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Published April 24th 2017

Why Did The 30 Huffington Post Most Shared Headlines Go Viral?

We’ve all heard the saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

What’s funny is that you almost only hear that adage in reference to people: you shouldn’t judge people based off how they look.

Yet, when it comes to books, you can actually tell a lot about them by their covers.

That’s why publishers spend so much money on them.

This principle applies to the headlines of your blog posts, as well. While you can’t learn everything about the post from one simple line, headlines are clearly very important; it will either pull a reader in or keep them scrolling.

Last year, Steve Rayson at BuzzSumo wrote the definitive post on viral headlines. Once you read it, you won’t be able to look at headlines the same way.

To put his many great points into context, I used BuzzSumo to find Huffington Post’s most-shard article headlines of the past three years. I’m also notating right under the posts what kind of headline category these fall into: Tips & Advice, Opinion/View, Political, Trending, and News.

Let’s talk about why they worked so well. Ready?

A Study of The Top 30 Huffington Post Most Shared Headlines

30. The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying

Headline Type: Tips & Advice

Throughout this list, you’ll see a number of headlines that mention tips and advice. This headline falls into that category, but it also riles up emotion, something else that is great for getting shares.

People take their faiths very seriously, so referring to any religion in your headline is going to draw eyes to it. However, this one also has the scent of controversy to it. You might agree with the author 100% or you may be clicking on that headline simply because you want to make sure it’s not going to mischaracterize or misinterpret something so important.

29. 5 Minutes In A Mom’s Head

Headline Type: Opinion/View

The most prevalent audience type on this entire list is parents. This makes sense, of course. Everyone wants to be a good parent, so anything that might help them is going to receive attention.

One thing Rayson found in his research is that alluding to some kind of secret in a headline tends to do particularly well. No one likes to be left in the dark, especially when it comes to being a good parent.

This headline leverages both tactics and has the numbers to prove it…

28. There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide

Headline Type: Opinion/View

Here’s another piece that’s using emotion in the headline. It’s tough to think of a more emotionally-charged topic than suicide, too.

On top of that, a lot of people have the polar opposite view to the one being expressed here, which adds even more emotion to the topic.

27. Instead of Trump’s Wall, Let’s Build A Border of Solar Panels

Headline Type: Political

Trump will continue showing up on this list. Amongst other things, the President triggers all kinds of emotions in people across the political spectrum.

There’s also the fact that Trump has remained a trending topic for well over a year now. Any time you can mention a trending topic in your headline, you’ll automatically set yourself up for more clicks. For an insight behind this, read the 8 reasons for Donald Trump’s social media success.

26. To Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind In Life

Headline Type: Tips & Advice

We find another emotional subject in this headline. It also hints at the promise of advice. Presumably, the author isn’t going to tell the reader, “It’s too late. There’s nothing you can do.”

Promises are another feature of viral headlines I’m going to bring up numerous times in this piece. Prospective readers should feel a sense of certainty that taking the time to read your post will be worth it. Make this clear in the headline.

25. 9 Truths ‘Moms of Boys Only’ Need To Know

Headline Type: Tips & Advice

Here we have another article about parenting. It’s also our first listicle, which is the most shared format type Rayson found when doing his research.

Listicles work for a couple important reasons.

First, they make clear the format of the post. This example lets you know there are 9 sections to this piece.

Second, that also tells you about how it will be organized; you can rightfully anticipate that it will be pretty easy to scan through and make a decision about whether or not you’re going to commit to reading it.

24. Real Love Is a Choice

Headline Type: Opinion/View

Love is another subject with plenty of emotion surrounding it.

It also sounds like the author may be taking a controversial stand. Is true love something you can really control? If you fall out of love with someone, is that a choice, too?

These and other questions come up just from reading the headline and probably contributed to its 1.2 million shares.

23. Ballet Dancer Sergei Polunin Simply Slays Hozier’s “Take Me to Church”

Headline Type: Trending

“Take Me to Church” piqued in December 2014, but it was still very popular just two months later when this article was published. Therefore, at this point, it would have been trendy, but this headline also boasts a new take on it.

22. Red Cross Built Exactly 6 Homes for Haiti With Nearly Half A Billion Dollars In Donation

Headline Type: News

As you may remember, in 2010, Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake that made headlines all over the world. The following year, the Red Cross began a multimillion-dollar campaign to help the country recover.

While this wouldn’t have been a “trending” topic at the time, this headline definitely inspires emotions like shock and disgust. Therefore, according to Rayson’s research, it also inspires clicks.

21. Why Women Need Their Girlfriends

Headline Type: Opinion/View

Though it’s definitely a simple headline, the promise of information in this title is probably what made it such an attractive one.

