Negative word in title increases click rate by 2.3% – 04/01/2024 – Science

Negative word in title increases click rate by 2.3% – 04/01/2024 – Science


The use of negative words in news titles published online increases the likelihood that people will click to read the entire text, while words with a positive tone have the opposite effect, decreasing readers’ interest.

The conclusion, which comes from a study carried out by American and European researchers, gives more weight to the hypothesis that negativity ends up boosting internet audiences.

Details of the analysis were published on the 16th in the specialized journal Nature Human Behavior. The main authors of the work were Jay Van Bavel, from the Department of Psychology at New York University (United States), and Stefan Feuerriegel, from the School of Management at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (Germany).

The effect identified by Bavel, Feuerriegel and their colleagues is relatively modest: they estimate that each word with a negative meaning increases the click rate on a news title by 2.3% — that is, the chance that, after seeing just the title, the Internet user clicks on it to read the text. Each word with a positive tone reduces the click rate by 1%.

The strengths and weaknesses of the research are linked to the database that scholars used. It is a set of 105 thousand variants of news titles published by the website, considered a pioneer of “clickbait” – in English, something like “click bait”. In other words, they are titles designed to attract the reader’s curiosity as much as possible so that they click on them, and are not necessarily so focused on journalistic content.

In addition to Upworthy’s techniques having largely influenced other sites, a detail that makes the portal an excellent target for analysis of online behavior is the fact that its editors used to test all the time which type of title was most attractive to its visitors.

Editors produced up to 25 different versions of a title for the same story and conducted randomized double-blind tests. In other words, they carried out a random display of the different versions, without journalists or readers knowing which title would be displayed, and checked which ones received the most clicks. In theory, this would be a very reliable way of measuring what attracts people’s attention online.

One last detail is that Upworthy’s editorial goal was to highlight “good news”, an approach that is different from the traditional editorial standards of the media and could even reduce unconscious biases in favor of negative news that attracts the public’s attention.

Experts analyzed the text of the more than 100,000 headline variants in Upworthy’s database using databases that automatically classify words used into emotionally negative or positive “boxes.”

An example of two different approaches to the same news are the headlines: “WOW: The Supreme Court Made Millions of Us Very, Very Happy” (positive bias) and “Ten Years From Now, We Will Look Back and Die of shame that this thing existed” (negative bias).

Both titles spoke of the repeal of a California state law that prohibited same-sex marriage. The language seems cheesy compared to that of traditional newspapers, but it was popular among the American online public in the last decade and went on to influence the entire “clickbait” culture.

The automated analysis of the texts showed that Upworthy even used more words with a positive content (2.83% of the words in the titles, compared to 2.62% classified as having a negative tone), but even so the titles with more “negativity” tended to be be slightly more clicked on by readers.

Trying to classify the emotions conveyed by words more specifically, the team also observed that words associated with the idea of ​​sadness tend to slightly increase the click rate, while those linked to joy or fear slightly decrease this frequency. Those associated with anger do not seem to have a significant effect.

The researchers also comment that the pattern seems to be different from what is seen in news sharing, a situation in which factors such as fear and anger seem to be more important. One possibility is that, by sharing something, the person tends to reinforce their feeling of belonging to a group or their need to make a statement online, which is not necessary when reading privately on the internet.


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