A/B Headline Tests Deliver 44% Increase in Homepage Article CTR for German Sports Publisher

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While many users discover new content through search or social, the homepage is a regular destination for loyal site visitors. So for editors, the homepage is an opportunity to showcase the best content and drive deeper engagement into the site.

But it’s not always that simple. Winning the attention of site visitors can be a challenge. That’s why A/B testing tools are so powerful, enabling you to run tests to see which images or alternate headlines drive more engagement (CTR) for specific articles.

At leading online publisher SPORT1.de, a new homepage A/B testing strategy has been rolled out across all editorial with remarkable results – increasing headline CTR by an average of 44%.

Head of Newsroom Max Miguletz explains how it was done.

Interview with Max Miguletz, Head of Newsroom at SPORT1.de

What is SPORT1?

SPORT1.de is one of Germany’s leading online sports platforms, providing up-to-the-minute multimedia content and video livestreams. It is part of the SPORT1 premium umbrella brand, based in Munich. SPORT1 combines free- and pay-TV channels, digital, audio, social media, esports and print activities to form the leading 360° sports platform in the German-speaking region.

What is your role at SPORT1?

As Head of Newsroom, I’m responsible for managing the online editorial team, overseeing our digital news output, and maintaining high standards of coverage.

I chair the daily editorial briefing where we identify the most relevant and hot topics for our audience, monitoring content performance across desktop, mobile and app using tools including Taboola Newsroom.

Our editors and reporters are constantly looking to optimise content, running A/B headline tests and developing coverage to meet the needs of our audience.

As an editorial team, how have you adapted to working from home?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people work and collaborate, with our Newsroom being no exception. Like many other companies, we’ve established digital solutions for communicating, using video calls (“do you hear me?”), online chats (GIFs are essential!) and other planning tools.

Has remote working made SPORT1 journalists more data savvy?

As a digital team, we have been harvesting audience data long before remote working increased. But since the start of the pandemic, there has been a slight shift for some, with individual editors and reporters intensifying their use of audience data, especially real-time data, since everybody at home has to get up to speed individually rather than rely on a central team in the office.

It is important that they (editors and reporters) monitor the performance of SPORT1 content, which has meant using tools like Taboola Newsroom even more than before.

How long have you been using Taboola Newsroom and how does it fit into your editorial workflow?

We’ve been using Taboola Newsroom for more than two years now and it has been a vital part of our daily routine from the start, providing us with real-time audience data, performance monitoring, topic insights and – quite essential – headline A/B testing.

You’ve recently rolled out a new headline strategy at SPORT1 using Taboola Newsroom’s A/B testing tool. Can you tell us about that?

We consider A/B headline testing as a powerful tool for optimising our content for users, so we recently doubled down on putting it to good use.

Every editor is now encouraged to use A/B testing, every author is instructed to develop alternative headlines for his or her articles and forward ideas for developing headlines to the editorial team.

For the main topics, we collate alternative headlines in our central planning tools for everyone to see and use when needed. More specifically, we have increased the use of A/B testing even at off-peak hours, always looking for the best headlines – or at least identifying better options – not afraid of re-doing tests later, sometimes with the same variants, often with newly developed ideas.

For example, the late shift runs A/B tests for new content even at night-time, which might not have the biggest impact right away, but does provide instant options for optimising content for the early shift – it gives them a head start and they can push on from there. This also includes A/B testing different images, not just headlines, and for videos or galleries, too, not just articles. Should we show Messi holding a cup or Messi in tears etc…

How did you get the team on board with your new strategy?

Most editors, authors and reporters are keen on tweaking content, to begin with, so there has always been a passion for optimising headlines.

What we have done via meetings, memos and setting examples is raising awareness for a more regular usage of A/B testing, deliberately making room (and time) for that as well as showing the impact of data-based optimisation. Headlines are even more debated in meetings and chats now.

How have you communicated those results across the editorial team?

A/B test results are regularly shared and talked about by the daily team or presented in meetings, if relevant, for current workflows.

What we’ve implemented on top of that is a “best of headline A/B testing” initiative. We gather data from Taboola Newsroom, as well as corresponding examples, and analyse and summarise the findings to closely monitor our usage and its impact, making sure we don’t overdo a headline and we stay true to the message of the article. This creates key learnings for the team.

Very occasionally the winning headline of the test is not used: CTR is not the only consideration. Traffic is important, but it’s vital we choose a headline that is fitting and not clickbait.

What results have you seen? Can you give specific examples?

By analysing the data from Newsroom in Q2 we found a quite remarkable CTR increase. From A/B headline tests that produced a ‘winning’ headline we increased CTR by an average of more than 44%, while several tests increased CTR by more than 200%… and at the top level by even more than 300%!

One example might demonstrate the impact of this and serve as affirmation of our approach to not being satisfied with one successful test:

During the UEFA EURO 2020 football tournament in June, we ran an article on the roles of key players Kai Havertz and Leroy Sané from the German national football team. While the original headline (“Why Havertz currently is more valuable than Sané”) did okay, a first test, where we played around with the wording (“How Havertz outshines Sané”), resulted in a CTR increase of 37%. But it was a second test, where we focused on a certain aspect of the story (“Havertz shines – Sané’s celebration poses questions”), that resulted in a CTR increase compared to original headline of 196%.

To find out more and see a live demo of Newsroom, please contact EMEA Newsroom Engagement Manager Nigel Vincent at nigel.v@taboola.com.

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