Your Branded Content Headlines Should Be 12 To 16 Words Long

November 16, 2017

With the rapid rise of social media platforms, new options for content distribution, and the seemingly endless amount of content formats, publishers have to work harder than ever to get a reader’s attention.

At Polar, we are dedicated to the premium publishing industry and recognize these growing pain points. We provide a technology platform that helps publishers better leverage their owned audiences by optimizing the distribution of branded content across their owned and operated properties.

We recently sat down with a number of premium publishers from around the globe to discuss content and creative (headline and thumbnail) best practices. Many did not have a standardized internal “playbook” for helping content creators create strong performing creatives. As a result, we decided to examine aggregate headline performance data across all of our global publishers to find new actionable insights for driving more clicks. We extensively reviewed over 10,000 branded content headlines from a variety of the world’s leading premium publishers, such as Condé Nast, Gannett, Oath, News Corp, and The Telegraph.

What Did We Find…

Headlines are the single most important part of getting eyeballs to your branded content, whether it’s custom, editorial, sponsored, or video. Headlines are the gateway to your content and it’s what makes the reader hungry to find out more.

We recently released a comprehensive 37-page report with our headline data. Over the next few weeks we’ll dive deeper into different areas of our research. This first post examines headline length and how the number of characters and words can have a direct effect on CTR performance. In general, we found that longer headlines tend to promote better CTR.

Character Length

The above chart plots out CTR performance based on the number of characters used in a headline. Character lengths have been aggregated into groups of 10.

  • With headline character length the trend is clear, more characters lead to stronger CTR performance. 
  • This trend is also inline with a headline’s word length, which also suggests more words lead to better performance.
  • The more detail provided to the reader in a branded content driver (native ad) will likely lead to more clicks.
  • Headlines beyond 100 characters started to trend downward.

Word Length

The chart plots out CTR performance based on the number of words used in a headline.

  • CTR performance peaked when headline word length was 16 words. 
  • Headlines with more than 16 words decreased in CTR. 
  • The reality is most ad format designs are not large enough to show more words. 
  • In general, short “punchy” headlines did not perform well as CTR performance was weakest at 4-8 words. 
  • As a general best practice, we suggest aiming to have 12-16 words in a headline.

Looking for more headline insights and best practices? Check out our new 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.



This benchmarks report presents a detailed look at global aggregate performance data, as well as specific performance across Australia, United States, and the United Kingdom.