That’s not to say it delivered on some huge promise, but there’s an important lesson here. Your headline doesn’t always need to be about some grandiose secret. It can be as simple as explaining to people why their everyday relationships are so important.

20. Coloring Isn’t Just for Kids. It Can Actually Help Adults Combat Stress.

Headline Type: Tips & Advice

You may remember that a year or two ago, coloring books for adults were taking off in popularity. Therefore, this headline was about a trendy topic.

However, this one also succeeds because it promises helpful information that you could use to combat stress – something we would love all to do.

19. 10 Ways Introverts Interact Differently with the World

Headline Type: Opinion/View

Here we have another listicle. This one I like because it speaks to two different types of people.

If you’re an introvert, you’re most likely going to click this headline. Wouldn’t you like to make sure you know all the different ways you interact with the world?

However, you might click even if you aren’t an introvert because somebody you know is and, thus, this information would help you understand them better.

18. Why The New Child Rape Case Filed Against Donald Trump Should Not Be Ignored

Headline Type: Political

As we mentioned before, choosing a trending topic is always going to improve your headline’s chances.

During the campaign, few topics were trending more than Trump. In fact, when Rayson was putting together this article, “Trump” was the most common word found in viral Facebook posts.

In this case, Lisa Bloom’s article benefited from the shareability of the name, but there’s also a very emotional element. This piece is obviously about an accusation that shocks and disgusts people.

17. I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical

Headline Type: Opinion/View

Speaking of emotion, as I mentioned before, the topic of parenting is always going to be near the top of the list. Aside from the fact that everyone wants to be a good parent, most people are also keen to think about the type of job other parents are doing, too.

Bunmi Laditan’s headline definitely grabbed people’s emotions, but it also promises some kind of exclusive information.

Why would a parent actually choose to do the exact opposite of what so many strive for? The only way you can find out is by clicking the headline.

16. 16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People

Headline Type: Opinion/View

By now, it should be clear that viral headlines usually combine at least two elements from Rayson’s article.

In this piece, we have the ever-popular listicle and the guarantee of some very interesting information.

Most of us don’t associate being sensitive with having a set of habits, much less 16 of them. If you know you’re sensitive, you’re probably also going to be curious about what else that means for your day-to-day life.

15. 5 Reasons Modern-Day Parenting Is in Crisis, According to a British Nanny

Headline Type: Opinion/View

While being a listicle would have helped all on its own, this headline took things further. The information being covered is clearly important if you’re a parent.


Not because you might be doing something wrong but because the entire concept is in crisis! You might be doing everything wrong! If you’re not yet a parent, this article might give you some insights to consider before making such a big decision.

14. Dad Films 6 Minutes Of Students Slipping On Ice With Running Commentary

Headline Type: Trending

You already clicked on this one, didn’t you?

Of course, you did!

Sometimes, the promise is all you need. Everyone wants to watch people fall on the ice. I’m not sure what that says about human nature, but it’s true. You don’t need to add anything else to that headline to get clicks.

13. The Real Reason White People Say “All Lives Matter”

Headline Type: News

The controversy surrounding people saying “all lives matter” was trending in the summer of 2016, something this headline would have benefited from.

Then, there was the “real reason” part. This line has the same effect as claiming you know a secret that others don’t. Whichever side of the controversy you’re on, you’re probably curious to find out what John Halstead thinks the “real reason” is.

12. “Super Troopers 2” Is Officially Happening

Headline Type: Trending

You know exactly what you’re getting if you click on this title. That’s a promise.

This also benefits from a trending topic: the release of a new movie.

The combination of these those two ingredients was all it took to make this one of The Huffington Post’s most shared pieces of the last three years.

11. 300 Plumbers Poured into Flint, Michigan, To Install Water Filters For Free

Headline Type: News

As you probably know, Flint, Michigan has been in the news for about a year at this point because their water quality is so abysmal it can’t be consumed.

Therefore, this headline received a big boost for covering a topic that has been in the news so much.

At the same time, there’s obviously an emotional aspect to it, too. Rayson specifically points to “heartwarming” as an emotion that contributes to a headline’s chances of going viral. I think you’ll agree that such a show of support from so many people definitely warms the heart.

10. 10 Things Your Mom Never Told You

Headline Type: Opinion/View

Two important elements that should be immediately obvious about this headline right now are that it’s a listicle and it involves a secret: your mom’s been holding out on you! Don’t you want to know what she has been sitting on all these years?

As this piece is directed at new and expecting mothers, though, it also shows signs of potentially very important information. I’ve already talked about how any subject related to parenting is going to involve some hot-button emotions, but you can bet they run especially high when the headline is aimed at new and expecting mothers.

