New research, published in the journal Social Influence, has found that question headlines are significantly more effective than declarative headlines in generating readership. The study, "What makes you click? The effect of question headlines on readership in computer-mediated communication" by Linda Lai and Audun Farbrot of the Norwegian Business School, Oslo, looked at the impact of question headlines in computer-mediated communications.
Not only were question headlines more effective than declarative headlines, self-referencing questions (such as those including "you" or "your") were also found to generate higher readership than those without self-referencing cues.
The use of question headlines has often been recommended by marketers to enhance readership of both print and online communications. However, there has been little research into how effective the use of such headlines is in increasing readership in computer-mediated communications.
The researchers conducted two experiments, one on Twitter and one on FINN™, a Norwegian shopping website similar to eBay™. Over four months, a series of question headline and statement headline news stories were posted on a Twitter account with over 6,000 followers. Tweets were normalised to avoid bias towards more interesting topics, repeated exposure, and time of posting. Examples of two headlines on the same topic are: "Power corrupts" (control condition) and "Is your boss intoxicated by power?" (question headline with self-referencing cues).The FINN™ experiment used ads for four different consumer products posted over four weeks, using a random rotation of nonquestion headlines (control condition), question headlines with and without self-referencing cutes, and rhetorical question headlines. Readership was measured using the number of clicks to the ads.
The results from the experiments showed a clear link between question headlines and higher readership, with self-referencing cues increasing the effectiveness of the questions. Question headlines without self-referencing cues gained on average 150% more clicks, and question headlines with self-referencing cues on average gained 175% more clicks.
This research highlights the benefit of using question headlines as part of an electronic communication strategy and presents opportunities for further research into their use in computer-mediated communications.
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