Solutions headlines are more likely to be clicked on by readers than non-solutions headlines, according to a new report released yesterday (June 2) by the Engaging News Project.
The research was conducted in partnership with The Huffington Post and tested readers' reaction to 50 pairs of headlines. The publisher randomly chose whether visitors to its homepage were shown a headline that emphasised a problem, or one which emphasised a solution – with both linking to the same article.
Doctor Talia Stroud, one of the report's authors, explained that across the 50 Huffington Post tests, the solutions-oriented headlines gathered were clicked 56 per cent of the time, the non-solutions headlines attracted clicks 40 per cent of the time, and the two only tied four per cent of the time.
"For a journalist, this doesn't mean that you are guaranteed to get clicks, but we do see that over many trials, it seems as if a solutions headline yields more clicks than a problem headline," Stroud told Journalism.co.uk.
Solutions journalism, which focuses on responses to entrenched social problems by detailing what is working and why, is also thought by many to help news organisations improve their reporting, by helping readers to see the whole story rather than just the problem.
An additional experiment also found that other factors affected the number of clicks received by each headline, such as including the word 'simple' in it, or a mysterious unnamed location.
The research team conducted a survey-based experiment with over 1,000 adults in the US, analysing what attributes of solutions headlines heighten or diminish readers' interest.
"We gave people a set of four headlines, with only one of them solutions-based, which was manipulated for what it contained," said Stroud.
She explained that survey respondents would be shown a solutions-oriented headline, but half of them were given a headline containing the word 'simple' for example, which was removed for everyone else remaining.
Participants were asked to pick the headline they would most like to read.
The survey revealed that adding the word 'simple' actually depressed clicks, with more participants choosing the headlines excluding the word, but from a closer look at the Huffington Post research, they saw that six solutions headlines containing the world 'simple' outperformed the problem headlines.
"We think that perhaps the word 'simple' matters differently depending on the subject – so it might be fine to say something like: 'one simple way to help reduce your water bill'.
"But to say a solution is 'simple' for a problem like domestic violence for instance, may lead people to think that the word was inappropriately used."
Additionally, they found that adding the word 'you' in headlines did not have a significant influence on the click-through rate and the same results were found from adding a call to action, such as 'This is a problem. Here's how to help.'
The team found that including a mysterious location increased the numer of clicks, such as 'One country's ambitious plan to restore wildlife in the wetlands', which encouraged the reader to find out the location.
"I think that if you are in a situation where you have a solutions story that is confined to a certain geographic location, there is some utility to making it more ambiguous so people have to click through to uncover the information," Stroud said.