Self-referencing posts or email subject lines that are posed as a question have a higher click-through rate, new research shows.
An example of a self-referencing question headline: “Is your dog really a cat?” The word “your” is the self-reference and refers to the reader. If we were to do the same headline as simply a questioning headline, we might say, “Can a dog really be a cat?” A statement headline would read: “Dogs can be cats.”
In one study, titled “What makes you click? The effect of question headlines on readership in computer-mediated communications,” researchers Linda Lai and Audun Farrot used Twitter as a vehicle to deliver links to stories. They then measured click-through rates for each tweet.
They found that self-referencing question headlines performed 175 percent better than statement headlines. When straight question headlines were tested, the click-through rate dropped to 150 percent over statement headlines.
Lai and Farrot conducted a second study using a Norwegian eBay-like auction website. They listed three different advertisements to sell an iPhone, a couch, a TV and a washing machine. As in the first test, the three different advertisements consisted of:
Statements such as: “For sale: Black iPhone4 16GB”
Questions such as: “Anyone need a new iPhone4?”
And self-referencing questions including: “Is this your new iPhone4?”
Again, the self-referencing headlines won the competition by beating the statement headlines click rates by 257 percent. Straight question headlines were less effective and only performed 137 percent better than statement headlines, which is still not an insignificant increase.
This data motivated me to review the subject line performance of our own Crimson house file emails. For the last 75 emails we’ve sent to our house file, only one of them had a self-referencing headline. Interestingly enough, this email was the fourth most opened of our emails.
When I checked the emails that performed better than my self-referencing subject line, they were all related to current news events that were affecting our clients in the near term. The takeaways of this research for campaigns:
Take every opportunity to A/B test all outbound messaging. Testing and measuring is the only way you are going to be able to optimize the yield of your messages.
As part of your test, you should include a self-referencing headline or subject line, whenever possible.
Crafting the perfect clickable message is part art and part science. Testing and measuring will help you continuously improve your performance.
Erik currently runs sales and marketing for CMDI, the largest Republican fundraising technology platform. Prior to joining CMDI, Erik founded numerous fundraising technology companies whose products have raised over $300 million for hundreds of political and cause-based organizations.