The factors that make an article go viral are numerous, but one must-have is a headline that encourages people to not only open the article but share it with the whole wide world as well. That means you need to craft a headline that isn’t just SEO-optimized with certain keywords. It needs to engage the reader without being too verbose. Whether you’re writing a blog or an update on Facebook or Twitter, follow these tips to up your chances of getting your headline — and your article — seen by millions.
Choose Your Words Carefully
For starters, and generally speaking, use action words. That includes minimizing the amount of nouns you use and focusing on choosing descriptive verbs. For example, a headline such as “Dogs are known for increasing our happiness, study says” won’t work nearly as effectively as “Dogs increase our happiness, study says.” The active verb automatically engages the reader, whereas verbs like “are” or “is” simply waste space. By using active verbs in your headlines, you automatically cut down on your headline’s length, which also makes your headline more shareable too.
But verbs aren’t the only words that count when crafting shareable headlines. The science behind sharing shows that using certain words in headlines often leads to more engagement, and in turn, more sharing by your readers. These words include “smart,” “surprising,” “hacks,” “huge,” “critical,” “history” and even “science,” particularly in blog post headlines. In status updates on Twitter, popular words in highly shared tweets include “free,” “how to,” “top,” “follow,” “social,” and “please retweet.” As for Facebook, try active verbs like “warns,” “inspires,” “unites” and “amazes.”
Emotions are key to engaging your readers. By eliciting feelings — from awe to anger — you’re getting a reaction out of your readers. In turn, they’ll be more likely to share their reaction with their friends on social media. But getting personal isn’t just about emotions. It’s about showing what you personally are about. By using the word “I” or “Me” in a headline, particularly on Facebook, you’ll often get more likes. And as many bloggers know, the more likes you get, the easier it is to get your content in front of more people.
Test Your Headlines
Craft your headline using the tips above, but don’t write that post or hit publish on your article quite yet. Rather, make Twitter and Facebook resources that can do some legwork and research for you. Test out your headline as a simple status update. Try tweeting out “A visit to Martha’s Vineyard isn’t complete without Back Door Donuts,” and then an hour later, tweet out, “Must-Try Stops on my Martha’s Vineyard Trip? Back Door Donuts.”
Whichever post gets more retweets or favorites wins and becomes your new headline. You can also use Twitter and Facebook to test ideas for posts and see how well a fun fact does in terms of shares and favorites as well before you pen an article that takes you a good hour to write.
Plan Your Timing
You can craft the best headline possible and have it get lost in the crowd if you share it on social media at the wrong time. For starters, don’t bother posting in the middle of night when your target audience is most likely sleeping. Rather, focus on posting in the morning or afternoon, even if that means scheduling your posts in advance. If you know your target audience is most likely online during their lunch hour, too, test out that time frame as well. As always, track your engagement by looking at your Twitter and Facebook insights so you can focus on what works best for you and your headlines.
Ask Your Followers to Share
There’s no need to be shy on social media sites. After all, Facebook and Twitter are designed for people to share what you share. According to Twitter, when people ask for retweets of their content, those tweets get shared 13% more often — and that can mean a sizeable bump in traffic to your headline and content.
Other Ways to Make Your Headlines Shareable
In addition to trying out the above, try these tricks as well to make your headlines even more shareable:
Use numbers. People love lists, often because it means you’re offering practical advice. Just be sure to use the numeral rather than spelling out the number. For example, “5 Things You Must Bring on Your European Vacation” literally spells out what the reader will gain from clicking open your article.
Example of a list post
Teach your readers something new. In the same vein as using numbers, readers love to learn something new, which is why “how to” and DIY articles are so popular. But you don’t need to only use “how” and DIY to demonstrate what you’ll be teaching. For one, a headline like “History of the World’s Tallest Buildings” is not only informative, but it uses a highly shareable word in the world of headlines: “history.”
Word choice clearly matters when it comes to crafting a shareable headline, but it doesn’t stop there. Always consider your audience and what’s valuable to them. If you can capture that in a few words, your headline will be golden.
Adrienne is a freelance writer and designer obsessed with social media. You can get in touch with her on Twitter at @adrienneerin or by visiting her blog.