What BuzzFeed Can Teach You About Writing a Viral-Worthy Headline

by Brian Carey on September 17, 2013
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The fact that you’re reading this post immediately suggests two things: First, you clicked on a link because its headline enticed you. Second, you recognize the website BuzzFeed as a trendsetter in producing alluring online content — and you want to find out more.

You can learn a lot about crafting catchy headlines from popular sites like BuzzFeed and its upstart competitor Upworthy. These sites aren’t quickly becoming household names by accident: The authors of their content know how to attract readers, a large part of which has to do with writing effective headlines.

Based on their work, here are three tips for creating viral-worthy headlines.

1. Spend time on the headline. Content marketers are frequently advised to produce shareable, original content. But that’s not the end of the story. According to Upworthy co-founder Peter Koechley, authors should devote half of their time to writing a headline that attract clicks. “People put way too much emphasis on the specifics of the piece of content and not enough on the packaging,” Koechley says. “We’ve seen the case where a headline made the difference between 1,000 views and 1 million views.”

2. Start your own meme — and use it frequently. Visitors to BuzzFeed may notice numerous headlines that follow the same formula, such as “28 Things Only Speech Team People Will Understand,” “15 Jokes Only Philosophy Geeks Will Understand,” and “22 Problems Only Foodies Will Understand.” What’s BuzzFeed doing here? The editorial team is using variations on the same theme repeatedly to produce unique content. It’s also a way to attract visitors to the site who haven’t been there before. At present, the first story mentioned above has been shared or liked on Facebook 22,000 times.

3. Pique readers’ curiosity. Don’t you hate it when you read a headline like “You’ll Never Believe What This Guy Said to His Congressman at a Town Hall Meeting”? Wouldn’t you rather that the headline just told you what he said, so that you didn’t have to click on the link for more? Well, guess what? Those headlines work. So don’t hate them anymore. Instead use them to produce your own viral content and give your brand a little more buzz. Craft a headline that piques people’s curiosity, so that they don’t get their news from the headline, but rather from the content of the article itself. which the headline forces them to read.

Brian Carey is a business writer for Intuit who is passionate about solving small business problems.

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