Which Type of Headlines Drive the Most Content Engagement Post-Click? [New Data]

Content Amplification

Just a few weeks ago the inPowered labs released, “200 Content Amplification Headlines that Drove Ridiculous Amounts of Engagement Post-Click.” In it was discussed the content engagement analytics of post ad unit clicks from 2018’s highest performing social and native headlines. This article is the logical follow up.

The next stage includes looking directly at the macro-performance of the five categories of headlines. There’re many studies out there that examine article headlines and clicks but very few of them juxtapose native and social ad headlines and their relationship to users actually engaging with the content post-click.

This is perhaps even more important than studying article headlines because social and native ad headlines have liquid cash behind them. Not learning best practices can lead to inefficient or wasted paid media budgets. So, without further ado, let’s look at how we approached this study in the lab.


The data below was gathered from the top 200 native and social ad unit headlines from 2018. Over 40 networks were included in this study. It juxtaposes the average engagement rate and the average engaged time (in seconds) by category. Post-click, an engagement is only counted if the user spends 15 or more seconds in the active window with the content.


The five categories defined below are a variation of BuzzSumo’s methodology for organizing articles. Our categories are for native and social ad unit headlines and not the actual title of an article. However, often they can be the same.

  1. Article – the catch-all category for native ad unit headlines that don’t fit into any other category
  2. Brand Mention – any category of headline that includes a brand mention, which supersedes the other categories
  3. How-To – any headline communicating the content will show how to do something
  4. What Post – any headline starting with the word what
  5. Why Post – any headline communicating the content will explain “why” to do something
  Avg. Engagement Rate x Category Avg. Engaged Time x Category
Article: 74% 53
Brand Mention: 71% 51
How-To: 76% 51
List: 74% 50
What Post: 75% 60
Why Post: 74% 66

Because there’s been so many article headline studies many in the industry have assumptions that may or may not hold true when the analysis examines content engagement post-click. The average engagement rate in each category are all close to one another. However, there’s still a few findings in the data.

It’s long been a point of debate in content marketing whether or not including a brand name in an article headline would have a positive or negative impact on clicks, and therefore engagement rates. Based on the data compiled in the previous headlines article and over 11 years of content marketing experience the answer to the debate isn’t “yes” or “no.” The answer is – “sometimes.”

It appears that brand names appearing in headlines may have a slight (it’s not very significant) negative impact on average content engagement rates post-click when compared to the other categories. That said, the data explored in this study was from brands that most would consider household names.

However, juxtaposing this with previous experience tracking clicks and engagement from article headlines, its clear that lesser known brands with their name in a headline are mostly negatively impacted.

Takeaway 1 – Only consider using brand names in social and native ad unit headlines if it’s a household name.

The How-to category was the highest performing for post-click content engagement at 76%. However, its average engaged time was 51 seconds – the low end of the categories. People only go to the web for two reasons – to solve a problem or to be entertained, quickly. This helps explain the performance gap between engagement rate and engaged time.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, on average, it takes six to eight brand touches for a consumer to become a customer. Higher engagement rates point to more quality touches. However, that doesn’t necessarily impact the average engagement time with content.

Takeaway 2 – How-to headlines, on average, drive the most quality brand touches.

The List category has the shortest amount of average engaged time above. While list headlines have a proven track record for driving clicks, dwell time with the content is lower. So, let’s ask ourselves this question, “Why do people like to click on list headlines?”

The answer is simple – convenience. List headlines scream convenience and that the content is easily digestible. As a result, these articles lend themselves to skimming. People know when they see a list article they can quickly scroll and get the gist of the entire article without reading deep and detailed paragraphs (generally speaking).

Takeaway 3 – On average, list headlines will lead to the shortest dwell time on page.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Why post category has the greatest amount of average engaged time with content. The content behind this type of headline describes why something should be done. Since it’s not in the form of a list, it’s (generally speaking) a more thorough, deep, read. This explains why these headlines tend to drive greater time on site.

The same thing can be said about the What post category, too. However, it still doesn’t perform as well as the Why post category.

Takeaway 4 – To boost time on site KPIs consider using Why and What post headlines in native and social ad units.

Of course, there are other factors that can impact the performance of headlines and content engagement. That’s why we looked at the macro picture of these categories. The takeaways above are general rules of thumb and shouldn’t be taken as gospel. There will always be outliers and exceptions, but on average they should hold true.

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