engaging-headlines-buzzsumo

It is difficult to overstate the importance of headlines. A good headline can entice and engage your audience to click, to read, and to share your content. In many cases headlines are the thing that is shared rather than the article. So you knew that. But do you know what makes an engaging headline?

To help answer this question we analyzed 100 million article headlines. We have set out below our findings from the research including the:

While there is no magic formula for creating a viral or popular headline, there are many lessons we can learn to improve our content engagement. We shared our findings with a number of content experts to reflect on the implications of the research for writers. We have included their expert thoughts and advice at the end of this post. We have also included a section on how you can analyze headlines yourself using BuzzSumo.

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. We are undertaking separate research on engaging headlines for business to business content which we will publish later this year.

Most Engaging Headline Phrases: The Data

In our survey of 100m headlines published between 1st March 2017 and 10th May 2017, the three word phrases or trigrams that gained the most Facebook engagements (likes, shares, comments) were as follows.Most engaging headline phrases by Facebook Engagement

Why The Data Will Make You Think Again About Headlines

In our sample the most powerful three word phrase used in a headline (by some margin) was:

  “Will make you … “

This phrase “will make you” gained more than twice the number of Facebook engagements as the second most popular headline trigram. This was a surprise. When we started out looking for top trigrams, this one wasn’t even on our list.

So why does this particular trigram or three word phrase work so well? 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.

This headline format sets out why the reader should care about the content. It also promises that the content will have a direct impact on the reader, often an emotional reaction. The headline is clear and to the point which makes it elegant and effective.

Typical headlines include:

  • 24 Pictures That Will Make You Feel Better About The World
  • What This Airline Did for Its Passengers Will Make You Tear Up – So Heartwarming
  • 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person
  • “Who Wore It Better?” Pics That Will Make You Laugh Out Loud
  • 13 Travel Tips That Will Make You Feel Smart

See the most shared “will make you” headlines from the last year.

Emotional Headlines Drive Facebook Interactions

In our analysis we found that emotional phrases were consistently effective on Facebook as measured by the number of interactions. For example:

  • Tears of joy
  • Make you cry
  • Give you goosebumps
  • Is too cute
  • Shocked to see
  • Melt your heart
  • Can’t stop laughing

Many of the top performing posts with emotional headlines had image or video content although there were also story posts. Below is an example video post.

melt-your-heart-popular-headlines

Despite the strong performance of emotional posts, content writers increasingly have to be careful in using emotional and sensational language. In May 2017 Facebook announced it will demote “headlines that exaggerate the details of a story with sensational language” and which aim “to make the story seem like a bigger deal than it really is.”

Curiosity and Voyeurism Also Gain Facebook Engagement

Headline phrases that provoke curiosity 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

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 a reader’s sense of curiosity and voyeurism. If you are curious, here are the most shared posts in the last year that have “are freaking out” in the headline.

We would caution writers to avoid ‘what happened next’ style headlines. While they have previously performed well, Facebook now categorises headlines that withhold information as clickbait and demotes them. In my personal view this is a good thing and I hope we will see an end to such clickbait headlines.

Other Engaging Headline Phrases

Explanations

  • This is why
  • The reason is

These phrases are also linked strongly to curiosity. For example:

  • And this is why women live longer than men…
  • This is why you should be sleeping on your left side

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.

Here are the most shared ‘this is why’ headlines of the last year.

Quizzes

  • Can we guess
  • Only x in

These phrases are used in popular quiz headlines, for example:

  • Can We Guess Your Real Age?
  • Only 1 In 50 People Can Identify These 16 Grammar Mistakes. Can You?

Quizzes remain an engaging format on Facebook. The first of these headline types is a quiz variation, it challenges you to answer to questions and to see if the quiz can then predict your age, level of education, job etc., based on your answers. These quizzes appeal to our desire to know more about ourselves and to prove we’re smart, we did grow up in the 80s, we are living in the right city, or whatever it might be. These quizzes are like mirrors, it’s hard to walk past with out looking at yourself. They are hard to ignore.

