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9 Secrets That Will Make Your Headline Go Viral

“Let’s put it on our website.” The refrain is increasingly common, but, as always, there’s a right way and a wrong way.

An amateur will do what’s easiest: copy and paste. But a pro knows that to copy and paste is to deprive readers of the Web’s richness. Shifting copy from dead trees to Web browsers is both art and science.

The art: to write for the web, you need to be not only a writer, but also a marketer, a designer, and a publicist. The science: to write for the web, you need to understand how people read on the web.

To this end, we’ll review the differences between reading something designed for a monitor and something designed for print. We’ll walk through the best practices of web writing, and review a variety of good and bad examples. We’ll also intersperse exercises throughout, so you learn by doing.

By the end of this workshop, you will:

* Be able to develop powerful headlines
* Know how to leverage lists, bullets, tables, headings, and other visual cues
* Understand the importance of images
* Write in a web-friendly tone

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9 Secrets That Will Make Your Headline Go Viral

  1. WHAT YOU’VE BEEN TAUGHT Aberrational Behavior and the Causal Effect of Incentives WHAT WORKS Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything • sold four million copies • led to a movie, a podcast, a blog, a column in the New York Times, a follow- up book, and a consulting group
  2. FIRST COAST NEWS Deputies: Jackson- ville Woman Shot by 4-Year-Old Son “Stable” THE FLORIDA TIMES- UNION Woman Tells Putnam County Deputy That Son, 4, Shot Her in Back While She Was Driving MAIL ONLINE Pro-Gun Poster Girl Is Shot in the Back by Her 4-Year-Old Son While Driving in Florida After the Boy Found Her Pistol on Back Seat of Truck
  3. “Just because the Mail Online represents some of the least savory aspects of digital journalism doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t learn from what it does well. Finding the most compelling angle for a given story, and presenting it in a way that will encourage online audiences to read and share it, should be a part of every journalist’s skill set by now.” —Will Oremus
  4. “Just because the Mail Online represents some of the least savory aspects of digital journalism doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t learn from what it does well. Finding the most compelling angle for a given story, and presenting it in a way that will encourage online audiences to read and share it, should be a part of every journalist’s skill set by now.” —Will Oremus
  5. Here’s What a Headline Does
  6. Here’s Why a Headline Is So Important Today
  7. “Once headed for a bland retirement within newspapers, the headline is making a striking comeback online. No longer the exclusive province of copyeditors, it is now the cornerstone of emailed political appeals, the fulcrum of crowdsourcing capital on Kickstarter, and arguably the basis of an entire communications medium, the all- headlines microblogging system Twitter.” —Ryan Grim
  8. “Imagine your headline not as it looks above your article, but as it looks at the bottom of an unrelated site, in someone’s Twitter or Facebook streams, or in a search result. Think of your headline as an emissary for your post, written to travel around the internet, selling the material to potential readers.” —Matt Thompson
  9. “Imagine your headline not as it looks above your article, but as it looks at the bottom of an unrelated site, in someone’s Twitter or Facebook streams, or in a search result. Think of your headline as an emissary for your post, written to travel around the internet, selling the material to potential readers.” —Matt Thompson
  10. Here’s the Cost of a Bad Headline
  11. That’s how many people will read your headline.
  12. That’s how many people will read the rest of your article.
  13. That’s how many readers you can retain with a good headline.
  14. Which Is Why You Should Always Do This
  15. That’s how many headlines Upworthy tests for every article.
