Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a series examining the influence of analytics on how news is produced. Earlier this week, we posted about the declining influence of the pageview and why The Verge declines to share detailed site metrics with its reporters.
The Church of Journalism is beginning to worship a god of the technological revolution: the click.
With advertising revenues relating directly to pageviews, it has never been more important to write headlines that pop off the page.
And sites such as Buzzfeed and Upworthy have taken the headline game to a whole new level. For each Upworthy article, writers draft up to 25 different headlines and test them on small audiences to see which gets the biggest response, according to Business Insider.
With all this focus on headlines, I wanted to find out what attracts me to an article. So I kept track of which headlines I clicked and didn’t click on via social media over the course of a week.
As an 18-year-old journalism student, I was surprised at the lack of hard news I clicked on. Although I spent most of my social media time on Facebook during the test week, the news links I followed came chiefly from Twitter, because my Facebook friends were more into what would traditionally be called “features.”
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In short, they were more interested in discovering what Disney princesses they were than what was going on in the Ukraine.
Here are the results of my clicking adventure.
Let’s start off with a bang. Puns aside, I clicked from Facebook because it was the Huffington Post, which sometimes has legitimate articles, and I was curious to see if there was more to the story than the headline. There wasn’t. I don’t know what I expected. Not my proudest moment.
I clicked on this gizmag post because multiple friends on Facebook recommended it and the headline did a great job of hooking me in. It toys with this idea of reading faster than normal but forces me to click the article to find out exactly why. It turns out there’s app being developed called Spritz Reader that lets you read at around 500 words per minute. As an avid reader, I’m glad I clicked.
Didn’t click: Pencils Down: College Board Reveals Big Changes to SATs
My friend shared this NBC News post on Facebook. He said that the SAT was dropping the essay and obscure vocabulary words. These happen to be my two least favorite parts of the SAT. I ignored this out of spite. Had I read the article, my unbridled rage may have gotten out of hand.
Nazi Germany? Hitler? I didn’t know Hillary Clinton had it in her. The controversy drew me to this CNN post that was shared on Twitter; comparing somebody to Hitler is a big deal, especially for somebody as prominent as Hillary Clinton. The article itself didn’t say much more than the headline did.
I love fast food. When I saw this headline on Facebook, I thought it was about one fast food item that 30 different workers said to avoid, so it seemed pretty important to find out what it was. Turns out this article actually had 30 different items to avoid. The consensus: You probably shouldn’t eat fast food. Ever. As a true American, however, I will continue to eat fast food.
I don’t care how adorable your 3-year-old is; she doesn’t have the experience to teach anybody the “lesson of a lifetime.” I saw this on Facebook, and I’ve seen links like this before. Usually they just show how innocent and naïve children are. This article should be retitled: Adorable 3-Year-Old Girl Not Yet Jaded By Society.
This took away any shred of credibility the Oscar’s had for me. I really didn’t need to know anything other than the headline, from cinemablend.com, but I clicked anyways from Facebook because it affirmed my assumption that the Oscars are all about politics. We all love being right, so I enjoyed this article.
Clicked: Quiz: What’s Your Patronus?
I got “horse.” How much did I have in common with the “horse patronus” personality that it matched me with? Absolutely nothing. At one point the quiz asked me about superpowers, which don’t have anything to do with the Harry Potter world. I usually don’t click on quizzes that my friends share on Facebook, but I like Harry Potter, so I figured I’d give this one a try. Never again. It reaffirmed my assumption that Buzzfeed quizzes ask you random questions and then arbitrarily match you with something. At least I was right about that.
Didn’t click: Quiz: What Strong Female Character Are You?
I learned my lesson with the last Buzzfeed quiz that was shared on Facebook. I don’t care what strong female character it will randomly match me with. I have better things to do with my time and, frankly, I’m disappointed with the lazy way that Buzzfeed conducts its quizzes.
I got Xena: Warrior Princess.
Didn’t click: Quiz: What Breakfast Food Are You
This headline promised me laughs if I clicked it. It was written in a movie trailer style, teasing something yet not revealing anything. It was very effective in drawing my click, from Facebook. Unfortunately, it was just a glorified advertisement for an eco-friendly food brand. I left Upworthy feeling empty, as I always do.
I’m a huge movie fan. This cracked.com list boasted potentially mind-blowing facts, but I had to click on the article from Facebook to find them out. This is a list headline done right. The article itself was well researched and entertaining.