16 October 2009

Huffington Post: better headlines from real-time testing

A/B testing - where you show half of your audience one version of something, the other half a different version and adjust accordingly based on the results - is a highly valued method of user research, from Google’s testing of its design tweaks, to Dustin Curtis’ experiment with direct commands and clickthrough rates.

Now the Huffington Post has got in on the act, according to a report by Zachary M. Seward at Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab, randomly showing one of two headlines to readers before permanently offering the headline that attracts the most clicks, something that, as a high-traffic site, they can determine within several minutes.

Considering the role that headlines play in attracting readers, Seward argues that it only makes sense to apply the best tools of market research to their crafting, likening the process to "a more rigorous version of magazines adjusting their covers based on newsstand sales."

Speaking to Seward at the Online News Association conference in San Fransisco earlier this month, Huffington Post's Chief Technology Officer Paul Berry said that the system was created inhouse, but wouldn’t disclose much else about how or how often it’s done.

He did tell Seward that Huffington Post editors have found that placing the author’s name above a headline almost always leads to more clicks than omitting it.

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