Tribal headlines

  • X things only

These popular headlines appeal to a sense of tribal belonging for example:

  • 25 Things Only Teachers Will Understand
  • 17 Things Only Moms of Twins Understand
  • 9 Things Only Girls Who Grew Up With Older Brothers Will Understand
  • 10 Things Only Night Shift Nurses Understand

Here are the most shared examples of ‘things only’ headlines in the last year.

We have seen a significant growth in tribal headlines, particularly politically partisan headlines. It is almost as if there is a duty on the tribe to share posts that support their viewpoints. We saw this in the US elections and we have seen something similar in the recent UK elections. These tribal headlines tend to gain a lot of engagement and shares, which might be encouraging sites to use polemical headlines more frequently.

 The Worst Performing Phrases

We thought it would also be interesting to examine the commonly used phrases in headlines that receive the lowest Facebook engagement.

Worst performing headlines phrases on Facebook engagement

Note: We only looked at phrases or trigrams that were used on a minimum of 100 different domains. There will be worse performing phrases than those used above but these are the worst performing commonly used phrases.

It was interesting to see how poorly phrases like ‘on a budget’ performed on Facebook. While some individual articles did well, the average Facebook engagement was very low. By contrast the phrase ‘on a budget’ appears to work really well on Pinterest for DIY topics. See the examples below.

pinterest-headlines

This highlights the importance of context. It may simply be that Facebook is not a place where someone is actively looking for tips to save money and that the Pinterest DIY context is better suited to this content. This reinforces the need to research what works for your audience, your topics and specific social networks.  A headline may perform poorly on Facebook but work very well with a different audience on a different social network. The same is true when writing for different sectors, for example a phrase like ‘need to know’ may work well in say health but work less well in a different context. The key is to research what resonates with your specific audience and to test your headlines.

Phrases That Start Or End Headlines

The most popular phrase “will make you” is a phrase that clearly sits in the centre of a headline as it connects two elements. Thus it creates the structure by linking something to an emotional reaction.

This was partly a surprise as previous research has suggested the most important part of a headline is the first three words and the last three words. It may be that using a linking phrase such as “will make you” actually emphasizes the importance of both the beginning and end of the sentence.

We thought it would be useful to look at the top three word phrases that start headlines and the phrases that end headlines.

Below are the most popular phrases that start headlines by number of Facebook interactions (x represents a number).Top phrases starting headlines by facebook engagement

Below are the most popular phrases that end headlines by number of Facebook interactions (x represents a number).

Top Phrases Ending Headlines by Facebook Engagement

Finally, below are the most popular first words that start headlines by average Facebook interactions.

Top First Word in headlines Facebook

 

Two word phrases

In our analysis we also looked at the most shared bigrams or two word combinations. Often these were part of longer three word phrases or trigrams that we have previously identified, for example:

  • ‘Make you’ – part of ‘will make you’
  • ‘Is why’ – part of ‘this is why’

There were, however, a few exceptional two word phrases that gained a high level of average engagements. These included:

  • ‘goes viral’           9,746 average engagements
  • ‘most beautiful’    3,921 average engagements

Both of these align with the high engaging headline types we found when looking at three word phrases. The first is a form of voyeuristic content which provokes curiosity for example ‘High School Seniors Paint Their Parking Spots And Their Art Goes Viral On Twitter’.

The second is a form of emotional content with often an explicit promise of exceptional content. For example ‘Clementinum In Prague Is The Most Beautiful Library In The World’. This particular example, was picked up and reused by Bored Panda with a similar headline ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Library Is In Prague, Czech Republic’. Both posts got over 250,000 Facebook engagements.

Here are the most shared posts of the last year with ‘goes viral’ in the headline.

