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Out of 18 choices, why does one piece of content get 49% of the vote while another gets 0%?

Over the last six years, I have tested a range of headings and summaries. The tests were carried out in 14 countries with almost 3,000 people. People were asked to scan 31 headings and 18 summaries about a particular subject and then quickly choose the one that stood out for them.

These were the subject areas:

  • The launch of iTunes
  • A pet-food scare
  • A launch of discount software by Microsoft
  • The launch of the final Harry Potter book

Here's a summary of the results:

Top Headings

  • Tons of tunes (22%)
  • Poison found in pet food (30%)
  • $3 software for developing countries (23%)
  • Flying off the shelves (31%)

Bottom Headings

  • Apple's Music Store breaks the mould and sells technology (0%)
  • Rodent poison found in now-recalled pet food blamed for animal deaths (0%)
  • Three-Dollar Windows for Govt.-Subsidized Student Computers... (0%)
  • 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' sells 2.6 million copies in 24 hours (0%)

Top Summaries

  • 99 cents per download, no restrictions. One million tracks sold online in one week encouraging sign for ailing music industry. Apple... (49%)
  • By Josh Fineman and Michael Quint. March 23 (Bloomberg)—Rat poison killed at least 16 cats and dogs and prompted last week's recall of 60 million cans of... (38%)
  • Microsoft plans to offer a US$3 stripped-down package of Windows, Office and other software to people in developing... (34%)
  • WARNING: If you don't want to know what happens in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," stop reading now. JK Rowling is far too savvy a... (38%)

Bottom Summaries

  • The music industry owes a lot to technology. But the new millennium has brought slumping sales. Technology now terrifies music executives... (0%)
  • BY MICHAEL AMON. At first, the pet food recall didn't much worry Jack Friedman. His cats love Iams canned food but had never eaten the "cuts and gravy"... (0%)
  • In its effort to remain competitive and relevant to today's new generation of Windows users around the world, Microsoft unveiled on Thursday a new program... (0%)
  • Cash tills around the world rang to the tune of Harry Potter over the weekend and the seventh and final book in the... (0%)

The Common Characteristic of Success

The Web is the ultimate laboratory for content. It allows us to know, with increasing precision, what content leads to a positive action and what content leads to the Back button.

The content that works on the Web has one key characteristic: It is customer-centric. The content that doesn't work on the Web also has one key characteristic: It is organization-centric.

"99 cents per download, no restrictions" is the essence of what people want today. They want an immediate answer to the question: What's in it for me?

They want brutal, pared-down content that gets to the point immediately.

Your Web site is not a murder mystery. It is certainly not a place for we-we content. Short, sharp, second person and active; that's Web content.

Get to the point. Then stop.

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image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern ( is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.