11 Tips For Writing Viral Blog Post Headlines

13 Secrets Of Writing Amazing Headlines (every blogger should know #3)

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Headlines: They are the first thing that any visitor reads before they read anything else on your website.

Your blog post title can either make your article go viral or leave your content gathering dust.

That's why sites like Forbes, CNN, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Upworthy pay so much attention to writing great headlines.

And in this article you'll learn how to create (and test) headlines that drive massive traffic to your website.

This article is inspired by:

The difference between a good headline and a bad headline can be just massive.
When we test headlines we see 20% difference, 50% difference, 500% difference.
A really excellent headline can make something go viral

peter koechley upworthy

Peter Koechley
Upworthy co-founder


upworthy ahrefs stats

Upworthy.com global rank, traffic and backlinks

Today You'll Learn


  • Why your blog post headline is more important than your post
  • What the headline should (and shouldn’t) contain
  • How to write headlines which people want to click
  • How to get great ideas for writing headlines

In the accompanying cheat sheet:

  • 9 brain hacks that drive people to click the headline
  • 100+ power words for maximum impact
  • How to uncover the best headline - using science, not a guess

Stats That Make Headlines

63% percent of marketers say growing traffic to their content is their top challenge (State of Inbound 2018)

A study of 1 Million articles done by Buzzfeed & Moz found that 75% blog posts get less than 10 shares and 0 backlinks.

According to CopyBlogger out of 10 people, 8 will read your headline while only 2 will read your blog post. They suggest that you should reserve about 1/2 the time it takes to create your content, just for writing the perfect headline.

UpWorthy.com, which gets tens of thousands of visitors every month, has made writing amazing headlines the #1 priority for their writers because they know that a great headline can make the difference between 20,000 views and 1,000,000 views!

Woah!


The sad part though is that most blog post headlines are doomed to fail because they break the 6 cardinal rules of writing great headlines.

Many people don't read the article before retweeting (click to expand this image)

63% percent of marketers say growing traffic to their content is their top challenge (State of Inbound 2018)

A study of 1 Million articles done by Buzzfeed & Moz found that 75% blog posts get less than 10 shares and 0 backlinks.

According to CopyBlogger out of 10 people, 8 will read your headline while only 2 will read your blog post. They suggest that you should reserve about 1/2 the time it takes to create your content, just for writing the perfect headline.

UpWorthy.com, which gets tens of thousands of visitors every month, has made writing amazing headlines the #1 priority for their writers because they know that a great headline can make the difference between 20,000 views and 1,000,000 views!

Woah!
The sad part though is that most blog post headlines are doomed to fail because they break the 6 cardinal rules of writing great headlines.

How I learned to write amazing blog posts

Take this quick course: From Internet Rubbish to Content Gold
(free signup required)

So in the article below, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to write headlines that go viral.

How To Write Good Blog Titles

Everyone Makes This BIG Mistake (you’re not alone)

Most bloggers don’t think about the headlines BEFORE they start writing the post.

And ya, I know, it’s just SO tempting to do some keyword research, find a great topic and just start jotting down notes (or even start writing the post itself) and not even think about the headline till the post is done.

So the headline most bloggers come up with is usually a single sentence explaining what the blog post contains.

It’s like a one-line-summary of the post.

Their headlines look like:

  • How To Become A Blogger
  • What is a Blog? - Explanation of Terms Blog, Blogging & Blogger
  • How To Clear Formatting On Blogger Posts & Pages

(Look at your headlines & raise your hand 🙋‍♂️ if they are one-line summaries)

These blog-post-summary headlines aren’t exciting enough to get people to click them. They don’t engage the dominant, primitive parts of the brain which are responsible for most of human behavior (including deciding if we want to click or not).

Emotional headlines get more shares. Even about serious topics! (click to expand)

Just think about how you landed on this post …

Would you have clicked a boring title like “How Blog Post Titles Impact Content Engagement”

That’s an accurate, scholarly headline to describe what’s in this article but it doesn’t generate any emotions. It belongs more in a scientific journal than a blog.

