A fascinating study conducted by Outbrain, shows that contrary to what we may imagine to be true positive superlatives do not bring in the clicks and shares, negative ones pack a far more powerful punch.
Drawing analysis from an impressive list of 65,000 paid link titles within Outbrain’s network they measured the impact of superlative use on engagement (click-through rate).
When compared with headlines that contained neither positive nor negative superlatives, headlines with positive superlatives (“always”, “best”) performed 29% worse while headlines with negative superlatives (“worst” “never”) performed 30% better. The average click-through rate on headlines with negative superlatives was a massive 63% higher than those with positive.
Well the likelihood is positive superlatives have become clichéd and overused, similar to when you say a word too many times and it loses all meaning. Alternatively negative superlatives are just more unexpected and intriguing. Using words such as “stop” and “avoid” are successful as people want to find out if they should stop doing something that they’re already doing.
For example, an article entitled ‘5 things you can do to help you live longer’, you might read if you have a spare moment, but an article entitled ‘5 things you should stop doing to help you live longer’ will draw you in so you can stop doing that thing that’s obviously going to cause imminent death.
The other option of course is that, we’re just a bunch of misery guts and pessimists.
A study from Startup Moon, analysing the headlines of 100 tech blogs discovered that using words such as kill, dead and fear also encouraged more social shares. For example,
‘Google shuts down Google reader’ vs Google kills Google reader’.
The latter is far more likely to get more shares.
A bit of good news, the study also found that we don’t only want to be told what not to do or threatened with frightening verbs – we also want to learn. Easily.
Headlines that give the promise of teaching us something new, in an easy way or from scratch are also more likely to go viral.
Writing a good headline is no easy feat, nor is making your content viral so if you have nothing nice to say, say something negative.