New Study Finds that Including Negative Terms in Headlines Drives More Clicks


Author: Benny Fragomeli

Keyword Research

According to a new study, which analyzed over 105k variations of story headlines. Stories with more negative terms in the headline drive more clicks, that those with positive terms which decreased engagement by users.

The study analyzed headline variations within posts, in order to get more insight into how changing the terminology of the headlines alone can impact click-through rates (CTR).

“Although positive words were slightly more prevalent than negative words, we found that negative words in news headlines increased user intrest and positive words decreased the time spend within web content. For a headline of average length, each additional negative word increased the click-through rate to 2.3%.”

The study used keyword analysis to detect negative terms in this headlines, with words like harm, troubling, heartbroken, ugly, and angry in the negative term.

The addition of these negative terms correlated with an increase in website clicks, while the use of positive terms - including benefit, laughed, pretty, favorite, and kind - had the opposite effect.

Which is not overly surprising. It doesn’t take a genius to see that divisive, argumentative takes generate more engagement, and with social platforms looking to incentivize more time spent in their apps, that engagement then tells their respective algorithms that this story is interesting, which then sees it distributed to more users, getting more reach and exposure.

With online sources increasingly becoming the news and entertainment providers. Using raw engagement data user interest has been a toxin that’s poisoned online discourse over time.

But algorithms of course, are not able to identify context – they’re binary systems that can only determine whether each post is generating likes, comments and shares. Various proposals have been put forward on how to better incentivize more positive online behaviors, but thus far under pressure from shareholders and the need to demonstrate growth no platform has been able to action such effectively.

Which means that content with argumentmentive and anger wins out.

“Negative information may be more ‘sticky’ in our brains people weigh negative information more heavily than positive information. This may be due to negative information automatically activating threat responses in the brain.

The bottom line finding is that a larger proportion of negative words in your headlines will increase the likelihood of users clicking through on your posts.

“A one standard deviation larger proportion of negative words increases the odds of a user clicking the headline by 1.5%. For example; for a headline of average length (14.965 words), this implies that for each negative word, the CTR increases by 2.3%. Compare this is to the coefficient for positive words is negative (???? = −0.008, SE = 0.001, z = −9.238, P < 0.001, 99% CI = (−0.010, −0.006)), implying that a larger proportion of positive words results in fewer clicks.”

It’s a bit sad to see what responses drives clicks. Many news organizations now seem to approach every news story with the worst possible take, in the hopes of sparking argument and discussion, which will inevitably get them more traffic.

In either case, for marketers or ecommerce sellers looking to get found in search, focusing on the negative in your posts could have a positive impact on improving your sites seo.

About the author:

Benny has decades of experience in web development, ecommerce, internet marketing and credit card processing. Benny started his career in computer programming in the early 90's and moved into affiliate marketing in 1999, becoming Capital One Banks first internet affiliate and quickly became one of their top super affiliates. As an affiliate he promoted everything from financial service to all kinds of products in his online mall. He later started a successfully ecommerce business selling high ticket fitness products. By selling high ticket products it quickly became apparent that the fees taken by credit card processors were excessive, which lead him to start his own credit card processing business. This allowed him to sign himself up for the lowest rates for credit card processing. He also created a website/blog dedicated to credit card processing news and information to help other business owners. As an internet marketer he has been involved in many internet related subjects, such as managing large advertising accounts with ad networks like Google Ads, Microsoft Ad Center and more. From the beginning he has always created his own websites and therefore has extensive knowledge with html and css. He is currently with MobiFirst as a team leader and is developing websites for MobiFirst as well as templates for the MobiFirst platforms.

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