Low Social Shares? Never Again With These 6 Headline Formulas
After meticulous work drafting and crafting a blog post, you post it on social media only to have 0 likes and shares. What gives?
Even if you post at the peak engagement times, there’s no guarantee that your post will be noticed (or shared) among the thousands of other posts that go out on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn every day.
Your post needs to stand out. It needs better ROI. So what’s the key?
The solution lies in your headline.
Value-adding content isn’t enough. You need a strong headline that sells the premise of the content, that’s easy to read, and that’s designed to draw the user’s attention.
Here are six ways to create a headline that’s compelling enough to share on social media.
1. Use Linking Phrases
When Buzzsumo analyzed 100 million headlines to determine which ones were the most successful, they noted some interesting results.
Of the headlines that received the most Facebook and Twitter engagement (likes, shares, and comments), certain three-word phrases were more likely to be shared than others.
For Twitter, these phrases were slightly different, including words like “this is why” and “things to know” in the top results.
For B2B posts on LinkedIn, the results were much different:
B2B readers shared posts that were number-focused (“X Things To…”) or included more power words (“Future of,” “How to Make,” That Will Transform).
So what’s the takeaway?
For one, the biggest contributing factors to shareability was the use of “linking phrases” — two or three-word phrases that connect the content to its promised impact.
Take the headline, “These 10 Examples of Content Marketing Will Make You Want to Hire a Writer,” for example.
It includes an explanation of the content that readers will get (10 Examples), a linking phrase that inspires action (Will Make You) and the resulting impact (Hire a Writer).
It works because it’s clear about what the reader will get on the other side of it.
On the flip side of the coin, Buzzsumo’s study found some commonly-used phrases in headlines that receive the lowest social engagement:
So does that mean all posts with good linking phrases are share-worthy, while those with poor linking phrases won’t get results?
One of our own most shared posts uses the “low engaging” two-word linking phrase “you should,” for instance:
This means that there’s no set magic formula for writing a compelling headline, but from the study, we do know a couple of things:
- Headlines that clarify content (i.e., use linking phrases) tend to get more shares.
- Different linking phrases work better for different social channels and audiences.
So if you’re struggling with your headlines, take a look at a few of the results from the study and see if adding a linking phrase will get you better results.
2. Make Your Headlines More Emotional
One of the reasons linking phrases work so well is because they can enhance the emotion of a post.
“You should,” for example, can make you feel defiant (“Oh yeah? Why should I?”) or even relieved (“I’m glad I know how to do that now”).
Both offer some inspiration to read, however. You either want to know that you’re right and the article is wrong, or you want to be told the solution. Either way, it’s enticing.
Emotion doesn’t have to come from a linking phrase, though. You can infuse your headlines with emotions in other ways. Take this headline from Kissmetrics:
It’s an entirely emotion-provoking headline. You will either ignore it completely, read it but not share it, or read it and share it. Those are your options.
When CoSchedule combined their database of headlines with their social sharing analytics, they found that the most successful headlines (those that received more social shares) had a high Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) score.
To get headline scores, they used the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer, a free tool based on research by the Advanced Marketing Institute.
They also found that the most shared headlines fell into three emotional types: intellectual, empathetic, and spiritual.
If you consider how the success of linking phrases change with perspective audiences (power phrases work better with B2B audiences on LinkedIn, for example), you can see how certain emotional words or phrases would make certain audiences more prone to share.
A headline like, “How to Stand Up to Your Boss (and Force Him to See What You’re Really Worth),” might make an insecure reader feel assertive, confident, or even hopeful.
The more emotional impact a headline has on a potential reader, the better.
3. Choose Images That Enhance Your Headline
Words aren’t the only thing that can stir emotion or improve shareability for your content. You should also consider how your headline’s associated images will impact social shares.
On some image-based social platforms, like Instagram, your image is your headline.
But even on other social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, images play an important role in increasing shares. Even if you have a “killer” headline, the right image could be the deciding factor in whether or not it gets shared.
According to Buffer, Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than text-only Tweets.
But just as the right phrase or emotion can affect shareability for the headline, the images have to invite the same level of emotion.
Eye-tracking studies show that social users pay closer attention to information-carrying images than they do to purely decorative images.
Using infographics to highlight practical steps in your “How To” headline or list headlines, for example, can help improve click-through rates.
Images that add some additional information about the content that isn’t in your headline can also add brand trust. If the ultimate goal is to get social traffic that’s qualified, then the images you use are equally as important as the headline.
At the same time, if your headline formula is relying on curiosity (“You’ll Never Believe These 10 Examples”), your image doesn’t have to tell the whole story.
Top-performing Facebook publishers like The New York Times often include images that are relevant to but not revealing of the story they’re sharing.
