Thursday March 31st || by Rachel Zalta

Why are intriguing and mysterious headlines the most likely to gain clicks?

Social psychologists explain this phenomenon by an increase in curiosity. When people want to know more about a topic, they are motivated to find out what information is still missing, and this motivation encourages them to take action (Hill, Fombelle & Sirianni, 2016).

Research about curiosity shows that its intensity is determined by the size of the “information gap,” referring to the difference between what is known and unknown about a topic. Contrary to what we might assume, smaller information gaps elicit higher levels of curiosity, anticipation for the resolution, and ultimate motivation to resolve the mystery (Loewenstein, 1994).

As it turns out, too large of an information gap can leave readers disinterested. If a headline is too vague or cryptic, a reader is left with nothing to pique their interest. Providing just a bit of intrigue, though, in a snippet of information which hints at what the content is about, creates the incentive to click and read on.

We can use the image atop this blog post as an example: A headline such as “These Divers Never Expected This…” would probably be too ambiguous to elicit much of a reaction. Alternatively, a more detailed headline like “Divers Never Expected to Find These Treasures Close to Shore” provides enough context to trigger that initial curiosity.

So, if you want an item to do really well, make sure not to give away all of the information in the title. Leave some room for the imagination, but make sure the title isn’t too general — otherwise, it may leave potential readers scratching their head rather than clicking to read more.

Rachel Zalta

Rachel Zalta is a member of the Content Strategy team at Taboola. Her role involves psychological research into the performance of content across the web, including insight-driven analysis through A/B testing, data tracking, and other methods. Rachel holds a master’s degree in Social and Organizational Psychology from Bar-Ilan University, and has previously conducted research for the IDF Intelligence Corps and for companies such as ClickTale and Q-XT.