The tendency to create catchy and appealing headlines has recently gained prominence. It came into spotlight together with the emergence of digital content. Back in the day, when only newsstand sold the newspapers, customers, journalists and editors didn’t care much about every single headline. The reason behind that was purely commercial back then. An accurate and informative headline was more than enough. If you already bought the newspaper, your decisions on which articles you were going to read didn’t affect the journal’s budget at all.
Certainly, you had to have a flashy and attractive front page, but today, you have to be inventive with every single title because every click counts. Over the course of the last few years, we’ve seen numerous creative and even manipulative techniques that increase the chances that your headlines, and thus your articles, will go viral. Here are a few tips on how to do this.
Trying to organize your article as a listicle and choosing an appropriate title (“X ways to…”, “X things you…” etc.) is a very useful and effective small trick to boost the chances of your content going viral. There’s a solid logic behind this – the reader knows that such articles are likely to be conveniently partitioned and easy to scan through. The trick is that you usually don’t have to read the whole article to understand the point, since it doesn’t have a continuous flow and you can choose to read only the paragraphs that you find important or interesting. In short, lists are time-savers and people on the internet rate them highly.
There are numerous ways to evoke readers’ emotions with your headlines, and this does drive traffic to your articles. Whatever you choose to push: fear, shock, outrage or something else from the long list of emotional buttons, this will attract all kinds of user engagement, and probably a fair share of heated arguments in the comments section as well. Combining this strategy with phrases like “this will make you…” or “you won’t believe what…” is basically how a clickbait works. Be careful with clickbait – it will undoubtedly increase your chances of the title going viral but don’t overuse it because that might hurt your credibility and reputation.
Another easy and handy trick is to use a currently trending topic, brand or person in the headline. Of course, you shouldn’t do this if the article has absolutely nothing to do with it, but if a hot topic or a person is at least remotely related to what you write about or you can use it as an example, go for it. Being fresh and up-to-date is always a good beginning when it comes to making viral content.
Mind your audience
Sometimes general rules of how to go viral won’t work because you won’t get the initial boost from your own regular audience. If you write serious business articles, trying to provoke anger with a clickbait headline probably won’t generate any traffic because your typical audience doesn’t fall for that. This can easily take the viral potential away from an article. Mind your audience’s interests and needs because in order to have any chance of becoming viral, you will usually have to get some attention from your usual readers first. Sometimes it’s not easy to just intuitively recognize what works and what doesn’t, so you should measure and carefully analyze the data. There’s a number of efficient media monitoring tools that can help you – it’s important to be careful with your numbers and not rely merely on your instinct.
Do the (apparently) wrong thing
Apart from the common ones, there’s one unusual trick you can use as well. Try to provoke people with an apparent mistake without actually making it or lying to anyone. You can slightly change the words of a song or a famous quotation from a movie, but just as a joke related to the topic of your article. Moreover, you can, for instance, use a name of an actor or a sportsperson in the headline. Then you can use a thumbnail of a completely different person that is also mentioned in the article. This way, you’re not manipulating anyone, but you might cause a few reactions and stir some controversy, thus helping the headline get some viral potential.
Finally, it’s important to remember that making content viral based only on your headlines usually means short-term success. People are getting flooded with flashy and inviting headlines and are getting used to them already. Having some headline-writing skills is definitely a good start but unless you have great content that can match it, it’s very likely that going viral will be more of an exception than a rule for you.