Which brings us to the next point …

Headlines Aren’t Supposed To Be Clever Either

I could have also used the title Make Headlines with this Article and it would have been clever.

Probably would have got me some ego boosting praise from “literature” people.

I would have patted myself on the shoulder and walked around with my nose pointing skywards …

But it doesn’t say that reading this post will help you write better headlines.

And because it doesn’t say what the post is actually about, this headline won’t have gotten clicked.

So what’s good about being clever, if being clever doesn’t get results?

Simply put:

The point of headlines is not to be smart.

The whole point of a headline is to intrigue the visitor … just enough for them to click.

"Do you want fine writing? Do you want masterpieces? Or do you want to see the goddamned sales curve start moving up?"

Rosser Reeves

Author: Reality in Advertising (affiliate link)

So let’s find out how to write a great headline that gets clicked.

Write 25 Headlines

Yep. Really!

But relax, cause you’re not gonna use them all.

Heck, you’re not even gonna test them all.

The idea here is that when you start writing the headlines, you’ll have a hard time coming up with something new after the 15th headline.

This exercise will force your brain to think harder and find more interesting words for your headlines.

You’ll also be forced into thinking about new and interesting points of view for your content, to make your blog post more interesting as well.

Cause it’s really hard to write 25 headlines!

And sure, out of the 25, some headlines will suck, but it doesn’t matter because you should only be split testing the 5 best headlines.

Folks at Upworthy keep repeating this advice. For good reasons.

Of course you can use the Headline Cheat Sheet for ideas and inspiration too (and I recommend that you do).

Write Benefit Statements

Let’s face it, nobody cares if you make money online or not. The only thing your readers care about is what they will gain from reading your blog.

So use this fact to your advantage and use headlines to tell them exactly what they’ll get from your content.

Don’t Write Headlines! Write Benefit Statements That Tell Your Readers - What’s In It For Them

Click to Tweet

And don’t worry about how to create the perfect benefit statement. You’ll find several good examples in the Headline Cheat Sheet.

Include A Number

It’s a fact. Social Media and Google (and your newsletter subscribers), everyone loves list posts.

Headlines like “31 ways to BOOST your Productivity While Creating Content” simply work better than “How to BOOST your Productivity While Creating Content”.

That’s because numbers make stuff sound official and trustworthy.

Also, numbers help the reader guess the amount of time they’ll spend reading your content before they click the link.

So if the headline is "10 Things You Can Do To Reduce Anxiety Today", I know I’ll probably spend between 5 to 10 minutes reading the blog post at my reading speed.

If the headline changes to "105 Things You Can Do To Reduce Anxiety Today", I know it’s take a long time to read the post and I’ll probably bookmark it for later.

Use Odd Numbers

Odd numbers work better than even numbers because they make the list sound genuine.

Think about the number of list posts you’ve been tricked into reading, that turned out to be full of mostly crap content, thrown in just to make the list bigger.

And a headline like “9 Things Your Dog Needs To Be Happy” works because it stopped short of the number 10.

This means that the person who wrote the list, didn’t fill in fluff content just to make it a list of 10.

And in our mind we go like: ”Hmm … They probably just mention the very best points so I won’t waste my time reading useless filler content”.

Odd numbers also provide clear outcomes and our mind loves to have decisive final outcomes presented to it rather than having to figure out things for itself (cause it’s hard work!)

The reason our brain likes odd numbers is because they can’t be split into two and won’t ever result in a tie.

That’s especially useful for headlines of blog posts where you’re comparing stuff and the reader is expecting a Clear-Final-Result.

For example: 11 Reasons Why Android Will Destroy iOS

Sound more official than: 10 Reasons Why Android Will Destroy iOS

Don’t Promise The World

I could have named this guide “The Best Guide Ever For Creating Awesome Content” and included a TON of information about everything you need to create awesome blog posts - of which headlines are just a small part.

But take a guess: Based on that headline, how many people would have read the article?

The point is you’re never going to appeal to anyone by being general.

