Latest Trends in Headline Creation and Their Success

headlines

No matter what kind of a website you have, the one thing that is always true is that your headlines are really important. Headlines affect things like user engagement, readability, conversions, SEO, social sharing, and even click-throughs.

It’s worth putting the time and effort into crafting a beautiful headline! I’ve studied headlines very carefully and learned this powerful truth. Success lies in creating masterful headlines.

So, before we get into how you can create and leverage magnetic headlines, let’s first go over what’s changing.

What’s changing in headline creation?

You’ve probably read a thing or two about developing a great headline. Beware of anyone who tells you that headlines have to be a certain way. Web content is an evolving entity. Even so-called “magnetic” headlines have changed over its short history.

In 1998, a “how to write headlines” article from Jakob Nielsen dictated that you should never use “‘cute’ or ‘clever’ headlines.” Tell that to Viral Nova. They shot up from zero to seventy million unique visitors in just a few months. Why? Headlines. And, yes, most of them are cute and clever. Their headlines are nothing like the web has seen before. I’ll talk about them below.

It just goes to show that what’s popular and trending in headlines is always changing. Headlines are like trends in fashion — they come and go, changing and shifting with popular sentiment and contemporary concern. In order to capitalize on popular headline trends, you’ve got to stay aware.

Takeaway:  Keep up with the trends in headline creation.

What do you want from a headline?

What is the perfect headline?

That question is impossible to answer. Instead, you need to ask the question “what’s the perfect headline for my situation?” Headlines are going to vary based on three things:

  1. Your goal
  2. Your audience
  3. Where the headline will be promoted

First, let’s answer the question “what’s the goal of this headline?”

In other words, what do you want your headline to do for you?

If your headline is intended to boost your social presence, it needs to have viral and linkbait elements. If your headline is for an SEO-centric content marketing strategy, the headline needs to contain the right mix of long tail keywords and engaging language. If your goal is conversions, then you’ll need conversion-generating language for your headline.

Second, ask “who is this headline for?”

Your audience needs to be at the forefront of your mind when you write a headline. Who are these people? What do they like? How do they think? What’s their favorite drink?

You will have to write a headline that’s basically a personal letter to your target persona. Think of them; write for them; target them.

Finally, ask “where is this going to be promoted?”

The final factor has to do with where the headline is going to be promoted. For example, Twitter’s character limit prevents you from posting long headlines. Google+ and Facebook use easy picture embeds. Twitter’s picture may or may not appear in a Twitter feed, depending on the app. These key differences mean critical alterations to the headline, associated image, and any preview text.

Look at how Viral Nova implements these small but important alterations across three different platforms:

Website:
viral nova website

Facebook:
viral nova facebook

Twitter:
viral nova twitter

The headline remains largely the same, but there are additions of a teaser (Facebook), and a picture.

You want to make sure that you’re utilizing all the channels, but you may wish to adapt your headline slightly to maximize all the features of a particular social channel.

Takeaway:  Write a headline that meets your goals, connects with your audience, and matches your promotional strategy.

What’s changing in headline creation?

In the field of headline creation, there are five traditional types called the “high-level headline types.”

  1. Normal (Ways to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful) – you’ll see these just about everywhere. Traditional newspapers and magazines practice this kind of headline creation.
  2. Question (What are Ways to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful?) – strategic or scintillating questions have been a staple of headlines for a long time. It’s assumed that these questions will interest the viewer enough for him or her to read the article to get the answer to the question.
  3. How to (How to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful) – the “how to” headline style is a great way to offer something directly to your readers that they are interested in. It’s a problem-solution approach, and it works great. WikiHow and eHow are popular sites that are built on the how-to idea.
  4. Number (30 Ways To Make Drinking Tea More Delightful) – the numbered headline is probably the most popular to-date. Have you read BuzzFeed recently? You will get an eyeful of numbers. (And you will desperately want to click.)
  5. Reader-Addressing (Ways You Need to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful) – there are plenty of article titles that confront the reader with an alleged need. These headlines often start with “why.”

Though Moz’s list above covers the main headlines, recent trends have created a new category.

I call it the “emotional intrigue” headline.

Apparently, this model works. The Atlantic snagged a screenshot of Viral Nova’s analytics. This site, a pioneer in the emotional intrigue headline, somehow accomplished getting north of one hundred million unique visitors in just a few months.

viral nova traffic

The site is run by a guy working from his living room in Ohio. It’s popular, in part, because of its attention-grabbing headlines.

viral nova headlines

The headlines are pure bait, but they’re also sheer genius.

