I was idly running some searches on BuzzSumo last week when I noticed some patterns for LinkedIn content. I decided to explore it a little further by analysing the most successful headlines and topics. I have shared my findings in case they are of interest when developing your LinkedIn content strategy.

This post covers:

  • Popular headline phrases
  • Most impactful headline words and topics
  • Learning from LinkedIn Influencers
  • Learning from non-influencers
  • Learning from long form posts
  • My takeaways

LinkedIn is a unique social platform with its strong B2B focus. In my previous research I have found that LinkedIn audiences like practical content and industry trends. The site is also very career focused, with many users using the site to find jobs, build personal networks and learn how to be more successful. Thus it is quite different from say Twitter or Facebook, and hence we would expect a different content focus.

Popular Headline Phrases

I looked at 10,000 of the most shared posts published on LinkedIn this year and reviewed the most commonly used headline trigrams (three word phrases) and bigrams (two word phrases). Some of the most frequently used were as follows:

  • How to
  • You need to
  • Why you should
  • Can learn from
  • The future of

I then pulled all the headlines that used these phrases from 300,000 posts published on LinkedIn this year. I found the posts using these trigrams and bigrams in the headlines were not only more common, ‘how to’ posts in particular, they also tended to get a higher level of shares on average. To put this into context in the last month the average shares of all LinkedIn posts was 230. As we can see below the popular headline phrases tended to do better on average though not significantly.


Here are some examples of high performing posts that used these phrases:

Most Impactful Headline Words and Topics

I then did the same exercise looking at single words or topics in headlines.  Some of the top performing words and topics are shown in the table below. These posts tended to do much better in terms of shares.


Note: For all the samples above I excluded a few articles with over 100,000 shares, as I felt these very highly shared outliers distorted some of the averages.

Here are some examples of posts using these words and topics:

It seems fair to make an assumption from this data that people like content which helps them to do their jobs better and to be successful at work. Thus the popularity of posts about advancing your career, habits to form or mistakes to avoid, and how to be successful whether as a senior leader or as team manager.

Posts about improving sales also performed well, here are two examples:

Industry trends also do well. Here is an example about content marketing:

Learning From LinkedIn Influencers

LinkedIn promotes content from their Influencer network quite heavily. Thus you would expect their content to get a lot more engagement. I was conscious of this and that content published by influencers could distort the findings, so I wanted to explore their posts separately, looking at some of the top posts from influencers and non-influencers to see if there were any differences.

Here are the top 5 most shared posts from three LinkedIn Influencers. I have highlighted some of the phrases, words and topics we found in the research above.

travis bradbury




A brief analysis of these Influencers most shared posts confirms my initial suspicions about the content that is popular and that does well on LinkedIn. They are posts aimed at managers and employees but they are all advice on how to be successful in one form or another.

It is interesting to note that Bernard’s posts are list posts and the posts from Travis all follow a common format eg Mistakes that.., Signs you’re.., Habits of.. and Things Smart People… I find that LinkedIn influencers do tend to reuse a format that has previously worked for them. For example, Travis has written 16 posts on habits this year. Which is a habit that makes him successful. You can see how these ideas get generated…

Learning From Exceptional Posts By Non-Influencers

They are rare outliers but sometimes posts by ordinary people do go viral. The most shared post this year did not come from an Influencer but was a one off post which captured the imagination. The post basically argued that what you do in your free time determines your future.

After work, is what determines your future! Spend one hour per day doing these 5 things and your life will change forever! (374,000 shares)

Why Good Employees Quit (304,000 shares)

These exceptional outlier posts fairly much follow the same career success pattern we have seen above. This next post was quite different, in essence it was an appeal to keep posts and comments on LinkedIn professional.