The Power of List Posts and the Number 10 in Headlines

Many of the most engaging phrases contain numbers, and many use a list post format i.e. headlines that start with a number. It is well known that list posts gain above average social shares. We were interested to see if there was any variation between the performance of different numbers, for example a list post starting with 10 or say 4. The table below shows the average Facebook engagements for different number list posts in our sample.Top numbers to use in headlines by facebook engagement

We can see that the number 10 was the highest performing headline number, which confirms previous research in this area. Our research found that the next three best performing numbers in headlines were 5, 15 and 7.

Many marketers have advocated using unique numbers or much longer numbers for comprehensive articles. Buzzfeed have had a lot of success with the number 23 for example, but on average 10, 5, 15 and 7 are the top performing list posts.

How Many Words Should be in your Headlines? More Than You Think

Let’s look at the length of your headline. Experts such as Jacob Neilson have argued that the best headlines for news sites are very short. Jacob argues for as short as five words or less than 40 characters. Buffer’s Kevan Lee wrote a comprehensive post which suggested blog post headlines should ideally be six words or less than 50 characters. By contrast, research from Outbrain looking at 100,000 posts, suggests that 16 to 18 words and 80 to 110 characters is optimal for driving engagement. When it comes to email subject lines, research by MailChimp suggests that it doesn’t really matter how long subject lines are.

We decided to test these assumptions. with our sample of 100m articles published between 1st March and 10 May 2017.  We analyzed the number of words in article headlines and plotted this number against the average number of Facebook engagements for all headlines in our sample. The results are shown on the chart below.

headline_words_engagements

 

We can see that posts with twelve to eighteen words in the headline receive the highest number of Facebook engagements on average. As headlines get longer or shorter the average number of Facebook engagements decline.

Twelve plus words may sound like a lot, though if you’re going to make clear the topic, format and use an effective trigram you will need them. Here are some examples:

This Infographic Shows How Only 10 Companies Own All The World’s Food Brands

E-Cigarettes Found to Have 10 times More Cancer Causing Ingredients than Regular Cigarettes

We also looked at the relationship between the number of characters in a headline and average FB engagements. Our findings were as follows:

headline_chars_engagements

 

Not surprisingly the number of characters has a similar relationship to average Facebook engagements as the number of words. In essence 80 to 95 characters appears optimal.

Thus our research findings would tend to support Outbrain’s previous research that longer headlines work better when it comes to engagement.

Headline Phrases That Engage On Twitter

Will a headline that works on Facebook work equally well on Twitter? Not necessarily. We found the headline phrases that gained the most engagement on Twitter were quite distinct from those that gained high engagement on Facebook. The main exception was the powerful “will make you” phrase which was the top phrase on Facebook and also the fourth most shared phrase on Twitter.

What is particularly interesting is the lack of emotional phrases in the top headlines that resonate on Twitter. This is very different to our findings for Facebook.

Top Headline Phrases on Twitter

The top Twitter phrases have a focus on newness such as “for first time” and “is the new”.

The top trigrams shared on Twitter also focus more on explanations and analysis for example:

  • The truth about
  • The rise of
  • Things to know
  • This is what
  • What we know

You can test the impact of different headlines on Twitter by trying different text in your tweets.

B2B Headlines

Update: 18th July 2017. We have now completed our analysis of the best B2B headlines where we reviewed the 10 million most shared posts on LinkedIn in 2017. We found significant differences between the best headline phrases, structures, numbers and lengths for B2B headlines compared to B2C headlines.

You can read the full analysis and post here: The best B2B headline phrases, words and formats based on 10 million posts shared on LinkedIn.

The top phrases in headlines shared on LinkedIn were as follows.

Top-B2B-Headline-Phrases

We also found a significant difference between optimum headline lengths for B2B and B2C content. The optimum number of words in B2B headlines was much lower as we can see below. The red line is average LinkedIn shares and the blue line is average Facebook shares.

fb-linkedin-words

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.

Expert Reflections and Advice

We shared our research with a number of content experts to get their thoughts, reflections and advice for content writers. Here is their take on the findings.

