When it comes to writing and editing, my mantra has always been “less, but better.” That also applies to titles. Think of the editor slicing words off the computer screen, trying to chisel out the perfect headline that’s clear and entertaining. Print titles still manage to pull this off, which is probably why I get so much enjoyment out of our brainstorming sessions for The Contently Quarterly.
Online, however, more is better. A study from Polar, a branded content technology company, found that headlines with 90 to 99 characters had the best click-through rate: .43 percent. Performance trended upward as the number of characters increased. Titles between 10 and 19 characters had the lowest CTR, which was .12 percent. The report, which ran from January to August 2017, included 10,627 branded content headlines.
As concision has given way to excess, publishers and brands now compete for attention with curiosity gaps, listicles, and emotionally charged language. Even as people like me feel fatigued by these types of headlines, they’re clearly working. That’s why BuzzFeed has built an empire with titles like “There’s A Heartbreaking Detail In ‘Stranger Things 2’ That You Probably Missed And It Will Kill You.” (No word yet on the body count after this one went live.)
Polar’s findings on the current state of internet headlines bring up an interesting dynamic. While the data suggests that audiences prefer long titles, SEO best practices tell a different story. Google advises people to limit titles to 60 characters if they want them to appear in full in search results. On social media, optimal length varies even more. Per CoSchedule, Facebook headlines of 40 characters perform best. On Twitter, it’s between 71 and 100 characters. On Linkedin, between 80 and 120.
For now, finding an ideal character length really depends on where you’re posting the content. As I wrote in “The Quest for the Perfect Headline“:
Publishers are tasked with finding the perfect headline for every distribution channel—or at the very least, the one best programmed for maximum virality. It’s not uncommon for one article to get dozens of “headlines” if you add up all of the email subject lines and pithy descriptions posted on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. What works on one platform won’t necessarily connect with users elsewhere.
To find out more about the latest headline trends and insights, click here to download Polar’s full whitepaper.