Headline testing is what happens when editorial teams try out multiple title variations for an article to see which one performs best.
As a digital publisher, headline testing can be incredibly helpful when it comes to identifying which headlines are being clicked on and which headlines are leading to engagement with the content itself. This is especially important for online magazine publishers that want to make sure they’re putting out content with the highest-possible reader impact.
The most challenging part of headline testing is finding the time to measure the data that publishers collect. Content intelligence platforms like Chartbeat and analytics platforms like Google Analytics can both be helpful for publishers who are trying out headline testing for the very first time. Specially-designed platforms can be used to determine which headlines perform best, and display whether the value of headline testing is declining over time, as editors gain enough knowledge to intuitively know which titles to select.
Different publishers will often take their own approaches to headline optimization. At large magazines and media organizations, editorial teams will sometimes run thousands of optimization tests in a single week. Viral publishing websites like Upworthy are known to test as many as 25 headlines for each article. For smaller magazine publishers and trade publications, headline testing may be a much more simple affair, with just two or three variations tried out for each headline. The knowledge from a single test can have a huge impact on a publisher’s overall ability to develop content that engages and converts, and it isn’t necessary for publishers to run thousands of headline tests each week to generate valuable insights.
How Headline Testing Drives Value
We know that testing drives value in a few different ways. The most significant approach is a quantitative one. Headline testing can lift engagement for each article that’s tested. Editorial teams then take what they learn about the headline or title that performs best on that article and extrapolate the information to improve the headlines across their online properties.
Research from the content analytics platform Chartbeat shows that the value of headline testing increases over time and leads to a steady improvement in online engagement. The more they test and experiment, the better editors get at headline writing.
Chartbeat’s analysis also found that the average publisher drives more than 5x the engagement with testing after two years, compared to when they started. However, consistency is key. In order for engagement to continue, editors must keep testing and tracking their results over an extended period of time.
Conducting Headline Variations
At this point, you might be asking how to run a headline test. The process is easier than you might think. Start by writing an original headline (the control) and then write one or two other options (the variants). Use an A/B testing tool to split the traffic that reaches your website and display the different versions of your headline. Once a sufficient number of people have viewed your article, the A/B testing tool should be able to declare a winner.
Best Tools for Headline Testing
Dozens of cloud-based platforms have been launched in recent years specifically to help magazine publishers with headline testing. If you are thinking of launching this type of project at your magazine, consider using one of these solutions:
- Chartbeat: Content analytics and insights for digital publishers.
- Optimizely: Making headline testing simple.
- Sharethrough Headline Analyzer: How strong is your headline?
- CoSchedule Headline Analyzer: Score your headline quality and rate its ability to result in social shares, increased traffic, and SEO value.
- Answer The Public: Never run out of headline ideas.
To learn more about the strategies top magazine publishers are using to boost engagement, contact Web Publisher PRO today.