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Headline writing is one of those tasks that, as bloggers, we don’t always give a lot of thought to. We concentrate on producing great content backed by credible sources and adding attractive images that will draw the reader’s eye. But it is easy to overlook those words along the top of the page and their importance. However, ignore them at your peril, say the experts.
Not all words are created equal, there’s little doubt. Some have emotion connected to them, some form an image in our minds of something and others are just there to ensure everything makes sense. Among this flood of words are words of power – nothing to do with magic spells or Harry Potter but words that are proven to grab our attention. And when we bloggers write our headlines; these are the words we should seek to harness.
BuzzSumo carried out some research based around viral posts and what elements their headlines contained in common. Working with the most viral posts of 2015, they came up with a group of words that they found were contained the most in viral posts – in other words posts that have received significant shares and comments compared to average.
Their research was grouped into five categories – emotion element, content element, topic element, format element and promise element. Within each category was a word or words that had particular effect on the reading. And they found that most of the viral posts they studied used at least three of these categories in each headline, sometimes four or even all five.
Using power words
Emotional words were the ultimate power words and their research highlighted a few – amusing, surprising, heart-warming, beautiful, inspiring, warning and shocking. These could be paired with the content element such as images, facts, charts, quotes or videos – this being the actual word, not the item it describes. So, a headline could start ‘Amusing Facts About X’.
The topic element included things such as trending topics so things that were big in the news at the moment. Of late, this could be topics such as Brexit, the US Presidential Election or popular TV shows. Health, babies, love and long life were also included in this as well as cats and dogs. Who says that cute cat videos aren’t the way to go?
The format of the content and therefore its headline highlighted the most popular types of post. List posts, though criticised by some, remain top of the list (ha-ha) while quizzes, stories and research reports also did well. Curated stories featured on the list.
The promise element, as BuzzSumo called it, could be seen as the packaging. Phrase like ‘how to’ and ‘complete guide to’ would be paired with the other word groups to show what the article promised to provide. So, it could be 10 Surprising Practical Tips to Improve your Love Life. This would include the list post, the emotional element, the promise and the topic element.
Other headline writing tips
So, that’s the BuzzSumo take on what makes a viral headline but what about if you just want to write a good headline that makes sense and portrays the content of your article? I use CoSchedule’s Headline Analyser for all of my posts and it gives me a good idea if I have a balance of the right stuff in them. Not every headline will score super well but it is a great guideline.
As the creators of said software, it isn’t a surprise that CoSchedule have also written quite a bit on the topic of headline writing. Theirs is a very comprehensive guide that I would recommend but here’s a few highlights (there’s a cool freebie download on there too!).
One of their primary tips is to write a headline that offers to solve a problem for your reader. So, my headline (I hope) tells you that I’m going to give some tips on headline writing (which I hope I am doing). Including ‘how to’ in a title is a simple way to boost your headline but make sure that the content of the article lives up to the promise.
Another strategy is to suggest the ‘best’ way to do something. Most people search for something on the internet because they have a question to be answered. When your headline offers the best answer to this question, they are drawn to read it.
Another powerful headline is one that shares your own experience with others so examples such as ‘What I learned’ or ‘What I Found Out’ will show that you are telling your secrets. This helps build up trust with the reader too.
Clickbait headlines are being penalised now by the likes of Facebook so there’s no need to consider them. they are those stupid headlines that promise something fantastic and are usually on something completely different. Very five years ago and not something we do now!
CoSchedule also say you should write 25 headlines for every article to get the best one – I’ll admit the most I got to was about ten on one awkward piece. And while the headline is very important, if you spend too much time on it and not enough on your content, then it won’t matter if it is potentially viral – the piece won’t go anywhere. However, good headline preparation can be key to gaining those extra page views and achieving your aim with the piece.