Already, other sites are catching on. Viral Quake, which sounds and looks strangely similar to Viral Nova is doing the same thing:

viral quake

These headlines leverage human curiosity. They use first-person style and shock-value language to make you want to click.

They’re getting more popular. An author at TheGuardian.com writes, “Here are three headlines I found recently when I visited Viral Nova, a curation site I’ve got a horrible feeling may represent the future of the web.”

Sites like these use social fuel — Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. That’s where the reading, sharing, and viral activity really happens. But such sharing can’t happen without the headlines, serving as catalysts for your readers’ actions.

Raw, shocking, intriguing, curious, and racy, these headlines tap into something deep within the human psyche. They tug, question, offend, or humor us enough to make us stop, click, look, and share.

These are powerful headlines.

Takeaway:  To cash in on the power of headlines, use a combination of these methods.

How do I create a powerful headline?

So, we come to the clutch question — how do you do it? How do you write these brilliant, psychologically moving headlines that create a 500% traffic upswing or claw their way to worldwide recognition?

Let me give you four simple tips.

  • Dominate your niche – don’t expect to be the next Buzzfeed, Upworthy, or Viral Nova. I’m all about shooting for the moon, but I need to provide caution. Are you trying to be the next viral social sharing information aggregator? Then, go ahead; duke it out with Viral Nova. But ideally you should focus on dominating your own niche.
  • Imitate what’s good – as I mentioned, keep a pulse on the trends in headline writing. You want to find out what’s working and then go out and do it for your audience. Go ahead and employ the strategic techniques used by the winners in the industry. The saying “good artists copy; great artists steal” has some merit, even in headline creation. Genius is imitation.
  • A/B test the heck out of it – the most reliable information comes from your own investigation. Conduct A/B testing as early, as often, and as aggressively as possible. Viral Nova’s headlines show every sign of rigorous A/B testing. Upworthy editors have to write 25 headlines and then use a testing software to select the best one. I’m an inveterate tester and have discovered massive traffic and conversion increases from simple A/B tests. I recommend conducting at least one new A/B test every other month, although more frequently is better.
  • Own your language – headlines boil down to this: words. You’ve got to have an expert ability to express yourself in the language in which you are writing your headlines. Since your article’s success depends on the headline, spend plenty of time tweaking words, trying iterations, and testing your versions on friends and unsuspecting colleagues. Words, sounds, definitions, synonyms, verbs — these are the ingredients of headlines. Create something amazing.

Conclusion

If you want to become a master of social media, of content strategy, or indeed of digital marketing itself, you will first have to become a master of smart headlines.

There is nothing more satisfying than looking at your analytics and seeing that brilliantly-strategized headline delivering explosive traffic and unbelievable share metrics. This kind of satisfaction is completely within your reach.

Go for it.

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Comments

  1. It’s interesting how headline strategy changes over time, especially as readers and consumers become more marketing savvy.

    I personally hate how headlines now end with “…and #4 Dropped My Jaw!” But it’s effective. People click.

  2. Great Post Neil,

    Headline trend is changing. It is more important to capture the user’s eye to read the further post. Great headline can covert readers into regular visitors. Jon Morrow also discusses this in his recent webinar.
    Thank you for your suggestion to work on small headlines. :)

    • “Great headline can covert readers into regular visitors.” – I suspect Nikhil.

      Great headlines can draw readers but to convent them regular visitors …. content must be awesome like Neil sir.

      Yes …. great content with moderate title fails but Moderate content whit great titles does great job…..

    • Nikhil, glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts :)

  3. I believe there will be dilution effect. At first all these headlines are so intriguing. Then all viral sites start to copy and use similar headline… eg: 17 ways to….. blah blah, #5 is too awesome etc. The CTR will lowered, then the headlines will evolve again.

    • Heh, maybe good points there, but just check your site and first headline what i saw “6 top reasons…”

      Why? Simply because this works.. :)

      On the other side definitely agree with you that all these headlines are little intriguing. :)

    • Connor, great point. Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing more from you :)

  4. My tip is to find at least 10 successful competitors, go through their web and trying to find similar articles to yours.. Then analyze this ten unique headlines and create the best one :)

    Amazing stuff Neil, definitely lot of great tips..

    I’ll take inspiration from you and write about it also. Lot of people looking exactly for these tips and ideas.

  5. Great article Neil – lately I’ve been criticizing your content and I was afraid It was becoming a tendency – It is clear now, that I was wrong.

  6. Hi neil ,
    Awesome Post , A simple technique to generate headline is to use this tool http://www.portent.com/tools/title-maker/. It will be very useful for generating headline ideas

    Cheers!!

