User behaviour Web metrics

A/B headline switching for museum content

Regular readers will know that I’ve been fascinated by the overlap between museum curatorial practice and journalism over the past while. Similarly I’ve also been very interested in the impact of behavioural data on these professions that is emerging at scale and in real-time on digital platforms.

So I was very excited to find that out of a Baltimore Hackcamp that a ‘headline tester’ plugin for WordPress has been released.

You will have noticed how the headlines on news websites change throughout the day for the same article. This has been the subject of several online projects like The Quick Brown that tracked changes in Fox News headlines, and News Sniffer that tracks full article edits in the UK.

This sort of A/B testing is usually the kind of activity that takes a lot of work, planning, and is hard to deploy at a daily level with the kind of resources that museums have available to them. In news journalism time is of the essence – readership fluctuations directly impact commercial model in a highly competitive environment – so it makes a lot of sense to have systems in place for journalists to track and edit their stories as they go. Museums don’t face these pressures but do face the same competition for attention.

What this plugin allows us to do is – like a news website – pose two different headlines for the same blog post, then, over time, the one that generates the most clicks becomes the one that sticks for that post. Visitors and readers effectively vote through their actions for the ‘best’ title.

We’ve just started to deploy this on the Photo of the Day blog and it will progressively roll out over the others as we go.

Today’s Photo of the Day post introduces a camera from our collection. So which out of these two headlines do you think would generate the most traffic?

Are you interested in hearing about our camera collection?
The Bessa 66 folding camera

Paula Bray who wrote the post expected the first headline would be most popular. And now we can test that hypothesis!

Surprisingly, right now it is the second more direct headline – ‘The Bessa 66 folding camera‘ – that is generating the most traffic by almost 2 to 1.

Over time we will be able to better refine our headlines that are written by curators and other staff who blog. And of course this feeds back into improving the effectiveness of the writing style of museum in these digital mediums.