What you can learn from Buzzfeed, Viral Nova, Upworthy and Wimp about writing clickable headlines

What doesn’t get clicked, doesn’t work. It’s that simple.

Social Headlines

You write emails, Facebook posts, blog posts, and articles to inspire a donation, a registration, a petition signature, a volunteer or a profound feeling of appreciation.

If your headline or subject line fails you lose.

Click-baiting is when you write an overly emotional or hyperbolic headline to get people to read your article, email, or social media post and your content doesn’t really live up to the hype of your headline.

We’ve all felt the bait and switch of click-baiting at some time or other and it’s really annoying.

I published a popular download Get Your Emails Opened last year that has already gotten over 25,000 views and downloads. And in that guide, I strive hard to coach you away from the dark art of click-baiting.

I’m also skeptical of reading too much into general marketing studies that claim to reveal “the top words used in clickable headlines,” or “the best time of day to post on Facebook,” or “hottest day of week for email click-throughs.” Truth is, online communication evolves so quickly these mass analysis studies, while interesting, aren’t necessarily helpful. As boring as it sounds, your audience dictates what works and what doesn’t.

This, however, is too good not to share

Ripenn recently conducted a mass-market analysis of 2,600 actual headlines from top viral sites: Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Viral Nova, and Wimp: 7 Things Marketers Can Learn From 2,616 Viral Headlines. These are all companies that experienced meteoric growth by writing great headlines. Even the teams at these popular media sites acknowledge that what works in headlines is ever-evolving as our tastes change, but this is good stuff about what’s working now.

Ripenn’s Top Tips for Writing Clickable Headlines and Subject Lines:

1. Link to pop culture, especially if you have a dry topic. For example: How Bracketology Helped Me Segment My List

2. Length of headline doesn’t matter. Most of Upworthy’s and Viral Nova’s headlines are two sentences long! What DOES matter, though, are the first few words of your subject line, because it’s likely over 50% of your emails are being read on a mobile device. Figure you have anywhere from 30 to 34 letters before your email subject line gets cut off (truncated).

Wimp3. Inject a high does of curiosity, for example: What do Mother Theresa and Joseph Stalin have in common? Back it up with good content. Or subtle curiosity like this post from Wimp.com. It creates curiosity to see what the rescuer does to calm the terrified dog.

4. Emotion is what fuels people to click and share, so get emotional. Think your topic is dry? Figure out a way to tie your topic, or an aspect of your topic, to emotions we all share. The example below from Viral Nova shows a pretty dull image, but note how they tie it to the emotion of jealousy.

5. Viral sites discreetly make use of action words. People don’t like to be bossed around, so if you want a specific action, you need to ask politely or indirectly. “Truly a must see” is a shining example of action words that aren’t bossy. “You gotta see this” is another good example.

ViralNova6. Don’t shy away from getting bold with your titles. But, and this is a big “but,” as long as your content can back up the claim, you have nothing to worry about. “What He Had Just Six Weeks Later Made Me Ridiculously Jealous” is bold. It also got 3500 shares.

7. Be conversational. Skip being glib, clever, snarky, or sarcastic (especially avoid sarcastic) and just be a relatable human.

The good folks at Ripenn actually share their raw data in an Excel format and encourage readers to analyze the data themselves and share any insights they missed.

Isn’t that cool?


Thank you for stopping by. I know you’re a busy person and I really value your time. YOU are my business. My business is to create tools, share insider knowledge, and give you confidence that you’re doing the right marketing at the right time to hit your revenue goals.