No matter what you think of Buzzfeed, you have to admit that they know viral content. They are masters of the irresistible headline: that link that you just have to click.
Viral content is a hard thing to predict. However, Buzzfeed’s ongoing success points to the fact that they know what works. Of course, they aren’t going to turn around and reveal all their secrets to the public!
Still, with all the data and tools available to us today, we can at least uncover some of their tricks. Last year, Buzzsumo released a study where they crunched the numbers on 100 million headlines. Using data from Facebook and Twitter, they analyzed the most-shared words and phrases in these headlines.
While this data doesn’t exactly give you a foolproof formula for going viral, it does give you some tools to increase your chances of getting people’s attention. So, without further ado, here are seven Buzzfeed headlines and the lessons you can learn from them…
The premise of headline is similar to “feel old yet?” memes that circulate with pictures of child stars as adults—a perennially click-worthy topic! The most important element here, however, is the linkage phrase “will make you”.
According to Buzzsumo, these three words were the single most powerful phrase in their study, generating more than double the shares than the second-most popular term.
Why? While pictures of nostalgic items from your youth are interesting, the writer is specifically telling you that these images will make you feel something powerful.
Tip: Explicitly communicate what the reader will get from your article in the headline.
It may seem obvious, but as humans we are more likely to share content that we connect with emotionally. According to Buzzsumo’s study, emotional phrases like tears of joy, make you cry, give you goosebumps, is too cute, shocked to see, and melt your heart consistently received a high number of interactions on Facebook.
Be careful not to go overboard when using these types of phrases, however, as Facebook has announced that it will be penalizing articles that “exaggerate the details of a story with sensational language”.
Tip: Use emotional phrases to connect with your audience.
You can probably guess what’s going on with this headline, after all it uses a classic clickbait trick! Buzzsumo’s study found that headlines that generate curiosity and voyeurism by using phrases like what happened next, talking about it, Twitter reacts to, and are freaking out also gained high levels of Facebook engagement.
Tip: Encourage the reader to click by building curiosity with the headline.
Why do you read an article on the internet? Most of the time, it’s because you’ll (hopefully) learn something that you didn’t know before. We are curious creatures that are attracted to things that promise to reveal new knowledge.
An article like this one, which explains why women are better at multitasking than men, piques our interest by offering to reveal the underlying reason behind this commonly cited difference between the genders. And, that is clearly communicated by the headline. Phrases like this is why, and the reason is promise to give you the answers you are seeking.
Tip: Use your headline to show the reader that you are offering them valuable information.
Let’s face it: humans are tribal creatures. Whether its sports, video games, politics, or even clothing brands, we like to stick with our team. We also like to read articles or watch videos that reinforce our own point of view.
The classic Buzzfeed headline format “X Things Only Y Will Understand” has proven to be highly durable. By appealing to your tribal identity, the writer is telling you that they have a deep knowledge of who you are.
Tip: Let your audience know that you understand where they’re coming from in the headline.
While the best performing phrase in Buzzsumo’s study was “will make you,” this is obviously a linking phrase that is used to combine two elements. But what are the best phrases to start and end a headline with?
The study found that the best-performing starting phrase was X reasons why (X standing in for a number), while the best performing ending phrase was the world. As you can see in the above headline, the article writer has gone all-out with this one in the hopes of going viral. Again these phrases tap into our desire for explanation and convey an emotional message.
Tip: Make sure you grab the reader’s attention with a powerful opening phrase.
By now, we all know that numbered lists perform well. What you may not know is that we all love a big, round number.
According to Buzzsumo’s study, the top performing number on Facebook was 10, followed by 5, 15 and 7. While some marketers advocate for creating extremely long listicles, it seems that many writers achieve consistent success with these numbers.
Tip: Bigger isn’t always better. Don’t waste your time creating longer articles when there’s no guarantee they’ll get more clicks.
For more great content marketing tips, check out my interview with Clare McDermott, Editor at Chief Content Officer magazine, on my Marketing Speak podcast.