Could This Headline Technique Double Your Click-Throughs Too?

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It was a slow morning in my feedly folder for content marketing.

My eyes skimmed headline after headline. There was nary a flinch from my oft-twitchy index finger indicating it was itching to click and read more.

Until I came across this headline:

Can You Double Your Clicks with the Jeopardy Effect?

I wiped the flash flood of drool away from the side of my mouth and clicked.

What is it about this headline that makes it so dadgum irresistible?

A promise you can’t resist

Mafia dons make offers that cannot be refused. Headline-writing dons make promises that cannot be resisted.

With this headline, Don Roger Dooley has done exactly that.

Dooley’s audience at Neuromarketing consists of folks like you and me: people who study marketing and seek every possible way to improve the connection between our messages and our audience.

Doubling clicks would certainly show an improved connection between message and audience. So making that promise in the headline is going to turn many headline skimmers into headline clickers.

But … the headline doesn’t actually promise anything

If you want to get technical, I suppose it doesn’t. The headline doesn’t come right out and say “Here’s How to Double Clicks.”

In fact, it poses its “promise” in the form of a question: “Can You Double Your Clicks with …”

All that is really being promised here is that we’ll find out if this so-called “Jeopardy Effect” (more on it in a minute) will double our clicks.

And the answer could very well be … no.

In which case all the post has done is provide one of six billion methods available for not doubling clicks. (Another: “Can You Double Your Clicks by Tapping Your Head and Rubbing Your Belly Simultaneously when You Hit Publish?”)

So it could be argued that framing the headline in the form of a question actually weakens the promise, which should theoretically make the headline weaker and less clickable … right?

Not if we listen to the data — which we, of course, should.

Score one for the Jeopardy Effect

It turns out that phrasing headlines in the form of a question — as contestants must do with their responses on Jeopardy — does indeed increase click-through rates. In fact it more than doubles them, on average.

Dooley cites a study by Norwegian researches Linda Laia and Audun Farbrotb as evidence.

And I’m not breaking new ground here at Copyblogger discussing this.

Brian Clark has referenced seasoned copywriter Bob Bly in making this point before. As Brian explains, Bly lists question headlines among “eight time-tested headline categories that compel action and rake in sales” in The Copywriter’s Handbook.

Also:

A Question Headline must do more than simply ask a question, it must be a question that, according to Bly, the reader can empathize with or would like to see answered.

So even though today’s example — “Can You Double Your Clicks with the Jeopardy Effect? — may seem like it lessens the strength of the promise or benefit, the psychological impact of the self-referential question format draws us in and stokes a desire in us to find out the answer.

Note that part I slipped in there about it being self-referential. That’s important.

Straight from the Laia and Fabrotb study: ” … question headlines with self-referencing cues are particularly effective and generate higher readership than question headlines without self-referencing cues and rhetorical question headlines.”

Plus, it nails three of the four U’s

Lest you think phrasing every headline as a question is some kind of magic potion, think again. It’s just one headline-writing tactic, and the general tenets of a good headline must still be present no matter which tactic or template you choose.

For example:

  • It’s ultra-specific — How much can clicks improve? By double. Why would this occur? Because of the Jeopardy Effect.
  • It’s unique — I’d never heard of the “Jeopardy Effect” before, but I had an inkling what it may mean, and my curiosity was piqued by the reference.
  • It’s useful — What blogger, content marketer, or even just Joe Blow Twitter user wouldn’t want to double their clicks?

Granted, it’s not urgent (the other U), but it doesn’t need to be.

Urgency and uniqueness are the two U’s that do not always need to be present in an effective headline. Their necessity depends on the topic, the context, and the timing. (But good luck writing an irresistible headline without it being ultra-specific and useful. It’s not possible.)

Caution: don’t go question crazy

Dooley makes a great point when he says, “Any approach to boosting clicks on tweets, article headlines, etc. can become less effective if overused.”

So don’t go shoehorning every headline into the form of a question. It’s only one of many headline types that work.

If you ever need a refresher on other time-tested, proven templates, download our PDF How to Write Magnetic Headlines. I refer to it every time I write a headline. Print it out and keep it close, or keep the PDF file on your desktop for quick, easy access.