People respond to specificity and no one’s ever going to believe anyone who claims to have the solutions to all their problems.

Especially on the internet.

But if you claim to solve one issue and deliver on that promise, your readers will look to you to resolve some of their related issues as well.

And that’s another reason to solve issues one by one.

People will browse around your site more if you post about their concerns one-by-one. With very specific posts for just one aspect of a larger topic.

For example:

For the larger topic: "How To Rank Higher On Google" you can create specific posts about:

How To Create Linkworthy Content
How To Get Backlinks
How To Do Keyword Research

You get the idea ...

Title Case Your Headlines

Title Case Headlines Sound More Official, Serious & Important 👈 (This is title case)
Sentence case headlines are easier to read and friendlier 👈 (This is sentence case)

Title case headlines also give a wonderful symmetry to your site and make it look more professional and authoritative.

So if you want to make an impact with your headlines, always use title case.

PS: You should only sentence case your headlines if your brand MUST convey a sense of friendliness above all else.

Use Only One Word In Full Caps (if you must)

FULL CAPS words (or phrases) are meant to catch attention, but you shouldn’t write your whole headline in full caps.

Full caps words take the focus away from the emotion driven power words and it make the headline harder to read.

And BTW, all caps headlines will instantly make your site seem like a tabloid site.

But if you are a tabloid author, then you SHOULD all caps your headlines and your videos because that’s what people expect to find when they are looking for tabloid content.

And on a side note:

You should be very careful about using an exclamation mark in your headline.

If you aren’t careful, an exclamation mark can make your headline look like a sales message - instead of a benefit statement.

Never Give Away The Conclusion In The Title

Let’s compare these headlines:

The Boring Company To Open The First Tunnel In Dec 2018

The Boring Company: How Soon Can You Start Using The Tunnels?

When I read the first headline, it tells me all I need to know. So I have no reason to click it.

I might not click the 2nd headline either if I don’t care about the tunnels, but if I am interested, I’d want to know when these expensive, pointless tunnels will become operational.

(IMHO: connected self-driving cars are the transportation solution of the future – not tunnels)

“The ONLY purpose of a headline is to entice the reader to click”

Click to Tweet

Write Shorter Headlines

Shorter headlines take less time to read and sound more effective. Using less words to convey the message always makes it sound more powerful.

According to Buffer blog, the ideal headline length is 6 words. Most people only read the first 3 words and last 3 words and skip the middle. 

But the important thing to remember about short headlines is that they must still perform their primary job and entice the visitor to click.

To do that, you still need to tell the reader EXACTLY how THEY will benefit when they click through to your blog post.

So use power words in the beginning and in the end of your headline to make sure they get the maximum attention.

And just so you know, shorter headlines are ... more of a guideline than a rule.

If you feel that a longer headline will work better for your content, use it.

But test that headline against a shorter one too and see which one works.

Include Unexpected and Shocking Words

Sprinkle some surprising or shocking words into the headline.

The human brain is evolved by nature to look out for things which are unexpected or potentially harmful for us.

Our brain can’t help but fully focus on them.

That’s the survival mechanism part of our brain trying to understand the level of danger we are in to help us stay alive.

And that survival mechanism is embedded deep into the core of every human being.

When things are unexpected 👉 The brain is evaluating if the unexpected thing is dangerous

When things are shocking 👉 The brain is evaluating the level of danger and planning the correct response

News headlines writers have figured this one out many years ago.

That’s why news headlines are always so full of doom & gloom. As if the world is ending everyday ... Geez 🤦‍♂️

Raise a Controversy

Trump's Wall ... Now that's something to talk about

People love a good controversy (or conspiracy) and a lot of people find that they just can’t stay away from these topics.

Once again, controversy is attractive because the survival mechanism tells us that we need to know more about the lives of the people surrounding us (our survival might depend on them).

We somehow feel like it’s important, even when it’s not.

Controversy and conspiracies invoke the inquisitive part of the brain that hates to leave questions unanswered and things unexplained.

Controversies are like catnip for the brain.