  7. Thanks Neil. It was interesting to read.

    BTW, you know, I’ve always trained myself to ignore catchy baity tabloid-like headlines.

    Of course, using them depends on the target audience, as you say. But it seems that such headlines are used more and more often everywhere.

    Haha, I feel like an alien sometimes when I think about what I like and what other people like :)

  8. I am getting massive fatigue from the blatant click bait headlines, but I don’t know if I have it in me to fight the trend. It feels like a million Cosmopolitan magazines are yelling in my face. You Won’t Believe What I do Next!

  9. I’m not surprised that headlines are moving too. There is nothing that’s stagnant.

    Beautiful tips though Neil and of course, there is need to follow the trend ;)

  10. Neil –

    Great article. Doesn’t matter how great an article is if no one reads it!

    Cheers,
    Brad

  11. Ahh! I’ve been analyzing this “first person” headline trend for a few months and could only find an abundance of adverbs in similarity.

    “These RIDICULOUSLY cute kittens will have you melt…”
    “This homeless man shows how society is ABSOLUTELY….”
    “Waitress becomes victim of the GREATEST prank….”

    And I can only imagine this type of hyper-adverb trend only diminishes our vocabulary if we can’t find the right synonym to explain a post.

  12. Your point is absolutely right Neil, Headline is the mirror of your content.

    Headlines is useful since so long time. In the 19th Century the letters’s (which are a communication medium) Headlines were so important, that a person who received the letter was only read the headline and rest of the things was cleared for him.

    Now In an E-mail Trend, Headlines are still very much Important. Because As Neil Described 80% of users will read a headline only.

    I am Giving you the Simple Example. You all have a News paper at your home. So When you are sitting and try to Read the news, which thing you will be read first? Obviously Heading, and If you find the Heading is interesting and influencing than you will go further.

    Dear Neil, I found a new trend called “Personal Touch with Headlines”. For an Example the simple “How to” Headline is “How to decrease Bounce Rate in just 30 days?” and “Personal Touch Headline” should be like this “How I am able to Decrease my bounce rate in just 30 days” SO I connect my personal experience with the Headline.

    Generally People want to know about Yourself and Activities thats why “Personal Connect Headlines” are so popular.

    Trending of Headline is always Changing but The Value or we can say that the Importance will never be change.

    “Headlines Were Useful”, “Headlines are Useful”, “Headlines Will Useful”

    • Ankit … wouldn’t it better if rather using ‘personal touch’ term we use ‘emotional’.

      If you headline can intrigue any kind of ‘emotion’, it will work great.

      • Hi Parmveer,

        Yes you can use “emotion” word. I personally like to use “Personal touch” word because This word covers about one kind of Case study. Generally user like to know How you achieve? How you work? How your site increase traffic etc. So It covers Case study of your personal Experience. “emotion” word is also Good.

        Hey Neil, I am waiting for your words.

  13. Great post. I was amazed that you talked about Viral Nova. I’ve been following them for 3 months now just to learn from their headlines.

    I tried to reverse-engineer 3 of them into some Facebook Ads I did for a client and I’ve got to say the CTRs were amazing. Always above 1% when promoting to people who actually like their page (Newsfeed Only).

    I tried to take it to the next level. So, Instead of just putting the headline as Text, I stopped the campaign and relaunched it with the winning ad only after designing a good Image to display with the ad as the URL image using Open Graph tags.

    That image just included the headline doodled by myself on a piece of paper with some basic photoshop retouches. Wondering how the ad performed? I got a CTR of 2.62% which is the best I’ve seen with Facebook and the average CPC was just 2 cents.

    I have been bidding on that same exact audience for 8 months now and I was never able to get CPC below 10 cents. But, Using this tactic, I was able to lower it to 5 cents and then 2 cents. That ad got around 7,000 clicks. But, The best thing is that my client also received around 2,500 organic visitors from Facebook because when people shared this URL again on Facebook, The same image was displayed organically because of the Open Graph tags I used. So, The organic CTR was amazing too even with people’s own text.

    I’ve been seeing few people talking about that kind of headlines for a while and BuzzFeed played with it a little but only when I saw that Viral Nova built the whole website around that specific headline “formula”, I decided that I should try it. It may look kind of “sloppy” and amateur but If Facebook traffic is your target, then You should definitely try out this. Thanks, Viral Nova. Thanks, Neil!