Ann Handley
Ann Handley

“I love research that quantifies content marketing success. But at the same time, I will be gutted if businesses take this information and conclude that the best headline to use forever and always is something like 10 Ways That Will Make You a Better Headline Writer (and You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!)

That’s a facile (and ridiculous) interpretation. Instead, the broader messages here are:
  1. Spend as much time writing the headline as you do an entire blog post or social post. Why? Because the headline matters. (Really matters.) (I do this, by the way.)
  2.  Test what resonates with YOUR audience. (Not mine. And not your co-working neighbor’s. And not your dog sitter’s uncle’s audience. YOURS.)
  3.  Burn some brain cells getting a little creative with your headlines. This research hopefully inspires you to rethink headlines, because it tells you what kind of headlines have worked for 100m posts in the past. But of course, it’s just a measure of what has worked, not what will work. Think more deeply: What does it suggest? What might it inspire? Use this data as a kind of guidepost to inspire your own, new, never-before-trodden path.”

Andy Crestodina

andy_crestodina“I’m sure that some marketers will take this research as prescriptive advice and cram every top trigram into a 15 word headline. “This is why these 10 stunning photos will make you cry tears of joy!” I’ll admit, I’d probably click that.

But think for a minute about the cause behind the correlations. This research is telling us to give readers stronger reasons to click.

Every time our readers see a headline, they do a split second cost-benefit calculation. It doesn’t matter if they’re in an inbox, a social stream or a search results page. The psychology is the same. Is this thing worth two seconds of my time?

The headline’s job is to answer this question. Here’s how:

  • Take as many words as you need to make the case that the click is worth it
  • Be specific (this is why, this is how, the reason is)
  • If it’s not emotional, it better be useful (work for you, x simple tips, you should use)

This research holds some very powerful insights. I’m sure it will change how many marketers craft their headlines. For me, the big takeaway is to maximize the perceived benefit of the click. Because that’s the game we’re all playing: we only click when the likely benefits exceed the cost of 2-seconds of our attention!”

Heidi Cohen

Cohen_Heid

“The B2B research reveals an opportunity for marketers and content creators to stand out not by following the pack but by applying the emotional elements that work for posts in general. B2B content and marketing has come a long way thanks to Joe Pulizzi and Ann Handley but it can go further by tapping into the human voice and connection.”

Michael Brenner

michael-brenner“There are three important things to note from the research.

Headlines matter. Maybe that sounds obvious and most of us know this. But do we all spend as much time as we should on headlines? I suggest spending nearly as much time on the headline as on the article itself!

Curiosity drives shares. Captain obvious here again. But the trick is to find a way to spark that curiosity in every headline. It’s why headlines that start with “Here’s why…” or “The one thing that will make you…” work really well. Because they spark instant curiosity. They make us feel compelled to read.

Tell stories. Yes, you can tell a story in a 15 word headline. Hemingway did it in 6 words with his “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” We tell stories to convey emotion. To bring people into our frame of the world. To forget where they are for a moment. To make them the hero on a journey to a better place.”

Larry Kim

Larry Kim “I’m blown away at how hard people work on producing content only to slap on a crappy headline as an afterthought. If you have a great article, don’t sabotage yourself by using a weak hook – there’s nothing wrong with using these catchy phrases. Stop fighting them! Like it or not, click through rates play an ever increasing role in the organic search and social news feed algorithms that essentially determine if your content is seen or not. Why produce content if not to be consumed? Stop shooting yourself in the foot and use this research.”

Headline Review Questions

The danger of this type of research is that people simply look to reuse the most shared phrases or words in their headlines. However, the real value of the research is a better understanding of the formats and principles of the headlines that resonate with readers. The research suggests that the characteristics of engaging headlines typically include one or more of the following:

  • A focus on why the reader should care
  • Clarity and promise
  • Emotional hooks
  • Provoke curiosity
  • Provide explanations
  • Appeal to a tribe

The research also reinforces the importance of context and of understanding what works in your specific context, such as your audience, your industry, your topics and your social networks.  