We can't help but chase them ... with a click.

Aren’t These Headlines, Clickbait?

I get this one a lot … And there’s just one answer.

A headline is clickbait only when you promise too much and don’t deliver.

If you make a promise with your headline and deliver, then it was a click, not a bait.

See, people don’t get mad about clicking a great headline (do you?).

They get mad when the content doesn’t live up to the expectation of the headline.

And because you’ll now be writing your headlines first, you’ll know exactly what to deliver in your blog post.

At the end of day my advice is, don’t feel bad about writing catchy headlines.

It’s the most important part of promoting the amazing content that you worked hard to create.

By using catchy headlines you’re simply making your content more attractive and if your audience likes it and gets value from it, then it’s all good.

How To Test Headlines To Find Winners

Now that you’ve written 25 headlines and picked the top 5, the obvious question is:

How do you know which one will bring you the most traffic?

Answer:

Test them against each other to see which headline gets clicked most.

Then make the final decision based on the data you’ve collected.

How NOT To Split Test Headlines

There are some headline testing tools out there (I won’t take names) that claim that you can effectively test your headlines on social media and boost your traffic quickly.

That sounds great, till the time you think about it a bit more …

And Shane from ThriveThemes has thought about it a lot ...

... and now has a pretty good rant on the topic (he’s surprisingly good at ranting) which explains the problems with social media headline testing:

So you can’t test on (organic) social media because:

  1. Number of your followers who are online at any given time can vary greatly
  2. The number of followers who will see your tweet at any given time can vary greatly
  3. If your one influencer retweets your bad headline, you’ll think it’s a good headline because it’ll generate traffic

All these problems come up while testing on social media because you don’t control the social media site. It has its own algorithms that decides who sees what.

The only real way to split test on social media is to run ads.

But with ads you can’t get enough data to make a statistically significant decision unless you test quite a bit.

So you’ll end up spending anywhere between $100 to $500 on paid social media for testing the headlines for every single blog post.

Ouch!

The Right Way To Test Headlines

If you have a self-hosted wordpress site, you have a environment that YOU can control.

That’s the only kind of platform you can test from.

And that’s why Shane created the Headline Optimizer which I use it on my blog.

It’s got everything you need to test your headlines:

Test individual headlines or bulk test all headlines (posts, pages and even WooCommerce product titles)

Statistics for each test including Click Through Rate, Time On Content and Page Scroll Percentage

Automatic winner selection once the test is complete (with automatic notification emails)

Ability to remove an under-performing variation while the test is running (to stop wasting traffic)

Detailed reports of all tests running on your site

Check it out here 👈
(affiliate link)

Simple Workflow For Creating Split Tests

Download the Headline Cheat Sheet

Create 25 headlines

Find the top 5 headlines

Test them with Headline Optimizer (affiliate link)

Once the test has ended, replace the headline in your social media evergreen scheduler (like SmarterQueue or AgoraPulse or MeetEdgar)
(affiliate links)

Create another test with the winning headline as control and new headlines as variations

Keep rinsing and repeating - for ever increasing results

Do this for a few blog posts and see the results – you’ll be amazed.

Today You Learned

You spend a lot of time, effort and money you creating your awesome content.

But it too can fail if you haven’t found the right headline for it.

But if you could find the right post title, you can get much more traffic, social shares and backlinks for your blog.

Great headlines, are the key to success of your blog.

And to help you write the best headlines for your posts and pages, I’ve created the Headline Cheat Sheet with 50+ awesome headline examples and 100+ power words.

Download it here and lemme know if you learned something new from this blog post (or if you have some headline secrets of your own to share) by leaving a comment below.

I make sure I reply to every comment.

pulkit gera

Cheers,
Pulkit Gera – Blogging Done Better

  • Loretta says:

    I’ve tested tons of headlines for myself and for clients. I don’t know how or why, I’m sure there is some kind of science behind it, but the numbers in headlines thing always seems to work very well. List posts, round ups, best of, they all gather attention, clicks, and long time on page views.

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