First Impressions Matter! Here’s How To Start A Branded Content Headline

January 9, 2018

We recently sat down with a number of publishers from around the world to discuss branded content and creative best practices. We discovered that many publishers do not have a standardized internal “playbook” for helping content teams create strong performing creatives.

As a result, we examined aggregate headline performance data across all of our publisher partners. The goal was to find new actionable insights for driving more clicks to branded content. We released a comprehensive 37-page report, What Makes A Great Branded Content Headline, which examines a variety of elements that contribute to a headline’s success.

Over the past few months, we’ve continued to release additional headline performance data and best practices blogs. In case you missed, here were the first two blogs:

In this third post, we’ll outline how to properly start a branded content headline, examining which words or phrases you should use at the beginning of a headline.

How To Start A Branded Content Headline

Since we were young, we’ve always been told to make a great first impression. Well, the same goes for headlines. Believe it or not, the first character, word and phrase used in a headline matter more than you think and we have the data to prove it. We isolated the first word across more than 10,000 headlines and here’s what we found…

The best words or characters to start a headline with

This chart ranks the top performing first words or characters in a headline based on CTR performance.

  • Starting a headline with the word ‘I’ was clearly the strongest performer. Consider writing headlines in first-person, which perhaps makes it feel more intimate to the reader.
  • In our research, we also uncovered that representing numbers in numeral form performs best, rather than spelling it out (e.g. “7” instead of “Seven”).

Starting Words To Avoid Using In A Headline

This chart ranks the worst performing first words or characters in a headline based on CTR.

  • Now more than ever, readers have developed blinders to clickbait, so avoid using those traditional cliche words.
  • Terms such as ‘win’ or ‘get’ as the first word in a headline makes the headline sound like clickbait and clearly had poor average CTR.
  • Generally speaking, numbers perform better when shown as a numeral, rather than spelled out. Avoid using larger, more specific numbers such as ‘22’ as it can seem overwhelming to readers.

The Best Phrases To Start A Headline With

This chart ranks the best performing two words phrases to start a headline with based on CTR.

  • It’s no surprise that listicle phrases, such as “x” things, was the top performing two-word phrase. Starting a headline in a listicle format has many benefits, as it provides a simple format that readers are used to, and makes the content easy to share and consume.
  • “The Best” way to start a headline is including words that sound desirable. The word ‘best’ makes the content sound of the highest degree, helps strike interest and grabs a reader’s attention.
  • Starting with two-word phrases such as ‘how to’ or ‘what to’ provides a sense of guidance. Including these phrases ensures the information is aimed at resolving a problem.

Two Word Phrases To Avoid Opening A Headline With

This chart ranks the worst performing two-word phrases at the beginning of a headline based on CTR.

  • Not all listicles are created equally. Using words like “reasons” or “ways” did not perform as well as “things” or “top X”.
  • Be careful when including phrases like ‘do you’ and ‘are you’, as these imply that the reader is being judged if they don’t relate to the action you’re asking.

Looking for more branded content headline insights and best practices?

Check out our 37-page whitepaper ‘What Makes A Great Branded Content Headline?’ We take a much closer like at the relationship between headline performance and characters, numbers, words, and phrases.

[Download Whitepaper] What Makes A Great Branded Content Headline?

Please note, this research represents the aggregate performance data from our sample. We are not recommending a “one size fits all”, in that the benefit of branded content is building experiences that are relevant to your voice, tone, platform, and environment for your audiences.



New actionable insights and best practices focusing on characters, words, and phrases, giving you a detailed look at global aggregate headline performance data from the world’s leading premium publishers.