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Good headlines, as any editor know, “tell and sell.” They accurately reflect the content that follows, but they also do it in a way that pulls readers into the content of the story.
So headlines should not be an afterthought, especially on the web. Memorable headlines get more attention, which in exchange means more engagement and more web traffic for your site or article. Still, many writers slap on a headline right before it’s sent off and give it little to no thought.
But there’s good news for anyone responsible for headlines, courtesy of Steve Rayson, from BuzzSumo. He conducted a study of 100 million headlines, and his findings can result in headlines that attract more views, shares, likes and overall attention.
“While there is no magic formula for creating a viral or popular headline,” Rayson explains, “there are many lessons we can learn to improve our content engagement.”
Readers are curious
Readers want answers and feel the need to know everything, he says. Word combinations are an easy, quick and effective way to piece a headline together with guarantee to make it more engaging. Some of the most successful combinations include:
- “X reasons why”
- “This is what”
- “X things you”
- “This is the”
- “This is how”
Now it is no surprise after reading some of the popular beginning phrases that the word “this” is the most used and responded to first word in headlines. The reason: It drives people to want to know what “this” is.
The most powerful three-word phrase in headlines is “will make you.” This phrase gains more than twice to number of engagements. “One of the interesting things is that it is a linking phrase. It doesn’t start or end a headline; rather it makes explicit the linkage between the content and the potential impact on the reader,” Rayson says. In essence, it explains why the reader should care about the content.
Readers have emotions
Emotional and feeling phrases also grab people’s attention. Among the phrases that are effective for engagement purposes:
- “make you cry”
- “melt your heart”
- “give you goosebumps”
- “can’t stop laughing”
Rayon gives a warning, however, about the use of emotions, “Despite the strong performance of emotional posts, content writers increasingly have to be careful in using emotional and sensational language.” In other words, do not make a story seem bigger than it really is.
Readers like numbers
Listicles are very popular with readers, and 10 is the most engaging number for people to see. Multiples of five account for more than half of the most engaging headlines. Rayson says quizzes are also very common among viewers because “they appeal to our desire to know more about ourselves and to prove we’re smart. They are hard to ignore.” People want to know they are right and always what to find out more about themselves.
Also, tribal headlines work and continue to be growing in use, according to BuzzSumo. A tribal headline includes the words “that only.” For example, “12 Things That Only People From Illinois Will Understand.” People what to know if they are a part of that select group.
Readers want the whole story
The ending of a headline is just as important because it gives more clarification and insights into the article. Popular ending include:
- “the world”
- “X years”
- “goes viral”
- “to know”
- “X days”
After reading BuzzSumo’s findings, headline writers might be less perplexed as to how to engage and keep readers. But, Rayson notes, “The key point is that there is no simple formula or approach when it comes to popular headlines; you need to research and understand the headlines that resonate with your audience and industry.”
Alexis Lee attends the University of Mississippi, where she is a junior Integrated Marketing Communications major with a public relations emphasis. She writes articles/stories, manages social media platforms and works with organizations to enhance their marketing strategies. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.