headlines also tend to reduce clickthrough, the study that spanned 12 months to September 2014 found.

Making a direct reference to the reader by using the words “you,” “your,” or “you’re” also has an adverse effect on clickthrough.

So does implying urgency by using the words “need” and “now”.

The worst performing words are those that gives instructions – “tip” – or offer rewards – “credit” and “cure”.

“Once a certain kind of headline becomes popular among clickbaiters, readers no longer trust the keywords in that headline,” the report argues. “Readers have spam filters too.”

Marketers should focus on the “who and not the why” in their headlines, the report reads.

Effect on clickthrough rateTitles that included the word “who” generated a 22 per cent higher clickthrough than those without the word. Headlines that used the word “why” prompted 37 per cent fewer clicks.

The headlines that are more likely to increase traffic include the use of bracketed clarifications that tell the reader what sort of content to expect, for instance slideshare, video or infographic.

Views per bracket type

Headlines with brackets perform 38 per cent better than those without.

“Readers are more likely to click when they have a clear picture of what lies behind the headline,” the report titled Data driven strategies for writing effective headlines reads.

The headlines that work the best are “moderate” in length – 81 to 100 characters, less than a tweet.

Length of headline

In terms of engagement, while the word “amazing” decreased clickthrough, those who clicked on the headline stuck around for longer.

Clickthrough Vs engagement

But “amazing” was the only word among those that led to a fall in clickthrough that led to an increase in page views per session.

Clickthrough Vs engagement

Negative superlatives also lowered engagement. “Worst” and “never” decreased page views per session by 59 per cent.

The word in headlines that most persuades the reader to take action is “need” – a word that results in a fall in clickthrough rate and page views per session but an increase in conversion rate.

Headlines that prompt action

“In this era of clickbait, it’s more important than ever to write a headline that delivers on its promise,” the report reads. “At the most basic level, you want the reader to have a good experience with your brand. When she clicks on a link, you’ve got to be sure she’s getting what she expected and not being duped in some sort of digital shell-game. Once you lose that trust, it’s gone.”

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