A/B Testing Facebook Headlines Could Boost Shares 580 Percent

September 28, 2016

9:15 am

Facebook’s algorithms — or the people on Facebook — might be easier to manipulate than you think. One classic marketing tactic, the A/B test, held massive returns when data blogging site Priceonomics tested its limits over the past five months. But just on Facebook, and not with the press. A/B testing, apparently, doesn’t work on those seasoned journalists.

The Tests

Priceonomics operates on a model in which they focus on creating viral long-form blog posts. In other words, they take virality very seriously. To A/B test their articles on Facebook, they created their own software. Through the software, they buy two ten-dollar Facebook advertisements for the articles, making them identical except for their titles.

The result, according to their article on it: The mean A/B tested titles did 587% better. The average and median did well, too:

“The average article we A/B tested got seven times as many shares as an untested article. This was dramatically influenced by an outlier. But the median article still performed almost 75% better when we A/B tested the headline.”

The Press Wasn’t Fooled

Naturally, Priceonomics tried out the same tactic when looking for other inbound marketing targets: their press contacts.

“Interestingly, the press doesn’t seem any more likely to reference an article that has an optimized headline. The number of mentions received by articles with tested and untested titles is identical.

After so many years of writing headlines designed to generate clicks, it appears the press has developed its own antibodies to optimized headlines. And so while you can often get more clicks and shares with a better headline, it may not result in more press coverage.”

You’ll need the site’s software in order to A/B test Facebook headlines in exactly the same way Priceonomics does, but Facebook offers their own version as well. In a world of worrisome Facebook algorithm tweaks, it’s always good to have a trick like this up your marketing sleeve.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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