LinkedIn is not Facebook…seriously, it’s not (146,000 shares)


The one thing that did surprise me was the viral success of Portuguese posts. Here are a few examples about bad bosses, leaders and the importance of recognising employees work:

Artigo revela que um chefe ruim pode adoecer os funcionários (3.2m shares)

Demitam os bajuladores! Líderes competentes não precisam. Alcançam as metas. (1.7m shares)

Reconhecimento é a melhor forma de estimular alguém (688,000 shares)

Learning From Long Form Posts

Interestingly long form posts appear to do well on LinkedIn, the average shares for long form posts over 3,000 words are typically higher than those for shorter content. Here are some examples from non-LinkedIn influencers:

The 25 hottest tech companies that could be acquired next (August 2016) (44,500 shares)

LEGO engineered a remarkable turnaround of its business. How’d that happen? (20,400 shares)

LinkedIn looked at billions of actions to see who is winning the talent wars. Here’s what I learned (13,000 shares)

My Takeways

There is no magic bullet to going viral on LinkedIn, particularly if you are not an influencer. However, from the data above we can surmise that particular types of content resonate and do well with the LinkedIn audience.

Write about success: We all aspire to do better as professionals. LinkedIn is a place we come to find advice. The core topics that do well are personal success (tips, career advice, personal skills, leadership) and business success (team management, sales, including staying ahead on top of industry trends and case studies)

Share advice and make it personal: Does your content provide practical advice to someone personally. It can range from boosting sales to managing a difficult employee or boss. Can you appeal to users on a very personal basis e.g. you need to or you should.

Focus on work: Will your insights make someone more successful at work? Can you distil this down into habits or tips or mistakes to avoid.

Talk trends and the future: Can you provide insights into industry trends and help people gain a better perspective on the future.

Stick with what works: If you find a format that works do not be afraid to reuse it.

It is worth noting you can still do well on LinkedIn with other forms of content, this analysis was just focused on the most popular headlines and topics, and on highly shared content. However, I think there is an opportunity to learn from these topics and headlines to help you craft tailored content about your own industry which will resonate with a LinkedIn audience.

Good luck with your LinkedIn content in 2017!

19 Responses to “The Most Successful LinkedIn Headlines and Topics of 2016”

  1. Gloria Rand

    Thanks for sharing this research! I want to start publishing on LinkedIn more in 2017 and now I have a great roadmap to follow.

    • Steve Rayson

      Thanks Gloria, if I can help in any way give me a shout.

  2. BodyPositivity.com

    Great job! Love this article!

  3. heidicohen


    I love how you always use data to make points your readers should listen to.

    Smart marketers should apply this information beyond LinkedIn to their business blogs. (I think that Medium, Facebook and other social media/amplification sites may have a different point of view.)

    I particularly like that you included “non-influencers”. Everyone starts at the same place. It’s a matter of keeping going over the long term.

    Happy marketing,

    Heidi Cohen
    Actionable Marketing Guide

    • Steve Rayson

      Hi Heidi
      Thanks so much for stopping by. I will do some analysis of Medium and other sites to do some comparisons.
      If you need any data or research on specific topics, or sites, do give me a shout.
      Happy holidays.

  4. Arfa Nazeer

    Incredible. This is so insightful.

    • Steve Rayson

      Thanks, I do hope there are some insights you can use.

      • Arfa Nazeer

        Absolutely! I’d use the headlines phrases and headlines impactful words in my blog posts. The resource of Linkedin posts are also helpful. Thankyou

  5. Herb

    IT’S THE CART AND THE HORSE ALL OVER AGAIN. What is it like in the world of total and never before seen technology disruptions.

  6. Cameron Craig

    Great piece. My best performing article this year was “What I Learned From Not Being a Boss” 1.6K shares; 544 comments and 5K likes. http://bit.ly/2hQBAaZ

  7. Mindi Rosser

    I loved the actionable insights, especially as they applied to headlines for LinkedIn Pulse. Now, I’ve got some more research and digging to do in Buzzsumo! 🙂

  8. Justin Day

    Awesome post. It’s something I’ll refer back to throughout 2017 for inspiration! Thanks for putting this together.

  9. Jonathan L Davey

    I’m with you on the takeaways but not sure how you got to these stats… 277 average shares for 11,103 “How to” posts seems rather high, some would need to get hundreds of thousands for shares for that to stack and that doesn’t really happen on LinkedIn. When I clicked through on the first high performing post with 33,000 claimed shares it showed 3,944 so it made me wonder about the numbers.

  10. Jef Menguin

    This article inspire me to explore the opportunity of publishing articles on Linkedin.

  11. Nirmal Kant

    Excellent suggestion. I checked couple posts Dr. Travis Bradberry and it really has great numbers of likes and comments. Never expected any Linkedin post could be so popular. Great Stuff

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