With these points in mind here are some questions that may be useful to ask when formulating your headlines:

  • Why should the reader care about your content?
  • Can you make a promise or claim about the impact of your article on the reader?
  • Can you include an emotional element – especially if looking to gain traction on Facebook?
  • Are you tapping into a trending topic, if so can you call it out in the headline?
  • Can you make it a quiz or challenge?
  • Could you position it as an explanation or answer post?
  • Who’s your tribe – what headlines resonate with them?
  • Will a more partisan or controversial headline appeal to your tribe?
  • Are you aiming for 12-18 words in your headline?

How Did We Decide On The Headline For This Post?

We brainstormed a range of possible headlines including ones such as ‘Headlines That Engage: Insights from 100m Posts.’ When we did further research using BuzzSumo, we looked specifically at large research projects in the marketing sector and found that ‘we analyzed’ and ‘we learned’ worked really well as a structure. For example:

Thus after much deliberation and discussion we decided on using this format for the post headline.

Methodology Note

We looked at the headlines of 100m articles published from March 1st, 2017 to May 10, 2017 and analysed those that gained the most social shares.

We specifically looked at top trigrams (three word phrases) used in headlines. We started by ignoring trigrams that were topics such as  “Game of Thrones”.

We were conscious that popular sites can skew the results, therefore for this analysis we only included one headline trigram example per domain. For instance, “can we guess” is a very popular BuzzFeed trigram thus we would only have included one “can we guess” headline from BuzzFeed in our trigram analysis. From the subsequent list we then removed the three most shared examples of each trigram to remove potential outliers, such as a post that got say 100,000 shares.

For our analysis of the optimum number of words and characters in headlines we included all 100m posts.

How To Analyze Headline Phrases Using BuzzSumo

If you want to do some analysis of headline phrases yourself, you can simply put a phrase in double quotes into BuzzSumo such as “can we guess”. The search will return the most shared articles with that phrase in the headline and display the share counts from each network and the number of linking domains. Here is an example of the most shared posts for “the future of.  You can further refine your search by adding additional words after the phrase in quotes, here is an example: the future of” Elon Musk. This will return the most shared headlines with the phrase “the future of” and Elon Musk. You can do this for multiple phrases or phrases and topics.

The various BuzzSumo paid plans allow you to review the most shared headline phrases over the past five years and to export up to 10,000 examples of each phrase with share and link data for further analysis. You can also:

You may also be interested in our previous post on how to create viral headlines.

  • Fascinating stuff!
    I can’t bear ‘clickbait’ because when I click it I hate knowing that I’ve been manipulated, but there’s some solid gold advice here for those of us with less cynical motives too.
    Thanks!

    • Steve Rayson

      Me too. I dislike the ‘what happened next’ style headlines in particular.

    • restrict searches to just headlines used for say infographics or videos

      • Steve Rayson

        Hi, you can do this in BuzzSumo, just select the content type on the left hand menu eg infographics or videos or both

  • Great work, thank you

    • Steve Rayson

      Thank, I hope it is helpful.

  • Ademola Abimbola

    Awesome! This will help improve engagement on my Facebook posts. Thanks. Please, can you do similar research on Twitter, LinkedIn etc? 🙂

  • Wow! Never noticed the “will make you” was so engaging

    • Steve Rayson

      That one really surprised me as well but when I sat back and reflected it made more sense. I think it is connecting the content to the impact on the reader. Also giving you a clear reason to read.

      • Pierpaolo Frigerio

        LOL I like how you yourself used it in your section heading “Why The Data Will Make You Think Again About Headlines” ….very subtle. I’m surprised no one else picked up on it…Great article with a lot of actionable information.

  • Excellent article that I’ll take some time to digest Steve. That number 10 is really quite remarkable, but of course, the research backs it up. This is a great follow-up to your Top B2B Content Formats article.

    • Steve Rayson

      Thanks Jeff. Yes, there is a lot of data. Thought I should stop at 4,000 words 🙂

  • Mateus Leite

    mind blowing 🙂

  • There’s so much to digest here. Thanks for sharing all your findings and for enriching them by getting feedback on your insights from some of the top communications influencers.

