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I'm currently writing a post for my company's blog. I'm agonising over the headline, as I really, really want people to read this post (I'm trying to convince our users to opt in to our customer experience improvement program). However, I don't know how to find out whether people will follow a link to the post when they encounter it - and to get realistic data from the test.

Why am I so concerned about the headline?
Our data suggests that most people will learn about the existence of the post from the start-up screen of our desktop software. This screen shows the 5 most recent blog posts in a simple bulleted list, each item consisting of the post's title, hyperlinked to the full post.

Therefore, the post title must be highly enticing. I've read various articles about how to write enticing headlines (not least the CopyBlogger series on magnetic headlines)

Getting realistic predicted click rates
Now, I could easily put people in front of our software, with it showing a headline link for my new post, and ask them whether they would click it; however, I greatly doubt that I'd get an answer that genuinely reflected their real-world behaviour. I want to be able to test multiple headline options, but I really can't think how to do it without biasing the test. Given the limited number of users we have, I can't really afford to use an A/B test after publishing either, as it'll soon use up my audience. (Besides which, my blog doesn't support A/B testing.)

Does anyone have recommendations for how I can approach this, please?

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A common trick with jokes (one I employ myself) is to vary the joke a bit at different times to different audiences. I'm thinking of something like sharing a headline and link on different social networks or accounts and gauging the reaction, but you need actual content to do that, and gauging reactions like that can be tricky; what if you have less followers on one account, or different followers etc –  Ben Brocka Jan 24 '13 at 14:47

2 Answers 2

The only way that you are going to realistically test a headline is to A/B test it with your target audience. You could have focus groups (which is what book publishers usually do) but that isn't feasible for most web publishing due to the hight cost and turnaround time.

Another solution would be to have an automated A/B test for different headlines. This would automatically and change to the better headline once there is a statistically significantly higher click rate for one of them. This is the most flexible option, and the one that I would use. Just make sure you know your statistics first, as with a very small number of impressions the statistical prediction is inaccurate. @dhmholley created a useful quick and dirty split-testing calculator that you may find usefu for this.

That said, an experienced copywriter will have a feel for what a better headline would be, and it pays to have someone experienced in the role. If that isn't possible, I would recommend taking a copywriting course or reading a few books on the topic.

A book that I found useful was How to Write a Headline. I'm sure there are many more, but this is a good place to start.

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One way is to tweet out the headlines a few times and see what gets more clicks

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