  14. Hello Neil,

    It’s really Informative content that write about the Headline of Articles, Actually I am Learning SEO last few years & but not most experienced on writing articles, Sometimes I need articles to post on my blogs & I have to hire people to write them. your tips will be helpful for me, I believe the words that you said “80% of people will read a headline, but only 20% of people will read articles ” & it’s true.

  15. Hey Neil,

    You shared such valuable information . I am totally agreed with you majority of people influence by the headlines of article. If headline is catchy then only your article will be read. Thank you so much for this useful information. I am eagerly waiting for your next article.

    Regards
    Ritul Gangwar

  16. I loved reading this article. However i felt that the titles used by viralnova are too long and they may not be liked by google, which is exactly pointed by @Dennis Gorelik where he shared that nice link which gives an idea of what happened to them after a while. I have seen the graph and there is big dip in traffic. Any thoughts on that Neil ?

    • It may not be liked in Google and they could experience a drop, but overall their traffic will go up in the long run.

      The reason their titles may not be the best for Google is that they don’t contain enough descriptive keywords.

  17. I think there are no better Headline creators than you , you got some of the best i have come across and i usually read the article till the end. :-)

    As always awesome awesome awesome contents you got and can not thank more for sharing all this.

    Have a great day. Cheers

  18. Hello Neil,
    You are right. Headlines are most important part of a post. A headline may decide if the article will get his worth or not. But the changes you mentioned in your article are due to change of time and need. As Google changed their Algo. It’s better to change style.
    As you mentioned it also depends on Niche and Audience. If I am offering cracks to download. My audience is only looking for crack to download. They will download their required crack and they will move away. They will not notice if I have worked a lot on my post. So I can go with normal ways.
    But if I want to be brand. I would have to do something different to be favorite. Am I right?

  19. Good advices. Thank you. You have to know your audience and craft the headline accordingly. You have covered most important things in creating good headlines, but I still believe that less is more…if you can say more in less words you will have better results.Regards.

  20. Once again,Nice post Neil.

  21. Another fantastic article Neil.
    It is so easy to lose sight of your target audience and the most important factor to engage them.
    Without the compelling headline our posts are worthless. It’s nice to be reminded every now and then what we need to do make this happen.
    Just refreshes the creative juices once again.
    Thank you so much.

  22. Your articles over the last six months are great! How about an article that describes how you pick your topics?

  23. I’ve written truckloads of cheesy direct mail over the years and this just seems like natural evolution in the age of instant access. However, it’s not really anything new. Indeed, it’s pretty much a page right out of the Claude Hopkins playbook.

    That said, it would be helpful to have a resource to find the most viral headlines within one’s niche. Any ideas on that?

    BTW, your blog has become a must-read for me. Keep up the excellent work!

  24. Lately I’ve been subsiding the usage of headlines, but this post woke me up! I need to work on the eye-catching phrases to pull more conversion to my website. I was thinking “I’m not going to do as they want” but that’s the exact thing I need to do :) Thank you for the post Niel! I really appreciate it.

  25. Some of those headlines are hilarious. I can’t deny the urge to click them though.

  26. Sadly it’s the cringeworthy stuff that often attracts the most attention. Headlines are an example of that. Marketers just need to suck it up and go with it – don’t let using numbers or sensationalism get in the way of increased visits.

  27. Neil,
    Nice one. The tough task is to use these strategies in respective fields- which differ a lot from each other. Thanks for sharing!
    Mandar

  28. As informative as always

    Not only do we have to go through your posts but have to check on with the comments too to get special add on tips

    Hence I prefer reading your posts when it is at least a day old ;)

    Have a great life ahead

  29. Right on the money with this one Neil. So many websites and blogs let theme selfs down with poor headlines. As they say you only have about 2 seconds to grab a victors attention. Its ether got to be a really good photo or a great headline. Thanks for the post.

  30. Nice post Neil,

    As I have observed headlines with “Wh” and “how to” we need to have huge interlinked content in blog or site. We can see sites likes like wikihow.com etc have huge interlinked content. Its bit difficult to deal with these kind of sites. Your thoughts are most welcome the same.

    Regards
    Hareesh

  31. Awesome post Neil,

    I’m really digging into these kind of headlines right now for a new project. It has a lot to offer ! It’s fun, it’s intriguing and it’s getting clicks.

    If your target market hangs out on Social Media to consume the kind of content you’re promoting, it’s definitely a strategy worth trying ! Thanks !

  32. Nice article again Neil sir.

    I am 100% agree about every assertion you made in the post above.

    Catchy title writing technique is a must to have technique these days.

    Thanks for this article.

