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Can solution-focused headlines increase reader engagement?

by: Nancy Yoshihara |

Headlines on stories that emphasize responses to social problems experience more clicks than non-solution headlines “but the difference is modest,” according to a new report from the Engaging News Project.

Solution headlines attracted page views 56 percent of the time, compared to 40 percent for the non-solutions headlines. The two tied 4 percent of the time, according to the study funded by Solutions Journalism Network and the Engaging News Project.

The research involved tests of 50 pairs of headlines in The Huffington Post. A solution-focused headline or a non-solution headline was placed randomly on the HuffPost home page. Both headlines linked to the same article that included information about a problem and a possible solution. The tests, conducted between March 2015 and January 2016, involved different stories.

“The 50 A/B tests conducted by The Huffington Post demonstrate that solutions headlines do not always outperform non-solutions headlines. Looking across all of the tests, however, solution headlines do tend to modestly boost clicks,” write Alex Curry and Natalie Jomini Stroud, authors of the report.

Other factors that affected the number of clicks were analyzed in a survey-based experiment with 1,034 U.S. adults. “In this study, participants were shown a list of headlines and asked to pick which story they would most like to read. Each headline list contained a solution headline, manipulated to contain different attributes, and three unrelated headlines. This study allowed us to analyze what attributes of solutions headlines heighten or diminish user interest.”

The research tested four attributes demonstrating that:

  1. Including a “mysterious” unnamed location or group in a headline can increase the click-through rate (e.g. “This City Has a Solution to Poverty”).
  2. Adding the word “simple” can affect headline clicks, but does not do so consistently (e.g. “A Simple Way to Address Climate Change”).
  3. Tacking solutions-oriented information or an action item onto a headline does not significantly affect the click-through rate (e.g. “This is a Problem. Here’s How to Help”).
  4. Adding the word “you” does not significantly influence the click-through rate (e.g. “Here’s How You Can Help Save the Rainforests”).

Nancy Yoshihara

Nancy Yoshihara is content manager at KDMC and its website with a focus on News for Digital Innovators and Tools, Tips
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