Can’t resist the click: How to write a catchy headline

If you’ve ever perused Buzzfeed, Gawker, Mashable, Upworthy, Vulture, or any other cheap-shot meme compilation/listicle website, you’d be familiar with the format. Buzzy articles clutter our feeds everyday. And there’s something about them that means we can’t resist the click.

Is there a formula?

Good headlines are simple and direct. Life is short and the reader wants to know what they will get if they click through to a post or share it with friends. But is there anything else we can do? Are there words or phrases in headlines that particularly cause articles to be shared?

Yes, definitely …

buzzsumo blog

Source: buzzsumo.com/blog/5-ways-create-amazing-viral-headlines/

The most click-worthy headlines are topical, tug at the heartstrings, teach us something, and dangle before us a reward for clicking and consuming. One headline can include three, four, or even five of these elements. 

– Emotional

Good headlines aren’t afraid to get emotional. Emotion is what fuels people to click and share. Viral sites use a lot of ‘trigger’ words: touching, heartbreaking, goosebumps, tears, cry, hilarious, OMG, WOAH!, ALL THE FEELS.

– Content

When writing a headline, you always have to consider the content types that resonate with your audience and include these in your headline, whether that be quotes, infographics, or GIFs.

– Topic

Trending topics become ultra shareworthy and SEO-friendly for a specific period of time. Right now, for example, content creators are latching onto anything Donald Trump and GoT, not to mention your evergreen topics, like Beyonce and LOLCats! Facebook and Twitter have moved from away from time-sensitive models to more trend-driven, algorithmic models. Twitter’s new timeline, for example, is based on your preferences and interests, posting the most relevant tweets above the most recent. This is incentivising brands to ride trend waves, creating more high-quality, informative headlines that will organically rise up.

– Format

Headlines reveal the type of format the content will be in. Buzzfeed has perfected the ‘large listicle’ and the ‘Quiz’ as its key headline and format tactic. Upworthy has the ‘Curiosity Gap’, including a link that contains almost no information about the video or article you’re about to click (‘The First 10 Seconds of this Video Will Blow Your Mind’), and other innovators are piling in with their variations. The ‘how-to’, for example, is always popular.

– Promise

Rope them in by promising your reader something valuable. Will the video teach them how to learn a new skill? Will the bucket list persuade them to do something they’ve never done before? How exactly will this one click “change their life”?

What are trigrams?

The most popular headlines also contain certain three-word phrases, designed to draw out a reaction from the viewer, known as ‘trigrams’.


Source: buzzsumo.com/blog/5-ways-create-amazing-viral-headlines/

Across Facebook and Twitter, they represent some of the most common headline and post formats. As a general rule of thumb, Facebook trigrams tend to be buzzier and more geared toward going viral, while Twitter trigrams are more informative and serious.  Different phrases resonate differently on each network, presenting another instance where content must be tweaked according to the platform.

Why are they important?

David Ogilvy once said:

“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

This is actually a massive understatement in the world of digital.

Take Twitter. As one blogger recently found, you could tweet out something that 3,800 people see. And of that 3,800 people, only 50 of your followers may click on it. That’s 76 times more people seeing the headline as there are people consuming the content within. In this age of endless scrolling, headline writers sure have their work cut out for them.

Headlines don’t only hint at what the story is about; they dictate the way you read it and the way you remember it, including where you place your focus. Most importantly, they determine how many sets of eyes glance its way. Without a compelling headline, content is rendered invisible. 

The takeaway point

Headlines act as a gateway to content – and shouldn’t be taken lightly. They need to stand out, giving audiences a reason to stop mid-scroll and listen to your message.

To create a great one:   

  • Determine the core point, get to it quickly, and express it in a compelling way.
  • Ask the question that everyone reading or viewing the message is asking themselves within the first few seconds: “So what?”
  • Look at trends and tailor what you deliver accordingly.
  • Tweak and customise according to each channel.

We may not work in newspapers, but these ideas are applicable to every form of content we create, from tweets to ad copy. Clickable headlines work by engaging audiences, drawing eyes to the page (IRL or virtual), and differentiating your brand amongst the thousands of competitors vying for their attention.