3 Scientifically-Backed Copywriting Tips for Crafting Shareworthy Headlines

Headlines are THE biggest factor in creating shareworthy posts and other web content like vlogs and podcasts. The headline is your customer’s portal into the escape you’re offering them. And it has to speak to their interests and the interests of those in their online social groups in order to inspire them to “share” or “retweet” your content.

So how does one write the best headlines ever?


Well, take one part science and mix it with two parts luck and you might just go viral now and again (come on, you didn’t think this was going to be some sort of “secret sauce” kinda post did you — reality check!)

Include the following 3 bits of scientifically proven copywriting advice into your headline game and I guarantee you at least one viral victory by the end of the year:

1. Curiosity doesn’t just kill the cat you know…

Sure, I’m being a bit cheeky here, as the English would say. But I’m also being serious. Curiosity breaks down walls. It makes cowards turn brave and the brave into fools at times. Your web copy — or any copy for that matter — needs to be cultivating reader curiosity from the word go. Same goes for video. If the headline doesn’t inspire some sort of curiosity, it doesn’t have a hope or prayer of being watched.

One of the writing technologies (I just made that up) Upworthy.com uses to describe the success of their catchy headline site is what they’ve coined the “curiosity gap”. And this doesn’t mean that using vague statements will work either. Not unless you’re running a successful celebrity news site and your catchlines go something like: “Kim Kardashian Doesn’t Want You to Know Why…” or some other such nonsense that celebrity followers might grab onto.

From Upworthy:

“The headline needs to be tantalizing enough to get a reader to click through, but mustn’t give away the whole story.”

No. You have give enough away so it’s interesting, without spilling the entire punchline and leaving no room for interest.

  • Too Vague: Obama says the wrong thing, again.
  • Too Much Information: Obama says talks with Cuba are done: “We’ve declared war as of October 14, 2015!”
  • Just Enough to be Tantalizing: Guess what President Obama has in store for US/Cuba relations next month?


2. Stop writing out your numbers!

I’m so guilty of breaking this rule that I really don’t deserve the right to be telling it to you. And if you, like me, paid any attention in high school and college English class, you’ve probably picked up a few rules from your teachers that while considered proper, don’t actually inspire angst from your readership. I can’t count the number of times I tried to sneak a “4” instead of a “four” into an essay and lost style marks for.

In the real world, things are different, as we’ve all learned over the years. And with headlines, numerals stand out. Way out.

Consider the following email headlines:

  • Your Name, we have $400,000 sitting in an escrow account waiting to transfer to your bank account. This is not a scam!”
  • Your name, we have four hundred thousand dollars sitting in an escrow account waiting to transfer to your bank account. This is not a scam!”

The first thing you’re probably thinking is “Not a scam, yeah right.” But still, doesn’t seeing the digits following that nice fat dollar sign look more intriguing? Same goes for your copy and any numbers of note that you want readers to latch on to. This rules applies to whenever you’re talking statistics, percentages and of course, money.

And this isn’t just sales writing talk either. Using digits over their spelling variants applies to any sort of writing where you’re trying to draw people in so you can share an idea or message. Stanford researcher, Chip Heath equates using numbers in their written form over the actual digits themselves as being no different than a rambling sentence or paragraph over a shorter, to-the-point statement (learn more about Heath’s research into numbers and their effects on our interest levels here).

Power of Numbers

3. Use the most shareable words to spread your content farther and attract more brand followers.

You don’t need to redesign the entire wheel when it comes to creating compelling copy headlines. Innovation is difficult in this area of expertise.

When it comes to shareworthy headlines, here are a few proven words that always get more clicks and way more shares:

  • smart
  • intriguing
  • surprising
  • shocking
  • unbelievable
  • science
  • history
  • hacks
  • huge
  • big
  • critical

2013 Takipi Marketing Study:

Check out this overview from a 2013 social media marketing study performed by Takipi Marketing. In it they discovered the most shareable words used in social media headlines. To many people’s surprise, the study showed some disturbing insights into human behavior. Humans eat up tragedy and scoff at success. A decent post with “failure” in the headline is sure to be a success in its own right, whereas “wins” and “triumphs” may be lucky to get a few hundred clicks on the best of sites.

Same goes if you’re comparing headlines that inspire gruesome images in one’s head like “bleeding”, “war”, “guts”, and “kill”. Keep in mind that these can all be used in a positive headline too, if you’re creative enough (eg., “Donald Trump Declares War on Poverty” or “Presidential Hopeful Trump to Kill Legalized Marijuana Bill in Arizona.”)

If you’re like most online businesses, Twitter is big on your list of content marketing sites to get shares on.

Here are the 20 official most retweeted words and phrases of all times:

  1. you
  2. twitter
  3. please
  4. retweet
  5. post
  6. blog
  7. social
  8. free
  9. media
  10. help
  11. please retweet
  12. great
  13. social media
  14. 10
  15. follow
  16. how to
  17. top
  18. blog post
  19. check out
  20. new blog post

Word Science

Are You Smart Enough to Like This Post?

Go ahead and prove it. Share this with all your marketing friends and have them read this post from Unbounce, which gives some great advice but also turns everything I just said on its head.

The content game is ever-changing, hard to keep up with. The rules are always evolving but the importance of a headline in attracting audiences will never change.


Main Image Credit: Christopher Woo/Flickr

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