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.
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.
- 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.