You Need To See The Hottest Words in Viral Headlines

Knowing how to write a killer headline, subject line or tweet can make the difference between success and failure for your content marketing efforts. The simple truth is, it doesn’t matter how great your content is; if readers don’t get past the headline they’ll never know.

Ripenn recently collated 2,616 headlines from four popular sites that excel at writing highly-clickable headlines. By analysing the data amassed from BuzzFeed, ViralNova, UpWorthy and Wimp, we can look for common usage patterns and trends to try to determine which words work best. And thanks to some nifty number-crunching by the team at Buffer, we now know which words appear most frequently in some of the most viral headlines on the internet today.

First up, here’s a list of the most popular uncommon words (excluding common words like ‘the’, ‘this’, and ‘a’):

Popular uncommon single words

No great surprises there, although it’s noticeable how short and simple many of these words are. There’s not much hyperbole—perhaps with the exception of ‘awesome’—and most of these words are very ordinary, regular occurrences in everyday language.

Things get more interesting when we look at the most popular two-word phrases:

Two word phrases

It’s noteworthy how many of these phrases implicitly carry authority and confidence from the author. Phrases like ‘this is’ and ‘the most’ require a certain amount of swagger from a writer, which is, of course, an attractive trait for the casual reader.

If you’ve spent much time on BuzzFeed or UpWorthy, you are probably reminded of several of your favourite headlines just from the two-word list above. But that eerie sense of déjà vu could be even stronger after you’ve digested the top three-word phrases below:

Three word phrases

Notice how enticing and inviting many of these phrases are. Word formations like ‘wait til you…’ and ‘will make you…’ instantly hint at a possible outcome for the reader, encouraging them in to see if the headline can deliver.

Finally, we also learn from this analysis that the length of the average viral headline is 62 characters, considerably longer than the average email subject line or newspaper headline. Content marketers should welcome this factoid and take it as permission to test some long headlines to see how they perform.

From all of this analysis Ripenn has helpfully condensed their learnings into seven simple principles for headline writing success. They are:

  1. Make the most of current events: Tie your headline to news and newsmakers
  2. Break the “rules” of headline writing, like length and structure
  3. Seek to pique the reader’s curiosity
  4. Never underestimate the emotional factor of a headline
  5. Call the reader to action with direct action words
  6. Make bold claims
  7. Sound like a human, not a robot

Thanks to the Ripenn and Buffer blogs for sharing their analytical approach and findings.