Looking to write the perfect subject line? The apogee of banner ads? According to new research from pioneering scientists at MIT Sloan, getting people to click could be a lot easier than you think. All it takes is one, seemingly magic, word.
Seven days ago, as part of a broader, ongoing study into online marketing and associated consumer behaviors, the team at MIT ran a simple, multiple choice test.
Their guinea pigs – a sample of 5,000 internet users of all ages, representing 50 different English-speaking nations – each logged into the same online portal over the course of a 24-hour period.
Once inside, they were presented with a page displaying eight different banner ads, neatly arranged in two rows of four. The design of each ad was identical, and the copy deliberately gibberish – generated via a simple algorithm from a database of 1,000 already randomly chosen words.
Subjects were instructed to select whichever ad they were first attracted to. As soon as they’d clicked or tapped, a new set of choices would be generated. As Professor Godfrey Matford explained:
“We were really interested in the position of the ads – we were hoping to see a pattern of clicks, and spot cultural and global trends. In fact, we only tracked the words they contained as an afterthought. But what we found was… well…” at this point the professor paused, polished his glasses with the sleeve of his lab coat, and frowned distractedly into the middle distance, “quite remarkable.”
His colleague, Dr René Sofolds, takes up the story:
“The initial results regarding ad positioning were underwhelming, but when we sliced the data differently and looked at the verbal trends… I think I speak for the whole team when I say, our minds were blown. Every time an ad included this one particular word, our test subjects clicked it. I mean, every time. Without fail. One hundred percent.”
At first the scientist thought they were being scammed – perhaps another research group had hacked their systems, stolen the full list of participants, and persuaded them to rig the results.
But then, the scientists tried the test on themselves. They tweaked the formula to ensure that one, seemingly irresistible, word appeared in every set of eight ads.
“It was crazy. I sat there at the test tablet, and even though I wanted to tap one of the other options, I’d always find myself right back, with my finger hammering that same freaking word.”
Kerry Johnson, a young intern doing work experience with the team took the test too. Within two minutes, he needed to be physically restrained: “I sat in the seat, they started the test, and the next thing I knew – I was being treated for acute RSI and a dislocated fingertip.”
We naturally can’t risk reprinting the word here, but you can click through to the team’s preliminary findings. (Just make sure you know how to tighten your wrist restraints, and that someone nearby is a trained first aider.)