Boost Clicks with Simple Headlines, Study Suggests

  • June 12, 2024
  • SEO
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A recent study has revealed that readers have a preference for simple and straightforward headlines over those that are complex.

The research, conducted by experts Hillary C. Shulman, David M. Markowitz, and Todd Rogers, entailed over 30,000 experiments with notable publications such as The Washington Post and Upworthy.

The findings indicate that readers are more inclined to click on and read headlines composed of commonly used and easily understood words.

This study, published in Science Advances, underscores the natural human preference for simplicity in written communication.

In today’s crowded online landscape, using straightforward language in headlines can significantly enhance reader engagement.

Field Experiments and Findings

From March 2021 through December 2022, researchers conducted nearly 9,000 tests encompassing over 24,000 headlines. The data gathered from The Washington Post demonstrated that headlines with simpler wording had higher click-through rates.

The study concluded that headlines written with more common words, simpler styles, and enhanced readability led to increased reader interaction.

Below is a screenshot that illustrates examples of headline tests conducted by The Washington Post.

Screenshot from: science.org, June 2024.

A subsequent experiment delved deeper into the ways people process news headlines. This used a signal detection task (SDT) to demonstrate that readers are more attentive to simpler headlines when they are presented alongside more complex ones.

These findings suggest that readers engage less deeply with complex writing, reinforcing the notion that simpler writing can be instrumental in enhancing audience engagement, even with complex subject matter.

Professional Writers vs. General Readers

The study highlighted a notable difference in preference between professional writers and general readers. A separate survey indicated that journalists did not favor simpler headlines.

This is crucial as it suggests that journalists might need to better grasp how their audiences perceive and interact with the headlines they create.

Implications For Publishers

In the relentlessly competitive sphere for reader attention, employing simpler headline language could provide an edge. Simplifying writing enhances the accessibility and engagement of content, even if the underlying article is complex.

The significance of this is underscored by examining audience data from The Washington Post between March 2021 and December 2022. They averaged roughly 70 million unique digital visitors per month. A minute increase in click-through rates (e.g., from 2.0% to 2.1%) could result in 200,000 additional readers engaging with the stories due to more straightforward language.

See also: Title Tag Optimization: A Complete How-to Guide

Why SEJ Cares

Google’s recurrent advice to websites has been to generate the best possible content for readers. This study provides evidence of what readers want from websites.

Although writers and journalists might prefer more intricate language, readers are more attracted to simpler, more straightforward headlines.

How This Can Help You

Adopting simpler headlines can enhance the number of people who click on and read your articles. The study exhibits that even a slight increase in click-through rates equates to more readership.

Simple headlines also render your content more accessible to a broader audience, including those who might not be familiar with intricate terminology or jargon.

To implement this effectively, experiment with different headline styles and analyze the resultant data to determine what resonates best with your audience.


Featured Image: marekuliasz/Shutterstock

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