These days, we’re all marketers. We’re all competing for eyeballs, frantically posting to our websites, blogs and social media hoping to build trust, brands and audience loyalty. But let’s be honest--what we’re really hoping to get out of this is new clients.
It’s hard to underestimate the importance of rock-star headlines
Each new social media application and blog platform that hits the marketplace represents new competition. So how do you set yourself apart? It’s difficult to overstate the importance of rockstar headlines. A good headline can entice and engage your audience to click, read, and share your content. Unfortunately, in many cases, headlines are the thing that is shared rather than the article. This is pure clickbait. It’s a scam when there’s no relationship between the headline and the article, and it’s doing a big disservice to your audience and the industry. But do you know what makes an engaging headline?
Listen to this: BuzzSumo analyzed 100 million article headlines. They examined stuff like:
- Headline phrases that drive most engagement on Facebook
- Worst performing headline phrases on Facebook
- Most effective phrases that start or end headlines
- Optimum number of words and characters to use in a headline
- Numbers to use in headlines that have the most impact
- Most engaging Twitter headline phrases
- Differences between B2C and B2B headlines
While there is no magic formula for creating a viral headline, by taking a look at what’s successful, we can model our own headlines on these formulas and capitalize on some of these trends.
Note: This research looks at the most shared headlines on Facebook and Twitter which tend to be dominated by major publishers and consumer content. Thus the insights will be particularly interesting for publishers. Business-to-business comes later this year.
Popular phrases in no particular order:
- Tears of joy
- Is what happens
- Are freaking out
- The only reason is
- Give you goosebumps
- Is talking about
- This is why
- Will make you
- Is too cute
As a serious business owner, a few of these phrases would never work for me. It’s clearly important to consider the industry. I’m very aware of the power of headlines and I work hard to make mine and those of my clients compelling and attention-grabbing. But there’s a caveat here. If you’re sending out a newsletter or posting a blog for someone in the legal or financial services industries, for instance, numbers 3, 5 and 9 are probably never going work for you. In fact, they’re wholly inappropriate for a lot of industries.
Data makes you rethink headlines
In the BuzzSumo sample, the most powerful three-word phrase used in a headline was: “Will make you … “ This phrase gained more than twice the number of Facebook engagements as the second most popular headline trigram. So why does this particular trigram or three-word phrase work so well? It’s a linking phrase. There’s a promise of a direct impact on the reader; it’s trying to elicit an emotional response; it’s the start of a relationship, which is what it is all about.
Curiosity and voyeurism also gain Facebook engagement
Headline phrases that provoke curiosity, tension and a sense of voyeurism also gained a high level of engagement on Facebook. For example:
- What happened next
- Talking about it
- Twitter reacts to
- Are freaking out
- Top x songs
These days, with the White House in a daily state of meltdown, a lot of the headlines that gained traction are politics-specific. But this is a good example--readers are often curious about what is being talked about by people, what the top items are in a league table, or what is being said by people on Twitter about a topic or event. This type of content appeals to our curiosity and voyeurism. With the Trump administration in Washington, we’re seeing a lot of headlines with “are freaking out” in them, and they’re killing the ratings.
BuzzSumo cautions writers to avoid ‘what happened next’ style headlines. While they have performed well, Facebook now categorizes headlines that withhold information as clickbait and demotes them. I believe this is a good thing. We’re seeing way too much clickbait—headlines that just don’t deliver that shows a clear lack of integrity.
Other engaging headline phrases are explanations
- This is why
- The reason is
We all want to feel that bit smarter after reading a piece of content. Explainer articles promise you an extra nugget of insight. In some ways they are similar to the “will make you” phrase headline as they make a promise about what you’ll gain as a result of reading the article.
We’re all looking for community these days, a sense of belonging to something. A word that has become part of our vernacular is “tribe”. These popular headlines appeal to a sense of tribal belonging. But don’t take these at face value. Model these headlines and make them work for you. Appeal to your own tribe.
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Is a subject line important? It's everything.
I just updated the list I keep by my computer—I try to incorporate these phrases into my blog and newsletter headlines and social media posts when they’re appropriate because I know that they’re powerful. I was working with a client one time and we were getting ready to send out her newsletter. I wanted to get her feedback on several subject lines. She was indifferent. “Is it important?” My answer: “It’s everything.”