By Kelly Reeves published June 3, 2011

5 Tips to Improve Your Headline Click-through Rate

A well-crafted headline is the key to whether readers click through to your article. After spending so much time planning and creating content, it would be a shame for readers to miss out on your great content because your headline didn’t catch their eye.

To learn more about what makes readers actually click through, Outbrain, a content discovery platform serving content recommendations on top publisher sites, looked through data on 150,000 article headlines or titles that were recommended across our platform. The purpose of this research was to offer content publishers and marketers insight into headline characteristics that get the desired click-through. Here are our findings.

Length matters

A title with eight words performed best. These titles received a 21% higher click-through rate than average.

Pics get clicks

Outbrain’s data analysis showed readers are attracted to content with images. Thumbnails worked better than logos and increased click-through rates by 27%.

Lists with a twist

Lists and photo galleries typically drive more page views, but they get more click-thorughs as well. Headlines that contained odd numbers had a 20% higher click-through rate than headlines with even numbers.

Going deeper

A colon or hyphen in the title — indicating a subtitle — performed 9% better than headlines without.

Questions work

Titles that ended  with a question mark had a higher click-through rate than those that ended with exclamation marks or periods. If you really feel the urge to use an exclamation mark, our studies have shown that three (!!!) received almost twice as many clicks as all other punctuation marks.

I hope these simple tweaks will help your headlines really click with your readers. After all, they worked on you didn’t it? (Odd number…eight words… sound familiar?)

What are your thoughts? Tell us what types of headlines grab your attention and why?

Author: Kelly Reeves

Kelly Reeves is a senior marketing manager at Outbrain (a CMI benefactor), a content discovery platform that provides publishers a service for recommended links to increase traffic and generate revenue, and marketers a way to their distribute content alongside publisher's own editorial recommendations. She is the editor of the Outbrain blog and tweets at @outbrain and @kellyreeves.

Other posts by Kelly Reeves

  • http://www.acSellerant.com Bob Leonard

    I just published a blog post. Going back to redo the headline. Thanks!

  • http://ricksaia.blogspot.com/ Rick Saia

    I’ve always found that “How to” headlines and “X Tips … ” tend to draw a lot of clicks. I also like the headline that ends in a question mark for its ability to provoke thought, or at least to find an answer inside. Nice list!

  • http://twitter.com/ConnectinCloud TMCnet OCs

    I like ones that say “Learn How to Do X” or ones with time frames, like “in just 10 days you can…”

  • http://bestessay4u.com/ Custom essay

    Interesting post. Thanks.

  • http://ifelicious.pip.verisignlabs.com/ ifelicious

    these are some interesting stats about article titles. us writers are always trying to find a clever way to draw people in so i’ll keep this handy going forward. thanks for sharing!

  • http://twitter.com/brencournoyer Brendan Cournoyer

    Interesting stats, but I think it might help if the article went deeper into what they actually mean. Do titles with 8 words perform better because they have 8 words, or because they are generally more descriptive of the content than shorter titles? I’d say the latter. Do titles with hyphens/colons do well because they are a good tactic for placing keywords by the front of the headline, which is good both for catching the reader’s eye as well as SEO? Also likely.

    Is there a link to the actual study where we can see the types of articles that were included and how they were found? That might shed some more light on what the #s mean. But professional publishing shouldn’t be simply about using  tricks to improve click-thru rates, the point is to write clever, well–optimized and descriptive headlines.

    • http://www.optiem.com/Services/Media/Social%20Media%20Marketing.aspx Grace @ Cleveland Social Media

      I think you make a good point here, Brendan.  First and foremost it’s essential that content marketers optimize their headlines and accurately represent an article’s subject matter.  But like most areas of internet marketing, I think the most effective pieces of content marketing  integrate user insight, SEO strategies, compelling content and, perhaps most importantly, trial and error. If these five headline tips are supposed to increase customer click through rates, why not try them out?   

  • http://outbrain.com Lisa LaCour

    Hi Brendan,

    Thanks for your feedback. Outbrain serves over 21 billion links to content every month so we have a lot of data on what people will click on. What Kelly outlined is just the hard data that we see in our system. We can spend hours debating why people do what they do but there are so many variables that go into this. I agree that titles with 8 words may perform better because they are more descriptive, but that would only be a guess. We just wanted to share some of our data with you guys to help improve engagement on your content links.

    The most important thing is to write great content that your audience wants to engage in and make sure your headlines are descriptive enough so that people understand the content behind them.

  • http://twitter.com/MadelineHere madeline gutierrez

    As a Content Marketer I can really appreciate an this article.  Intuitively or through self education (such as lots of reading in places like this), I know everything stated here is true.

    But then there’s the “boss” to sell on why use a certain title. How often has it been suggested to me “to take the ‘number’ out”?

    Articles like this are easily digestible, and not over long or overwhelming. This makes a great tool to gently educate others.

    Madeline Gutierrez
    http://www.180DegreesStudio.com

  • http://twitter.com/WesleyPicotte Wesley Picotte

    This is interesting data. I think it needs more context to suffice as boilerplate recommendations for marketers/writers as they optimize their content marketing efforts, but it’s an  insightful foundation for  experimentation. 

    I agree with Brendan that further extrapolation makes sense for this information. For example, that eight is an optimal number of words in a headline seems to indicate that headline specificity drives click-through. And, the use of lists indicates simplicity, an easy read, a quick win…but I’m hard pressed to understand odd over even…human nature, I guess.

    I’d love to better understand the impact of images. You mention thumbnail images vs. logos as more effective, which makes sense – but the images themselves, are they consistent to the blog’s brand? You can’t determine this when viewing a headline in a feed or tweet, but if you’re accustomed to seeing a particular blog’s postings in your feeds/streams, etc., use of images with a consistent aesthetic may help build credibility, which in turn would help build a better response rate. 

    I know this is a list post of hard numbers, short and sweet, so perhaps take as a suggestion that deeper analysis on the use of images and some of the other data presented here would be really valuable!  

  • http://www.cinegif.com Frank

    Another good tip to increase click-through rates: use instant-open, instant play video in your email marketing, internet ads, text messages, smart phone/mobile device marketing efforts…and NO, I’m NOT talking about jerky, crude animated gifs – check out the high frame rate, sharp, true embedded video at http://www.cinegif.com !!!

  • http://www.webmaxformance.com Igor Mateski

    Hey… this was a good read, again. Well done!
    The 8 word title, great tip. Using subhead style, great tip too. I usually do a subhead, although never counted the words, but titles are pretty descriptive, although not in a question form.
    Is there a study that says how many bullets work best? I usually stick with three, but it’s too cliche.

  • http://www.reallyeasycart.co.uk Ecommerce

    A numerical data look more reliable since they are computed and based from gathered data. I think the data gathered are really reliable. I hope this is very applicable in other circumstances too in clicking links.

  • http://www.informalgadget.com informalgadget.com

    Wow great info!!! Ill refer to these tips when writing my next article, thanks.

  • Fernando

    Cool Information, THANKS!!! From México…