Did you link into this blog because you thought it would be awesome or because the headline grabbed your attention? Luckily, you’re in for a treat because both reasons hold true.
Any headlined content you publish on the Web, whether it’s a blog, video, infographic, or webpage, needs to spark interest in readers. Headlines create expectation for an article’s content, set the stage, and force readers to learn what the headline means.
There are two basic principles for writing effective, viral-esque headlines:
- Recycling headline structures that are relevant
- Tapping into the viral mindset to attract attention
The first idea is easy to play with. Go to any of your favorite time-waster sites that generate thousands of page views merely because their headlines and crummy stock photos show up on your newsfeed. They are algebraic in nature, and most utilize forms of:
- [#] Things [Person] Lies About
- [#] Tragic [Nouns] That [Blank] Can’t Resist
- [#] Ways You Are Just Like [Famous Person]
- Why Your [Blank] Has Sex With [Blank]
- The Government [Blanks] and Doesn’t [Blank]
- Which [Blank] Are You?
Look familiar? These headlines pull in viral traffic. But hey, they work, don’t they? Yes. They work so effectively because of how familiar they are and easy to adapt to a specific blog or article’s needs. Writing these headlines is as easy as removing nouns and replacing them with keyword triggers that match the content.
Writing Viral Headlines
Businesses and bloggers trying to write creative, attention-grabbing headlines are up against a wall. The trick here is pulling in clicks without copying pulp headline skeletons. But what makes something viral? Facebook, of course. And what makes someone want to share something on Facebook? It makes them look smart, attractive, and pulls in likes, comments, and shares.
These headlines need to be loaded with social currency. Besides, the headlines are what go viral on social media, not the content. Viral headlines have a number of innate characteristics as well, such as:
- A trigger that causes an emotional response. “96 Puppies Dead in Subway,” for example, may trigger intense empathy in a reader and lead to a click. The same goes for headlines with humor, anger, fear, and those that reek of intelligence.
- Viral headlines need to be practical at the same time. People don’t want to click on “8 Ways to Look like Anne Hathaway” and be taken to a blog about bank loans. This example is extreme, but to build social sharing, writers need to build trust by delivering what a headline suggests.
- Finally, headlines need to pass the movie theater test. This is when a group of friends are debating which movie to see and one friend, likely the annoying one with a smartphone, starts laying out the premise and plot of each film. A headline needs to attract our primal need for storytelling with a hook and later deliver the promise in the content.
What’s In a Headline?
The above advice is highly subjective and doesn’t always work. Online publishing is a crazy industry, and there is yet to be a cookie-cutter formula for writing successful content and attractive headlines. But in all this chaos a few definite truths have surfaced that can easily be used to fortify headline writing.
Numbers, for instance, strike interest in headline skimmers. An article with a number means that a reader can skim through, read a paragraph here or there, and spend less than a minute doing so. When you add a number to the front of a headline, make sure the content is structured in a way for quick reading.
The infamous “How To” headline works wonders. The Internet, it seems, was created to answer all of our questions. A headline can remind us, “Oh, yeah. I was always meaning to ask how I can lose weight without losing confidence,” or, “I never thought about Googling ‘How to kill two birds with one stone.’”
Note: The two examples in the above paragraph would make terrible headlines.
Want to get really crazy? Try a, “How to [Blank] in [#] Easy Steps” on for size.
Headlines also need to be as minimalistic as possible. Who has time to read more than 10 words, anyway? Keep them short and avoid overenthusiastic superlatives that take up space. By the way, a superlative is an adjective that describes the degree of quality (like Greatest, the Best, a Sterling diet for the Hottest singles, etc.).
Write your headline, write your content, then go back to your headline. How has its meaning changed? What can you do to improve it? The headline is the most important element of your blog or Web content, which is why Grammar Chic is here to help. Ring us any time at 803-831-7444 or visit our site at www.grammarchic.net.
Amanda E. Clark founded Grammar Chic in 2008. She is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University and holds degrees in Journalism, Political Science, and English. She launched Grammar Chic after freelancing for several years while simultaneously leading marketing and advertising initiatives for several Fortune 500 companies.