Seeing as how, on average, eight out of 10 people will read your headline copy, but only two out of 10 will read the rest, no shortcuts should be taken when it comes to writing headlines.

If you want other actionable advice that will immediately make you a better headline writer, listen to the first episode of The Lede, Copyblogger’s new podcast, in which Demian Farnworth and I discuss the art and science of writing headlines.

You can also read past editions of Headlines That Work … and keep your eyes peeled for more in the future.

What do you think?

Getting back to the headline that inspired this post … what do you like or dislike about it? Did it work for you?

And do you see yourself incorporating more questions into your headlines moving forward?

Let’s discuss below.

About the author

Jerod Morris


Jerod Morris is the VP of Marketing for Copyblogger Media. Get more from him on Twitter or . Have you gotten your wristband yet?

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Comments

  1. This sounds a lot like the way that Upworthy crafts the headlines for their posts. Although they’re not always in the form of a question, they almost always invoke a strong sense of curiosity. I’ll definitely be doing some experimentation with this to see if I can make it work for me. Thanks.

    • Yes, Upworthy is very successful at generating curiosity with the headline. This is one area where headline writers must be careful though, because hype can generate curiosity … but if the post itself doesn’t deliver, your reader won’t be happy or impressed. So generate curiosity, but just makes sure it’s commensurate with what you are actually going to deliver with the content.

      • “If the post itself doesn’t deliver” the entire premise of Upworthy!

        Thanks for making a great point that I’ve been thinking about as well. I truly hate headlines that are just click bait but don’t live up to the promise. It actually makes me not click their links again.

        People online today don’t have a lot of time to read. Dooping them into reading something that doesn’t provide what was promised seems to be a good way to lose a potential repeat reader.

        I do like the idea of the Jeopardy-style headline, providing the question is answered in the post!

  2. Ha, ha! Made me click!

    Your headline is a prime example of this idea. When I looked in my Mailwasher program, where I can see only the “from” and subject line, this one stood out.

    I had no option but to click. (Sob, sob) I couldn’t help myself!

    And you’re right about overusing it. Too much of good thing can hurt, even Jello! Well, maybe not jello.

    With all of the great ideas for headlines available, especially in the Copyblogger eBook, you can rotate them around, which also keeps your writing fresh.

    I never write a headline without the good old “Magnetic Headlines” book in front of me. My PDF is dog-eared!

    Great article, Jerrod. Thanks for an excellent start to a Monday Morning!

    • This also got me, the only different heading in the bulk of my inbox, I saw this in almost all marketing sites but since I know copyblogger and the content that it’s producing I made my click. Its all about of curiosity of knowing the answer to the question and also include the site authority of where it came from.

    • You’re welcome Steve, and thanks for the comment. I’m glad the headline worked on you as well. Copyblogger has a long history of “teaching by doing” … so I just wanted to follow suit. :-)

  3. Ahhh, the power of a relevant question! It triggers curiosity that can’t be ignored. Doing so would invalidate our daily hard work to realize the relevant topic.

    I appreciate the additional insight on the 4 U’s as well.

    Thanks you Jerod,

    Joel

  4. Questions within your headline might be questions to what many readers or visitors are looking for anyways.

    That’s why question titles are important to incorporate once in a while in your content production in order to target directly the minds of your readers in the form of questions since many problems are asked in the form of questions anyways.

    Remember, just like Jerod mentioned, questions that asks a big problem in the niche will attract more clicks.

    Always make sure to provide your highest quality words after the words of your headline.

    Far too many writers use the question headline only to find they aren’t unique “Jeopardy Effect” and don’t provide much help on the other side.

    Thanks for the insightful and eye-opening post Jerod!

    – Sam

    • You’re welcome, thanks for the comment Samuel. And you make a great point: your blog post needs to open with a bang, otherwise you might lose readers right after the click on the headline. Our next episode of The Lede will cover this.

  5. Thanks for this great addition to The 4 U formula.

    Don’t know whether question headlines are over-used or under-noticed. Fact is, I can’t remember having read another one today.

