15 Secrets to Make Your Headline Go Viral

From Upworthy’s top curator:

  1. Tell a story in your headline, but don’t give it all away. (This is what makes us so successful, though some people really hate it.)
  2. If you’ve got some heroes and villains, play them off each other.
  3. To optimize shareability you want to make sure everyone can feel comfortable sharing it. Think to yourself, “Would my mom share this headline?” If not, do something different. Unless you are only targeting a subgroup and don’t care about shareability.
  4. Don’t depress people so much that they want to give up on humanity. Negative headlines breeds negative shares.
  5. Don’t curse in your headlines. Moms hate it—and moms are the biggest sharers on the Internet by a significant margin.
  6. Don’t make people take positions they might be uncomfortable with. For example, “I Really Hate All White People” is going to not get shared, whereas “An Open Letter to Pasty People” is far less hostile and more likely to get shared.
  7. Don’t use terms that overwhelm, polarize or bore people. I never use Social Security, the Environment, Immigration, Democrats, Republicans, Medicare, Racist, Bigot, etc... You can talk about issues without giving away what they are. Most people aren’t going to want to look at a Immigration video. Once they get to your site and hit play, they may reconsider. (Though immigration is particularly challenging.)
  8. Don’t be shrill and judgy; let the facts speak for themselves. Anytime I’ve made that mistake, the content dies a horrible death. An example: when Todd Akin came out with the cartoonishly awful idea that women’s bodies stop them from getting pregnant from rape, I started with the headline, “Meet Todd Akin. He’s a Horrible Human Being. Share This So Everyone Knows.” No one clicked or shared. When I changed it to “A Congressman on a Science Committee Doesn’t Understand How Science Works” it did waaaay better with people across the political spectrum. Because people didn’t have to be afraid of sounding partisan.
  9. Don’t oversell. We’ve worked hard to tone ourselves down, as occasionally our headlines would veer toward THE BIGGEST THING EVER, when it was actually THE PRETTY INTERESTING BUT NOT BIGGEST THING EVER. It’s not worth dragging people to your site if they feel ripped off after they get there.
  10. Don’t be afraid to talk like a human. People like human conversation.
  11. Don’t make obscure pop culture references. 90% of Americans has never seen half the shows you’re referencing. Instead of “Jennifer Lawrence Talks About What It’s Like to Be Judged,” try “That Lady From the Hunger Games.” Nobody knows who your favorite character is played by.
  12. Always test. No matter how clever you think your headline is.
  13. Speaking of which, don’t be too clever. People won’t get it and they won’t click and then you lose.
  14. Have fun. Dry headlines bore people.
  15. Always write 25 headlines. Or the terrorists will win.

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