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Diane, thanks. Yes, I think getting expert views is something we should do more often.

  • Kate H

    I love all the research that goes into posts like these. I appreciate that when I’m reading a BuzzSumo blog post I know I’m going to get a deep dive into a topic, with actionable insights I can put to work in my own writing immediately. Thanks for this great resource!

    • Steve Rayson

      Thanks, Kate. They take a while to research and produce but hopefully they provide some helpful insights.

    • I agree.

  • I really love your studies, guys. With this one, while it’s super-useful, did you look into the site’s popularity factor as well? A bad title on a big site would have better numbers than a good title on a small site, so correlating the findings with available data per site aggregated across all sites (so basically adding the popularity index into the calculations) might give some more accurate results.

    • Steve Rayson

      Thanks, it is a really good question. We were conscious of the potential skew of larger sites if they used particular headlines frequently (as they tend to). Thus for trigrams we only included one instance per site of a particular trigram. We also removed the three most shared posts for each trigram to remove potential outliers eg a post from a Buzzfeed that got say 100,000 shares. It isn’t perfect but it lowers the potential of very large sites to skew the data.

  • Josh

    Thanks for this great piece of content! Definitely a must read by anyone in content marketing.
    By the way, what software have you used to create the bar charts? Look good.

  • Amazing, and well-thought out work guys. I especially love how you had people who know what they’re talking about to help rationalize things on a business-per-business standpoint. While best performing headline/keywords/posts is always great to understand, it’s always best to bring it back to “does this apply to my specific audience?”

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Dustin, thanks. Absolutely agree. The principles may apply but the key is to research what works for your topic, audience and industry.

  • Great post Steve!

  • The Pisig Club

    Very insightful article. I’d like to ask though if you were also able to get the demographics of those who engaged on those given headlines? I’m only wondering if these data would be applicable to the Philippine market.

    • Steve Rayson

      We can see who shared posts on Twitter and look at their location but most shares are on Facebook. One thing you can do is use the top level domain filter in BuzzSumo to search for the most shared posts on a topic only from .ph domains. You can also search in any language.

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi, you can search for top headlines on BuzzSumo for .ph domains and by language. My suspicion is the underlying principles probably apply across markets eg be clear why the reader should pay attention to your content, provoke curiosity, use emotional hooks, have a clear promise in the headline etc.

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi, we didn’t look specifically at demographics. However, you can look at headlines resonating by top level domain such as .ph and by language on BuzzSumo.

  • Camila Grotti

    Simply amazing content!

  • Paul Mortimer

    Thanks for this post. I’m working on refreshing our social processes at our agency and this is really useful. Cheers!

  • Kornel Varga

    A must-read analysis for every marketer, congratulations, Steve! A question to your methodology at calculating engagements: how did you weight the frequency of the three components: likes, shares, comments? Or 1 like = 1 share = 1 comment?

    • Steve Rayson

      Kornel, that is a good question and one we discussed a lot. Shares are arguably much stronger than likes, although likes can also cause content to be shared in a Facebook feed. Comments potentially indicate a higher level of engagement. We decided in the end to simply use total Facebook engagements, so the number includes all three components, effectively they are equally weighted.

      • Kornel Varga

        I agree that even if they are not equivalent, it wouldn’t be easy to find other correct ratio.

  • Charlotte Banfield

    Hi, thanks for this really useful analysis – I’ve pulled some handy conclusions from it. I have a question though regarding the section on number of items in a list. From your data, 10 item lists gain the most engagement then 5, 15, 7 then 20, etc., but how many lists exist in your dataset with each of these numbers? As in, if the majority of website post 10 item lists, it’s inevitable that 10 item lists would come out on top with the most engagement, because there are just more lists of that number out there.

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Charlotte, good question though just because there are more uses of a number it doesnt mean they will have higher average engagement. In our sample there were 2,675 10 list posts but it wasnt the most used. For example, there were 4,363 25 list posts and 3,367 3 list posts.