    For a quick sanity check, I might want to google today’s headlines that end with a question mark. If you have a smart Google Search tip, lemme know :-]

    • I think good question headlines are under-used. I see a lot of question headlines (or at least I feel like I do), that are gimmicky or hype-y. Sometimes just a straightforward question, that your post will answer (important!), is the best possibly headline you could use.

      As for the Google search tip, I’m not sure on that one. If anyone knows, do tell. :-)

  6. I love Jeopardy and liked the headline.

    I’ll use more question headlines in my posts, but I won’t over do it. Whenever I’m stuck, I refer to my headline swipe file and “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” Plus, reading newspaper, blog and magazine headlines helps me to write headlines.

  7. Scott McKirahan :

    Actually, I think the term “Jeopardy Effect” has more to do with why anyone would HAVE TO read this article than anything. Curiosity about what that is, specifically, is what draws the clicks. If the headline would have been “Can You Double Your Clicks With Headlines That Ask Questions?” I suspect it would have suffered a far worse click-through rate. Sure, many people would have read it to find out the answer but twice as many people probably read it to find out both.

    • Scott, that would have been very interesting to test. I do agree that the “Jeopardy Effect” created curiosity that helped drive clicks … but remember that the data in the original post showed the doubling of clicks across many headlines that did not include such a term. :-)

  8. Yes, it made me click. Very clever. I need to try this on my site. I am working on new titles for my free reports and know the 4 p’s and 4 u’s are really going to be helpful. I am going to check my subject lines in my drip campaigns and make some adjustments to them.

  9. Can Alex Trebek quadruple his clicks with the double jeopardy effect?

  10. Thanks for analyzing and expanding on my post so well, Jerod! Glad it made you click! :)

    -Roger

  11. Wow it made me click Jerod!

    That is awesome! I just joined the my.coppyblogger now and downloaded it!
    In fact even before downloading an idea for a post entered my brain.

    It’s amazing how blog post ideas form quickly in our heads. My grey matter was in overdrive today and I banged out 4 of them 2 guest posts and 2 on my own blog.

    I suppose my post “Can you Jeopardise yourself by blogging daily” will be my fifth of the day seeing as I have just over 2 hours left till midnight! Yay look at that I used the word Jeopardise and asked a question in my title. Something I have never done before in my blogging career!

    Thanks for your epic share Jerod it’s just inspired me to write my 5th blog post of the day!

    Be Strong Blogging
    – PD

  12. Very interesting idea I must admit. Never thought of making a headline to be a question, even I think saw similar question headlines before few times. This could be working, I’ll test it on my PPC campaign and see it by myself.
    Just I think here you also need to be creative, and make a short eye catching question title, to atract visitors to make them click it.

    Thanks for sharing your trick and big support for great work!

    Best regards,
    Roman

  13. We as human beings are curious by nature, Headlines which end which a question are so important when it comes to email marketing. It helps us stand of from crowd. Great article.

  14. Yes, it worked. But Jerod, you all had me at Copyblogger. Consitently wonderful content time and time again.

  15. Jerod,

    The odd question here and there taps into the train-wreck effect. We just need to know. Gotta stop. Also, the rubber-necking effect known to people from the Tri-state in the US ;)

    Thanks for sharing Jerod, smart post!

  16. The resulting traffic is known as a “gapers block” in Chicago, Ryan. Gapers are a bad thing on the Dan Ryan, but a good thing on your website! :)

    Roger

  17. Nice thoughts on this great technique. Some of what you’ve written touches on “The Information Gap Theory.” More on that here, with a little scientific research tossed in:

    http://feldmancreative.com/2013/10/write-powerful-headlines/

  18. Arousing curiosity and promising a benefit in a single sentence – pretty much the perfect way to get someone’s attention. Helps people select themselves out too, if they are not interested in doubling their clicks, there’s not much point in reading the article.

    Not only is the post itself excellent, (thank you, Jerod), but it provides a great example of practicing what you are preaching. Two thumbs up.