When crafting your headlines, it’s important to choose associated images that reflect the emotion or strategy of that headline.
4. Add Clarifications to Your Headlines
Social media users today are busy. They have a limited amount of time to scroll through an unlimited amount of content.
When your headline appears on their feed, it needs to provide an immediate value proposition. It needs to answer the question, “What is this and why should I click it?”
One way to answer that for your followers is to include a description of the content in brackets.
Clicking on the post brings even more clarity about what the reader is getting from the content.
In a study of over 3.3 million paid link headlines, those that included clarification in brackets — [Interview], [Podcast], [Infographic], etc. — performed 38% better than headlines without clarification.
Another way to add clarification is to use numbers. Numbers often produce better performing headlines because humans like predictability and dislike uncertainty, according to Buffer’s Courtney Seiter.
But just as the right emotion or image impacts shares, the right number can affect the outcome.
Buzzsumo’s earlier study found that the best (most shared) number in a headline for B2B posts was 5, and 10 for B2C posts.
A separate survey by Conductor also found that odd-numbered headlines had a 20% better click-through rate than headlines with even numbers in certain cases.
According to Content Marketing Institute, “the brain seems to believe odd numbers more than even numbers. Odd numbers also seem to help people digest and recall information more easily.”
In an analysis of 1861 Buzzfeed headlines, 46% of their most shared headlines included a number, and 64% of those numbers were odd.
Ultimately, people want a reason to click or share an article.
Including some form of clarification about what the reader can expect, like a numbered list or brackets with additional information, can give them peace of mind before they even click.
5. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Questions are powerful tools to use in your headlines because they fulfill what’s known as the curiosity gap. Not every question is guaranteed to get you a social share, however.
Questions have to have a curiosity factor, meaning that they ideally shouldn’t be answerable with a direct “yes” or “no.”
A headline question like, “Can Social Media Improve Lead Generation?” might, for some audiences, be too obvious. There’s less incentive to click on the link or share if the reader feels like they already have the answer.
On the other hand, a headline question like, “How Will You Convert Twitter Users Into Leads?” can’t be answered with a yes or no.
It can also be helpful to ask a question and then provide the answer directly in the headline, especially when you’re providing insight into something that might surprise the reader.
Take this headline as an example:
Because the premise of the article — nagging is a good parenting technique — is something out of the box (most parents don’t think nagging is a good thing), the headline creates curiosity even though the answer is written out.
The key is to ask a question that someone can’t find elsewhere or with a simple Google search.
In order to do this, you may consider tapping into the questions your audience already has for you.
Some social channels make it easy to search for relevant questions in your industry. Twitter, for instance, provides a wide-range of search “tricks” to help you pinpoint questions that your audience might be asking.
Using Advanced Search, you can add a question mark (“?”) to the end of any phrase or sentence. You can also include a hashtag or even a business name to see questions more specific to your industry or company.
You can see other relevant content and questions being asked/answered by competitors or others in your industry.
You can also see if individual users have asked questions related to your headline.
This can give you an idea about how curious your audience is and whether or not they will respond to your open-ended question with comments, likes or shares.
6. Add Hashtags for Searchability
Even if you craft the most curiosity-filled headline, it won’t help you if your audience can’t find your post.
The easiest way to do this is by adding hashtags to certain keywords in your headline.
Hashtags work on almost every social channel and are also indexed by Google, meaning that they can appear in search results when people use those terms or phrases.
But which keywords in your headline should you add hashtags to?
First, consider words that already have a trending presence on social channels. To look up trending hashtags on Twitter, use Advanced Search to generate a list of keywords relating to a specific topic:
Or you can type a hashtag into the generic search bar to look for people who might be potential leads interested in your content.
You can also perform the same type of search on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
And Instagram now lets you follow hashtags instead of people, too.
Hashtags make your posts easier to find, which means that they can be seen by a broader audience. The bigger the audience, the better odds that your post will be shared.
The trick to keep in mind is to limit your headline hashtags to one or two of your biggest (or highest trending) keywords.
Too many hashtags isn’t good for social reach and engagement. If your headline contains hashtags, and social media users add more, your content might be hard to read or otherwise “unshareable” in the eyes of the user.
The last thing you want is to have your awesome headline obscured by spammy hashtags. Keep things simple, easy to read and even easier to find.
There are plenty of things you can do to create a powerful headline, like asking curiosity-inducing questions or specific linking phrases.
But headlines on their own may or may not give you the types of shares you want.
To truly optimize your headlines for shareability, consider adding other elements, like hashtags, images, and emotional triggers to make sure they stand out.
Keep in mind that the easier it is for users to read, comment, share and like your posts with others, the better your chances will be of getting the share count you want.