Why a 79-character headline like this one delivers surprisingly better click-through rates

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According to Chartbeat, brevity is no longer the soul of wit. In a recent report, the web analytics company revealed a key finding from 10,000 headline tests: those with 73 characters or more outperformed those with 32 characters or less.

As part of Chartbeat’s exhaustive testing, they were actually able to determine the efficacy of 12 types of headlines:

  • Is a question
  • Has a number
  • Has adjectives (unbelievable, effortlessly)
  • Has question words (who, what, where, why)
  • Has demonstrative adjectives (this, these, that, those)
  • Has articles (a, an, the)
  • Is in the 90th percentile of length (73 characters or greater)
  • Is in the 10th percentile of length (32 characters or fewer)
  • Contains the name of a person
  • Contains any named entity (person, place, organization)
  • Has positive superlatives (best, always)
  • Has negative superlatives (worst, never)

If you’re a regular reader of OneSpot’s blog, you’ll remember we made a case for some of these headlines — numbers and superlatives — in last week’s 4 Clickworthy Headline Tricks We Learned From Top Journalists. How’d they fare?

Differentiator Click-through rate
Demonstrative Adjective 0.802
Long Headline 0.792
Number 0.778
Positive Superlative 0.773
Adjective 0.771
Named Person 0.770
Named Entity 0.768
Short Headline 0.765
Negative Superlative 0.763
Question Mark 0.756
Question Word 0.753
Articles 0.742

It’s certainly no accident that the performance of longer headlines correlates with the optimal headline lengths for social media. While research conducted by Buffer shows the ideal length for Facebook is around 40 characters (80 characters comes in at #2), Twitter and LinkedIn are more on trend at 71 – 100 characters and 80 – 120 characters.

The only obstacle to capitalizing on longer headlines ends up being search engine result pages. For Google and Bing, the recommended max is about 55 characters. There’s an easy way around this though. If you’re using a WordPress plug-in like Yoast, you can prune the headline that appears in search results.

Now there’s one thing we haven’t touched on yet: the use of demonstrative adjectives, Chartbeat’s #1 performer. Words like “this” and “these” have been behind the meteoric rise of publishers like BuzzFeed. Use them. They can give your strongest stories an extra boost — or help propel weaker stories that need a CTR nudge.

So go ahead, tell your writing team to go long. And while they’re at it, have them include a few of Chartbeat’s most clickable elements for even greater impact.

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