Can You Double Your Clicks with the Jeopardy Effect?

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Doubles clicks on tweetsDo you want more clicks on your tweets? Or, on your marketing links in emails or ads? Or, if you are a blogger, journalist, or content writer, could you do with more traffic to your articles? A new study by researchers at the BI Norwegian Business School demonstrates that phrasing headlines in a particular way more than doubled clicks, on average.

The Jeopardy Effect

What’s the unique premise of Jeopardy, the long-running TV trivia series? The show’s odd quirk, and perhaps part of its secret to success, is that contestants must phrase their response in the form of a question. Competitors have lost when they had the correct answer but failed to offer it as a question. It turns out that there’s an important lesson there for marketers and writers, too.

The Norwegian researchers found that what is mandatory on Jeopardy also works in attracting clicks to tweets and ad headlines. Multiple experiments showed that writing headlines in question format almost always increased clicks, and sometimes boosted the click rate by as much as 3, 4, and even 5 times! On average, question headlines outperformed declarative headlines by 140 – 150%.

Effect of question tweetsIn one experiment, they posted separate headlines on Twitter using similar accounts. The post could be declarative, like:

“The hunt for status in the advertising business”

Or, it could be rewritten as a question:

“Why are advertisers so obsessed with winning prices?”

As the graph shows, in every case the question headlines drew more traffic. In some cases, traffic was multiplied many times.

Time for The Daily Double!

What worked even better than question headlines? The scientists found that making the tweets and headlines “self-referencing,” i.e., referring to the reader, provided an additional boost to the average click rates. So, one would expect,

“Are Bosses All Jerks?”

to draw more clicks than the declarative version,

“Bosses Can Be Jerks Sometimes”

but not as well as one that references the reader personally,

“Is Your Boss a Jerk?”

Should You Always Use Question Headlines?

Any approach to boosting clicks on tweets, article headlines, etc. can become less effective if overused. There are many techniques for writing catchy headlines. In the right context, lead-ins like, “The Top 10 Ways To…” or “The Common Mistake That Will…” may work better. So, don’t use questions exclusively, or any other type of headline for that matter. Rather, use question headlines where they will add some life to a topic, and if you can, further engage the reader with a “you” or “your” in the headline.

One great source of headline writing tips is Copyblogger.com, where Brian Clark and his team have assembled some of their best tips into an e-book, How to Write Magnetic Headlines. Or, if you prefer to graze the Copyblogger site, try this Google search. That search yielded 822 results, and the first page alone is packed with relevant articles. Making question headlines just part of a mix of other effective headline styles will keep them fresh and effective.

Back to Jeopardy

So, when you say, “I’ll take ‘Traffic Boosters’ for $800, Alex!” and the clue shown in the image flashes on the board, what will you do?

You’ll respond, in best Jeopardy style, “What are question headlines?”

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32 Comments

  1. Aristeidis Kypriotis says

    The first question that popos to my mind is whether you should be using question-form on all your tweets/headlines/etc. or just on a select few content units (be it articles, tweets, ad descriptions, and so on)?

    1. Roger Dooley
      Twitter: rogerdooley
      says

      Any technique will become less effective if it’s overused, Aristeides. I suggest using the approach from time to time, but also using proven headlines like Top Ten lists, Ultimate Guides, scary headlines, etc.

      Roger

  2. [email protected] says

    Why didn’t I think of this first?

  3. Jose Luis Cruz says

    Great post Roger. Your tips involve certain brain areas so together they will make the user engage a whole lot more (open links, like, share, comment, etc). Thank you

  4. Juan says

    The key is not in the question mark but in the content of the headline. I’ll follow the link with the question to find an answer, the other gave it away in the headline itself.
    Curiosity is what drive us around the web, isn’t? This is just an exploit on that, a particularly harmful one imho.
    Luckily, I trust we’ll all learn to avoid those headlines in no time.