  19. Dang it, Jerod! I am blown away at how effective that headline was! I was scrolling through my G+ feed and snubbed every link, but when I got to your headline my immediate thought was “That. I want to read about that.” I don’t know if it was my interest in copywriting and writing good headlines that made me click through, or just the tantalizing offer of the headline itself, but regardless; I’m here, I’m reading, and now I’m commenting. You’re a wizard buddy ;)

    • Thank you Chase. Glad it worked! We like to teach by doing here at Copyblogger. :-) And if you’re going to totally copy the strategy of a site, Neuromarketing is a great one to copy. ;-)

  20. Michaela Mitchell :

    I love reading this. My most effective and well-responded emails sent out for my current employer have been those with questions as a subject line. I ask the question that I believe the readers are asking – and oftentimes they respond. I tried it on a whim. Nice to know there’s info backing up the practice. But yes, like all things in life, moderation is the key.

  21. Great post Jerod! While I like the question headline because it does work when trying to pull a reader into copy…I think the other two very important elements he put in the headline were: 1) He used “YOU” and “YOUR” to personalize it, and 2) the Big Benefit (Double Your Clicks)

    I think many times, although a headline doesn’t rate a “10” on the excitement or cleverness scale, it can boost response significantly just because it includes these two elements…

    as proven in this A/B test: http://tinyurl.com/lwmyxez

  22. Glad I read that last paragraph before I rushed off and changed all the headlines on my blog to read as questions.

    :-)

    Great hack Jerod. Thanks.

    I agree that question headlines are a great way to engage people (provided they are used in moderation). Answering a question is so completely drilled into our psyches that we can’t help but respond to a question.

  23. It’s a constant struggle for me to create catchy headlines. Thanks for these reminders!

    • You’re welcome Layne! Writing good headlines is not easy. I must have spent the better part of a half hour working on a headline today for just one post. Wrote out so many iterations I lost count. Always a great exercise though, and every time you get a little bit better.

  24. I actually liked the “Jeopardy Effect” part more than the “Double” part. The Jeopardy effect idea was great…I thought I “should” know what that meant, but I wasn’t sure. I would have definitely clicked through just to see what in the heck that was and if I was right.

    The big question, however, is what happens next after I satisfy my curiosity about the Jeopardy Effect. Do I keep reading or just leave. That’s a big question for me concerning headlines like this.

    • Lee, great point. That’s why the opening of the blog post must be great (check back here tomorrow for a great post on this topic by Henneke) and why you must do your research and know your topic to be able to provide the value your readers are expecting and deserve.

    • Lee, every headline runs the risk of being a letdown if the content doesn’t follow through. Manipulating someone to click with an intriguing headline is possible but won’t produce results if the content doesn’t deliver on the promise.

      • Amen.

      • Right on that! If I had to choose either/or, I would rather have a weaker headline that was completely fulfilled by the copy of the post, than have a headline that rocked, but the post didn’t fulfill. One means you have a lower open rate, but the people who read are generally content with the information they got. The other means you’ve “p’d” off quite a few folks. Generally, not a great idea for a marketer.

    • To get a little bit Yogi Berra about it, you need to spend 90% of your best thinking on the headline, then the other 90% on writing a really awesome post to justify the headline.

  25. Jerod- Sounds like this approach might also work to grab the attention of an audience during a presentation or maybe in court during an opening statement or closing argument. I like it. Captures attention right off the bat. Thanks!

  26. Great post and very good reminder that using questions works, and not just as a headline. It not only arouses curiosity, but “forces” people to engage. They see it, and can’t help but ask themselves the question. And when the answer can go either way (yay or nay), then you just have to click and find out. The beauty of human nature: we’re really damn curious :)

  27. Interesting – I started crafting different style headlines when I realized a jiu jitsu aggregate site was more likely to post my articles if I had the word BJJ or Jiu Jitsu in the title. I started to notice which headlines I was most likely to click on, and started changing them a bit based on that.

    I haven’t done any question headlines yet, but I like the idea, though part of me really hates clickbait and feels like it’s a sort of cheap way to get folks there. But – I get it – if it works, more people read. It just ends up feeling SLIGHTLY like I’m a rube falling for a carnie. :(