Headlines: When the Best Brings the Worst and the Worst Brings the Best

|Alex Bennett

Contrary to popular belief and their widespread use in headlines, positive superlatives (i.e., “best”, “always”) do not appear to be compelling to readers. In fact, our data shows just the opposite.

For our headline analysis, we drew a sample of approximately 65,000 paid link titles from the pool of all English language paid links that ran in Outbrain’s network between the months of April and July 2012 and measured the impact of superlative use on engagement (click-through rate). As you can see in the graph below, the results were very interesting!


Compared with headlines that contained neither positive (“always” or “best”) nor negative (“never” or “worst”) superlatives, headlines with positive superlatives performed 29% worse and headlines with negative superlatives performed 30% better. The average click-through rate on headlines with negative superlatives was a staggering 63% higher than that of their positive counterparts.

These results were replicated in a subsequent headline study that included data from the months of August – September 2012.

So why the attraction to the negative and the distaste for the positive?

Audience aversion to positive superlatives may simply be a product of overuse, or it could be because readers are skeptical of sources’ motives for endorsement. On the flip side, sources of negative information may be more likely to be perceived as impartial and authentic. Whereas positive superlatives may have become clichéd through overuse, negative superlatives may be more unexpected and intriguing.

Want to put these findings to the test? If you’re amplifying your content with Outbrain, try testing out some headlines with negative superlatives in your campaign. Don’t have an Outbrain campaign? Check out our Amplify DIY platform to see how you can start growing your audience!

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Alex Bennett

Alex Bennett

Alex is a Business Intelligence Analyst at Outbrain, where she is responsible for extracting and delivering data-driven insights to content... Read more

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