9. This Billionaire Governor Taxed the Rich and Increased the Minimum Wage – Now, His State’s Economy Is One of the Best in the Country

Headline Type: Political

Wouldn’t you like to know how your state’s economy could be one of the best in the country?

Most people would. “How This Governor Made His State’s Economy One of the Best in the Country” probably would have worked really well for that reason, too.

The title for Gibson’s piece caught fire, though, because it also plays on emotion. Many people would be shocked or surprised to learn that higher taxes and minimum wage could actually benefit the economy. They might even want to argue the point, something they can only do after they click and read the article.

8. Same-Sex Couples Can Now Adopt Children in All 50 States

Headline Type: News

This headline definitely hit on a trending topic at the time, but many people would find this heartwarming and inspiring, as well. Again, as Rayson pointed out, grab people by the emotions and they’ll most likely give your piece a look.

7. Senate Confirms First-Ever Native American Woman As Federal Judge

Headline Type: News

Was this a trending story at the time? You bet!

Did plenty of people find this inspiring, too? Of course!

Still, let’s take a minute to look at two especially important words in this headline: “First-Ever.”

A lot of people may have been unaware of what this decision was so important. With just two words, this post becomes immediately more eye-catching.

Be careful that you never assume what is important to you about a story will be clear to your readers – even if its’ something in the news. Unless it’s incredibly obvious, use a word or two to tell prospective readers: “This is a big deal!”

6. 5 Reasons You Should Have Sex With Your Husband Every Night

Headline Type: Tips & Advice

Everyone knows “sex sells”, but it’s interesting that such an apparently popular topic is only on this list once.

Obviously, a lot about the subject is still considered taboo, which means it’s less likely to get shared on social sites.

So what did this one do, right?

It’s a listicle, but it also covers an important topic that would interest two different groups of people. If you’re a husband who would like to have sex more often, you’re going to want to click on this article.

On the other hand, if you’re not having sex with your husband every night, you’re probably going to be curious about the five reasons you might be making a big mistake.

5. The Top 50 Cities To See in Your Lifetime

Headline Type: Opinion/View

Take a look at how well this post did on Twitter: 14.6k shares. That’s the second highest on our entire list.


Rayson pointed out that tips and facts tend to do really well on Twitter. This post is definitely packed full of the former.

Another great thing about this kind of post is that people are going to be naturally curious to see how many of these cities they’ve already seen and share this post if their number is particularly high or they just want to add their own recommendations.

4. An Open Letter to My Friends Who Support Donald Trump

Headline Type: Political

The President makes our list one last time. This particular post received significantly more shares than the others, though.

It’s not because we were any closer to the election, so it’s not that Trump had become more trend-worthy.

Instead, I think it’s because the format of this post is immediately clear: it’s an open letter. As I mentioned earlier, the format of your post is important, but you also want to communicate what it’s going to be in your headline whenever possible (e.g. “X Ways…”, “How to…”, etc.).

Being an open letter, this post also lent itself to shareability because people could simply pass it on to friends of theirs voting for Trump – or just share it.

3. 109-Year Old Woman Said Secret To Long Life Is Avoiding Men

Headline Type: Tips & Advice

This one has just about everything.

You most likely chuckled a bit when you read it, which doesn’t hurt.

However, you probably noticed “secret” right away, too. This is no small secret, either. It’s a secret that could help you live more than 100 years and it comes from a reliable source. This is also a secret that applies to everyone. Who doesn’t want to live a long life?

2. The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think

Headline Type: News

Again, addiction is something that affects almost everyone. If you haven’t experienced addiction first hand, you most likely know someone who has.

Not only does this title not tell you what the cause of addiction is – you’ll have to click it – it also makes clear that your assumptions about the subject are wrong. You may not have been too interested in the topic before, but don’t you kind of want to see if your theory was really wrong now?

1. 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12

Headline Type: Tips & Advice

Lastly, the Huffington Post Heavyweight Champion for most shared headlines goes to this one from Cris Rowan.

Of course, at this point, it should be no surprise that this headline is so high up on our list.

This piece is clearly aimed at parents, an audience I’ve already mentioned is always going to be a good source for clicks.

It’s a listicle, too.

There’s also some great emotional triggers here. Rowan isn’t saying you shouldn’t buy your child a handheld device. You’re not going to receive tips to learn how to keep your kids from using their devices too much.

No, Rowan is saying they should be banned. This sort of emotionally-charged language always grabs attention, especially when you choose a topic like this one.

There you have it: the 30 most shared Huffington Post headlines from the last three years. While I can’t recommend Steve Rayson’s article to you enough, I also hope you learned something from seeing so much of his advice in action.

Going forward, take notice when you see his research holding true in posts that get shared and you’ll have an easier time creating the types of headlines that help accomplish the same.

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