    1. Roger Dooley
      Twitter: rogerdooley
      says

      Curiosity is definitely a hot button, Juan. Lately, many spammy ads have started with, “One weird trick…” I’m sure they have A/B tested and found that “weird” gets more clicks than “new” or words less likely to intrigue the reader.

      Roger

  5. Ben says

    Great post, Roger. I’ve seen this proven again and again in email subject line tests. I’ve even seen that it wins when the subject doesn’t make as much sense with the question mark (without rewriting).

    1. Roger Dooley
      Twitter: rogerdooley
      says

      Rewriting isn’t all bad. One or two of the experimental headlines were, to put it mildly, boring. A good rewrite in any format would likely have increased response. Here’s a declarative headline that is hard to resist: “Ghost ship full of cannibal rats heading to Britain” http://rgr.cc/1aNElS0

  6. Pawan says

    Good One Roger! i questioned my self regarding why i use questioing headlines in many of my posts, your valuable tips helped me. can you any traffic tips?
    Thank you

    1. Roger Dooley
      Twitter: rogerdooley
      says

      One quick tip, Pawan – spend nearly as much time writing the headline as you spend on the blog post, email, etc. That headline will be the key factor in determining whether people ever read what you wrote.

      1. Pawan says

        Okie Roger! Thanks for your valuable suggestion and can you tell me how to improve my blog rank? Or you can suggest any article for me. My blog is regarding tech http://www.gadgetzbu.Net

  7. Three Ladders Marketing says

    This is so true. We’ve seen asking questions specific to the user work really well in paid search as a headline, but it also works extremely well with your email subject lines. The edgier the better when it comes to questions, depending on your audience, you may want to remain classy.

  8. CharlesBiggs says

    Very nice read, and something I’m eager to test. I have to agree with Roger Dooley up above that any such technique/tactic can [and will] lose it’s effect if/when overused. And we all know how marketers like to ride some techniques until the wheels fall off, or on a more cynical note, damn near into the ground.

    Recently, personally myself, I’ve noticed a trend where I’ve developed a kind of “Tweet headline blindness” not unlike banner blindness, especially for folks that constantly seem to post in the same “style”. I just find myself not clicking through, even though intuition and history tells me that the info on the other might be really useful, and it usually is! Funny that huh? I figure hey if I really need that info, then I will find find my way round to it in due course.

    Nice read!

  9. What makes you click? | Peter Fletcher

    […] Clearly throwing in a question, especially one that is self-referential for the reader, is a smart move. But according to Neuromarketing, too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing. […]

  10. Tatiana Essomeyo says

    Very interesting read, but how could we distinguish the effect from cognitive feeling and impulsive or primitive action such as clicking on an advertisement for winning money or another about secret dating ?

    1. Roger Dooley
      Twitter: rogerdooley
      says

      Tatiana,
      Decisions, including whether to click a link, are often a mix of non-conscious emotions and rational cognition. In general, appealing to both is the best approach.

  11. What Is the Secret for High CTR? Why Is February A Bargain Time for Developers? What to do When Your App is Out of Beta? And More! | Pandapepper

    […] Source Do you want more clicks on your tweets? Or, on your marketing links in emails or ads? Or, if you are a blogger, journalist, or content writer, could you do with more traffic to your articles? A new study by researchers at the BI Norwegian Business School demonstrates that phrasing headlines in a particular way more than doubled clicks, on average. […]

  12. Muhammad Fayyaz says

    Thanks Roger for sharing a valuable article. I absolutely agree with you and I have also noticed while running FB ads that headings with questions always yield higher CTR

  13. Jacob van der Schaaf says

    Is the how to question receiving the same results? 2-5 times more results are great. Tank you for this article!

    1. Roger Dooley
      Twitter: rogerdooley
      says

      Can you say that in the form of a question, Wouter? 🙂 Good luck!

  14. Victoria says

    Hello Roger – I’ve referenced your work here on my blog – http://bit.ly/29Be5Tg – about content being like our pets. I hope that’s alright – I’ve fully credited this page.

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