  33. I think news sites in particular are struggling with these new trends in headline creation as they look to leverage search and social.

    The past decade has seen journalists being trained to create SEO friendly headlines and now they’ve just been flipped over with the emotionally intriguing trend as that is what works on social, even though you can’t possibly associate such headlines with any keywords.
    I guess what you say about understanding your goals is key to creating the right kind of headline!

  34. Great info and it just proves as peoples needs change over time so will the material they want to read. Thus you have to keep up with the trends in headlines to know what topics are hot and whats not. Thanks Neil!

  35. Headline creation’s the one thing I struggle on the most, I must admit. Depending on the context of the piece, headlines these days can be vast and all encompassing. I’ve seen a lot of people using gimmicky adjectives to get attention, such as “insane” or “awesome!!!” This immediately puts me off clicking on the article, as it seems like they’re making up for the article’s inadequacies. The best bet is to be descriptive and interesting – rely on your content and get the message across through this.

  36. How do you A/B test headlines? You can’t post two blog articles with different headlines and see which one gets the most traffic (or can you?) Can you explain that further?

    • There are many ways to test headlines before publishing your post. I have tried several but this one gave me most accurate results; I import my website audience (subscribers, facebook fans, and commentators) to Facebook as a Custom Audience. I then create a lookalike audience of my audience and create about 3 ads (each containing a headline I want to test) and then I run the ads till they reach 3,000 people each. I look into the results and the winning headline always perform good.

      Another method some people are using is to post headlines on your Facebook page and ask people to give you their feedback like Jon Morrow does. However, I think this method doesn’t provide the proper testing environment. It’s a good way to get ideas and suggestions but not the best one to test how will these headlines actually perform. Most people would pick the most clever headline just to look cool because they know people will be looking at their comments. Although there must be another dumb headline that will actually out-perform the other cute and clever ones.

    • I typically do it through emails. So when I send an email blast I will use a few different headlines to see which one gets the most click through rate.

  37. Neil can have a “look at my blog and how i made effective use of your headline theory”?

    Well how will you rate the quoted portion of this comment as an headline?

  38. Make it irresistible.

  39. Neil.. Well my blog is about top 10 lists as you know so my blog theme forces me to restrict my titles to start from

    “Top 10 …….”

    Is it effective or should i try something else?

    • If that is the theme of your blog it would be tough to change the title as it will go away from what your blog is about. So in your case, I would stick with it.

  40. Same old stuff. Honestly… The only thing distinctive about those ‘new’ headlines is that they’re two sentences. It’s the easiest thing in the world to create a compelling headline about that sort of stuff. Why don’t you try something hard (read: real world) like… Headlines for engineering products? We’re not learning anything from this generic stuff.

    • Bruce, sorry you feel that way. Could you give me some feedback on how I could make this article better for you? I always love improving my content…

  41. Neil,

    Fab as always, I want to know how you came up with the headline for this post?

    Jonny

  42. Thanks for liking my opinion. I am just trying to search out these kind of issues. I wish I would be favorite. That’s why I use follow the brands, like you are.

  43. Writing titles that create curiosity will make your site stand out.But the problem is if you do that every time, it could negatively impact you, if you are a well established site and you are always writing titles that create anxiety in people, people will never like your site – common sense………
    viral nova always creates exaggerating titles, its working now but it may badly affect their reputation in the long term

    Anyways thanks for sharing

  44. Headline is the most attracted thing in the whole post for my all sites. I have personally proven it. Btw Thanks for the nice article sir.

    Regards,
    Meck Lee.

  45. Your head line is very important in relation to seo. It doesn’t hurt to change it, every now and then I find.
    Seo is very important. I feel you should read all material relating to it. This can help improve your websites ranking on the internet.

  46. Nice article, Neil!

    Headline matters the most in an article. Headlines are somehow our only hope to get our articles read by our audience. More than half percent of the readers depend on headlines in deciding whether to read the rest of the article or not. So, it is important that our headlines should be enticing and interesting to catch our reader’s attention.

    Thanks for sharing us these latest trends on writing headlines. This article is indeed helpful to improve our content writing.

    Best,
    Ann

    By the way, I found this post shared on kingged.com

  47. I am sure this paragraph has touched all the iternet people, its really really nice paragraph on building up new webpage.

  48. Hi, Neil sir. I have mastered SEO just with your tips. And one more basic tip for Heading by you is really praise worthy. Thanks a ton for this article sir.

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  53. Such a wonderful read – thank you so much Neil. I agree completely with Sonya’s comments above – and will avoid duplicating them. Thank you so much for another great article.

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