  • Adam Kleinschmidt

    This is so good.. I don’t want to share it.. can you please take it down? 🙂

    • Steve Rayson

      Thanks, luckily or unluckily as I write this over 5k people have already shared 🙂

  • thank you for this great knowledge here, now i can optimist any post i want to get more engagement on

  • Michael Gans

    Would love to see this analysis for LinkedIn posts!

  • Jonathan Brouhard

    Love this. Just wish the article was titled “We Analyzed 100 Million Headlines. What We Learned (New Research) Will Make You Less Vulnerable To Manipulative Headlines.” Idk, maybe that’s to meta.

    • Steve Rayson

      🙂 We did think about it.

  • Cwbintennessee Michael Winton

    I worked in social media for 3 years and ”research” like this always makes me laugh.
    You can’t research viral content. It either goes viral or it don’t

    I’m so glad clickbait is dying a painful well deserved death because it’s all trash

    • Steve Rayson

      I think it is a good point about viral content. It is hard to learn from outliers. This is why we removed the very top most shared posts for each trigram before we did the calculations. Occasionally a combination of factors results in a post getting hundreds of thousands of shares. We were not looking here at viral content but a sample of 100 million posts published in a two month window. Thus we were not trying to analyze what goes viral but rather why particular headlines resonate more than others. You might be interested in this review I did of ‘The Hit Makers: How things become popular’ which I thought provided some interesting insights http://buzzsumo.com/blog/content-becomes-popular-lessons-hit-makers/

  • Seth Bridges

    Kudos, Steve. Very well done!

  • Really amazing, I couldn’t say more. Thank You

    • Steve Rayson

      Thanks, really appreciate the feedback, I hope it is helpful.

  • Sam

    Great read, I just skimmed over it so I’m going to come back to absorb more info when I have more brain capacity.

    • Steve Rayson

      Thanks Sam, yes, there is a lot here. We had so much data the hard part was trying to decide what to include but felt I should stop at 4,000 words! We will be publishing a separate post on B2B headlines as there appear to be some important differences.

  • Day Piercy

    Thanks for the great research and reporting. Subheads helped me to get my mind around the indepth material presented. I also appreciated inclusion of expert reflections. Many great ideas that will make my headline writing easier and better. Maybe ask all of us for results feedback in a few months?

    • Steve Rayson

      Thanks, I think the key takeaways are about the importance of context and the underpinning principles of what makes a headline engaging. It is not copying a phrase or using power words but making it clear why the reader should care, provoking curiosity, having emotional hooks, appealing to a tribe or providing clear explanations. These broad principles I think are more valuable lessons than identifying popular words or phrases.

      • Day Piercy

        I agree, Steve. Great “takeaway summary.” The examples of popular words and phrases helped to anchor the ideas for me yesterday as I wrote headlines. The list by one of your experts (don’t remember the name) of “what to think about when you write headlines” also helps to go deeper beyond just lifting sample phrases. I always love to learn what I can apply immediately … this is a five stars in that category.

  • Anita Dow

    A fascinating study with a huge amount of valuable insights that I can use immediately. Had to take notes but will return to this as an important resource. Many thanks for this extensive research..

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Anita, thanks. I really hope it is helpful. Steve

  • Ruchi

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Jake Blumes

    Hi Steve, great article and very cool that you reply to questions here. My question is, can we look at the headlines that work best by Age or Region? We target the mature market and I would love to know how people age 55+ or 65+ compare.

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Jake, thanks. We didn’t look at specific regions or demographics. They would be interesting to research. I suspect some of the core principles will apply consistently such as making it clear why the reader should care about your content, provoking curiosity etc. However, the words, phrases and formats to do this could be quite different for different audiences. You could pull data from specific domains which you know have an older readership and those which research shows have a younger audience and do some comparisons. You can also test headlines using FB ads targeted at different age groups. Would be an interesting area to explore further.

