Are you too positive? Think negative.

Are you too positive? Think negative.

As a child, you are told that it pays to be positive. This theory has carried through as I’ve grown older and ventured into the professional world, particularly when it comes to writing. You shouldn’t write negative headlines – it gives the wrong message for your brand. But a recent study is telling people to bring their worst and it may give the best results.

In a study of 65,000 headlines, Outbrain compared positive, negative, and no superlative (using words like best or better) headlines. The study found that headlines with positive superlatives performed 29 percent worse and headlines with negative superlatives performed 30 percent better. The average click-through rate on headlines with negative superlatives was 63 percent higher than positive ones.


There are a few theories on why this might be:

  • Positive superlatives have become clichéd through overuse.
  • Negatives are more intriguing because they’re unexpected and surprising.
  • Negatives tap into our insecurities. Using negative words like “stop,” “avoid” and “don’t” work because everyone wants to find out if there’s something they’re doing that they should stop.

Next time you’re thinking of being overly positive – maybe try a different approach with your writing. I’m not recommending that you bash your competition, but perhaps go for a little bit “outside of the norm headline” that will shock or intrigue your audience to click and read further. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.

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