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How to Write Great Headlines That Go Viral
Posted on June 17th 2014
Wanna know a secret? The headline of this post alone, with proper placement and sharing of the article of course, might take this viral. If so, everything I'm about to share will be validated. If not...hey, you won't know until later anyway, so you may as well read on now. What else are you going to do?
Make it SHINE
The good people over at KISSmetrics did some research a few years back about what makes a good headline, and the results were very helpful. The interesting thing about writing is that while verbiage and colloquialisms will change over time and distance, the basics of communication always remain the same.
All that to say that a quality formula for developing a headline will stay pretty evergreen, as true a decade or two from now as it is today. The method the author developed became SHINE, and I personally found it very helpful. So why not share it?
SHINE stands for Specificity, Helpfulness, Immediacy, Newsworthiness, and Entertainment value. The highlights are:
Specificity: Numbers are good, names, places and other specifics which project easily pictured ideas.
Helpfulness: Solve the problem they wanted solved when they clicked to your article.
Immediacy: The headline should make them want to read further right now. People rarely go back to read the stuff they bookmarked for later reading.
Newsworthiness: Say something they haven't heard before.
Entertainment: Be humorous without being silly or cheesy.
Digital enthusiast Lenka Istvanova came up with a winning formula for the perfect headline as well, Numbers + Adjective + Target Keyword + Rational + Promise. Her example was 10 bitchin tips for writing irresistible headlines, another would be 7 Things That Will Improve Your Life TODAY, which also adds the element of immediacy.
In addition to using this checklist when you are crafting the headline of your articles, there are some numbers to keep in mind. Roughly eight out of ten people that see your headline will read it, but only two out of those ten will read the rest of what you wrote, according to Copyblogger.
In the KISSmetrics research, they found that people scan headlines just as they scan most text online, something we all know intuitively. They found that the first three words and the last three words of a headline were what were noticed and remembered, while the rest was practically mentally discarded. Which means, of course, that a six word headline is just about as optimized as you can get.
However, keep in mind that marketing (which is really what most of what we write is) is a subjective science where you can't go strictly by the numbers or a formula. Creativity and striking a chord personally with someone can shatter all of the rules. Play with your headlines using both a loose six word limit and no limit, and see which get better results.
Measure Your Audience
All of that advice is a great start to making your headlines sparkle and attract attention, but when it comes to your business' marketing campaign you want to see and track results. If you can't quantify your effort in any way, then that effort might be a waste of time. To get the best data, you need to be able to cast widely and listen well.
By casting widely, I mean that sharing across numerous networks is a must. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and any other relevant sites possible should all have your headlines there to be seen and shared. Don't go to irrelevant platforms, but cast as widely as possible within the relevant internet.
Listening well is accomplished with the same piece of social media management software that will make your wide casting a breeze. That's a social dashboard, with which you can post your headlines to any number of platforms simultaneously. Once you've made your posts, which can be in real time or scheduled, the software will monitor the web for any likes, clicks, mentions, retweets, or links, and then run analysis on the results to produce reports for you.
By measuring specifically the reactions to various headlines from your set audience, you can take those results and bounce them off the formulas discussed to see which of the methods had the best and worst effect for you. From there you have the raw data for baseline and can simply continue refining the process until you hit the stride that resounds with your target audience.
It has been said that 90% of good writing is developing a good title or headline, and that's true for more than one reason. People have scan-through attention spans, they get bored or lose interest easily, and they try to consume more content than they are humanly capable of consuming. What will get them to read your pieces above all the others clamoring for their attention? Well, good content will keep them there once they dive in, but only a great, viral-worthy headline will entice them to move to the edge of the pool and lean forward.