  • Nam Nam

    I love all useful information here. It’s really an indicator for me to write good heading. Thanks

  • copywriting is psychological

  • Judy Montel

    Re what Larry Kim said about slapping a careless headline on carefully crafted content – beware, folks, the reverse is true and nothing kills a reputation quicker than a catchy headline that leads to an insipid list or article.
    As a LinkIn reader, I can say that 90% of their content reads like it was machine generated. Just saying. I read it sometimes because it’s short enough, but it’s useful only as a substitute for Spider Solitaire – not as something to engage with.

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Judy, I agree with that. A headline is one thing but you have to deliver on the promise, otherwise you might get a click but you won’t build a reputation and authority.

  • John Castagna

    This isn’t about honestly useful information-sharing. This is how Facebook clickbait works. If the clickbait approach to information is what’s recommended, we are ethically doomed.

  • Steve Rayson

    Thanks, be interested in how you get on.

  • Christin Baumgarten

    This is great stuff, thanks so much! Super helpful:-)

  • Paula Thomas

    Steve, thanks for all the breakdowns and charts. This is a terrific resource. Thanks for all the work you put into it — and for the “how to.”

  • Paul McDevitt

    As they would say in the U.K. ‘brilliant’ and in the US and Canada ‘awesome’. Seriously good work and seriously interested in whether any differences by region (country, segment of country.)

    Clearly headlines have always been important. But just seeing the data as you have shared should hammer that home even more. Will have to spend more time digging into them now that the bar has been raised in terms of insight.

    Thanks Steve.

    • Steve Rayson

      Thanks Paul. It is a really good point about regional differences. The US would not use Brilliant as we might here in the UK. Even on this headline ‘analyzed’ is a difficult one because of different spellings and I considered dropping it. Definitely scope for a study looking at regional variations.

  • higher number of words in headlines than I would have thought – interesting – thanks Steve 🙂

    • Steve Rayson

      Thanks Andy, yes, I was surprised. Our latest B2B research shows that shorter headlines gain more engagement in a business environment.

  • Corry McClure

    I will file this, so much great stuff!

  • Agnel Vishal

    I am curious as to how did Buzzsumo manage to crawl the whole internet

  • What a great post! So timely as I have just invested an hour with a new writer explaining the impact of logic vs emotion and how if the reader doesn’t buy into the heading, everything else is pointless. Thank you!

  • Teresa Eldred

    I just gained so much insight from your post. ALOT of work! went into this. This is so valuable to me. I have been researching and reading everything I can as this is all so very new to me. Thank you so much for this incredible share!

  • Elizabeth A Hatcher

    Great article! Very useful and timely information. I’ll be sharing and referring back to this piece often. Thank you!

  • Gary Witt

    If you liked these data-driven results, you may also like Lon Safko’s newest book, “7.5 Secrets for a Successful Blog,” based on an analysis of Dave Kerpen amazing blogging success.

  • Dacia Coffey

    Marvelous, marvelous article. Thanks for sharing this data!

  • Ryan Dinz

    Great article. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Good copy is king

  • piblogger

    Earlier this week I read an article from CNBC titled Millennials only have a 5-second attention span for ads, says comScore CEO. This just confirms my belief that most people, and not only Millennials, will not invest their time unless the headline really grabs their attention. In this regard, your article is on the money!

  • Great article. I have always wondered if “click bait” post headlines hurt a brand? I agree with ragtime cyclist and Steve in feeling “duped” by a headline.

  • Charlotte T

    Excellent research. Thanks for sharing it with your readers. Periodically I link to relevant articles from trusted sources on our company Facebook page. I wanted to try out using one of the top headline phrases, but our IT team says we can’t because FB is phasing out the ability to edit headline text. I have to use the “given name” of the article. I assume this is to cut down on all the fake news. Correct?

  • Sometimes the headlines can be even more interesting than the content they belong to. It’s so fascinating but I have to write n essay.
    I hope that this research and the article that I found about solving writing problems will help me to do this.