  16. 1. Hey White Guys! I Got Your Back 2. Do You Know How Hard It Is Being a White Guy? 3. Being a White Guy Is Harder Than You Think 4. You Don’t Know What It’s Like Being a White Guy 5. White Guys Don’t Have All the Luck 6. If You Knew What It Was Like for White Guys, You’d Keep Complaining 7. Seriously, Who Is Watching Out for the White Guys 8. This White Guy Thing Is Pretty Rough 9. You Don’t Know What It’s Like Being a White Guy 10. Imagine You Were a White Guy. You Know How Hard That Is? 11. Why Are White Guys Always Being Picked On? 12. Seriously, White Guys Can’t Catch a Break 13. White Guys Have So Many Problems, if Only You’d See That 14. An Open Message on Behalf of All White Guys Everywhere 15. This Is What a White Guy Has to Deal With 16. Put Yourself in a White Guy’s Shoes. Comfy, Right? 17.The Life of White Guys Is Way Harder Than You Realize? 18. This Is Why You Should Feel Sorry for White Dudes 19. An Open Letter From White Dudes to America 20. A Public Service Announcement on Behalf of All White Dudes 21. White Dudes Have It Really Hard 22. Being a White Dude Is Harder Than Being Not a Woman or Not a Person of Color 23. Do You Know How Hard It Is Being a Woman? Try Being a White Dude 24. It’s Pretty Hard Out There for a Dude 25. Your Life Is Hard? Try Being (1) A Dude and 2. White
  17. HEADLINE CLICKS IMPRESSIONS CLICK- THROUGH RATE 9 Secrets That Will Make Your Headline Go Viral 31 42,946 .04 The Surefire Way to Make Anything Go Viral 8 10,375 .08 The Closest Thing We Writers Have to a Silver Bullet 2 5,683 .08 The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do to Make Your Content Go Viral 1 1,314 .08 How to Write the Perfect Headline Every Time 1 1,228 .07 REVEALED: Every Trick in the Book to Write a Magnetic Headline 1 1,386 .07
  18. That’s how many drafts it took David Ogilvy to perfect his Rolls Royce copy.
  19. That’s how many times Thomas Edison failed en route to inventing the light bulb.
  20. NUMBERS ✓ X out of 10 people will read your headline. ✓ X out of 10 will read your article. ✓ Upworthy tests XX headlines per article.
  21. If These 6 Case Studies Don’t Convince You, Nothing Will
  22. FREEENTERPRISE.COM Entitlements: Face the Truth or Face the Consequences FREEENTERPRISE.COM 10 Entitlement Truths That Will Blow Your Mind 895 views 26,627 views
  23. IOWA HOUSE DEMOCRATS Zach Wahls Speaks About Family MOVEON.ORG Two Lesbians Had a Baby and This Is What They Got 2.8 million views 17.4 million views
  24. DEALBOOK Realities Behind Prosecuting Big Banks • Andrew Ross Sorkin • 970 words • 82 comments • Mark Gongloff • 509 words • 4,591 comments • 2,300 likes THE HUFFINGTON POST Eric Holder Admits Some Banks Are Just Too Big to Prosecute
  25. THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE How Companies Learn Your Secrets FORBES How Target Figured Out a Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did • Charles Duhigg • 6,800 words • 60 likes • Kashmir Hill • 1,200 words • 13,000 likes
  26. “I was stunned. It was an amazing anecdote that crystallized so much anxiety we feel about corporate data collection, how much ‘they’ know about us, and how they’ll use it. I couldn’t believe it was buried nearly 5,000 words into the story rather than being the lede or broken out on its own.” — Kashmir Hill
  27. “The New York Times article is a delicious nine-course dinner; mine is an equally tasty, bite-sized snack for readers on the go. Most readers online are looking for something quick and easy to digest, so my version worked better for them.” — Kashmir Hill
  28. GOOD How MDMA Affects Empathy GOOD The Club Drug That Causes Some Strange Side Effects, Like Becoming a Really Nice Person • 16,000 views • 18 likes • 2 shares • 127,000 views • 233 likes • 64 shares
  29. THE WASHINGTON POST Business Coach Anne Loehr Tries to Bridge Diverse Generations: X, Y, Baby Boomer GAWKER “Generational Consultant” Holds America’s Fakest Job • Ian Shapira • 1,568 words • 2.5 hours to drive to the event, 1 hour to conduct the interview, 4 hours to transcribe the interview, 1 day to write the article • Hamilton Nolan • 436 words • 1 hour to write
  30. “Nearly every day a Washington Post staffer not only sends us links to its expensive reporting, but even pulls out the most interesting quotes so as to make it easier to pirate.” — Gabriel Snyder
  31. CASE STUDIES ✓ When you got it, _____ it. ✓ Don’t serve up your summary. Serve up your _____. ✓ Pull out your meatiest ______.
  32. Let’s Talk About the Science of Headlines
  33. OLD MEDIA The Debt Ceiling Explained in Three Videos and One Chart NEW MEDIA The Debt Ceiling Explained in 3 Videos and 1 Chart
  34. OLD MEDIA How Social Networks Change the World in 5 Ways NEW MEDIA 5 Ways Social Networks Are Changing the World
  35. OLD MEDIA King of Thrones: America’s Best Restroom Is in Minneapolis NEW MEDIA King Of Thrones: America’s Best Restroom Is In Minneapolis
  36. OLD MEDIA When “60 Minutes” Checks Its Journalistic Skepticism at the Door NEW MEDIA When ‘60 Minutes’ Checks Its Journalistic Skepticism at the Door
  37. OLD MEDIA Boom, Roasted: Here’s Why You Don’t Ask a Feminist to Hawk Your Sexist Product NEW MEDIA BOOM, ROASTED: Here’s Why You Don’t Ask a Feminist to Hawk Your Sexist Product
  38. OLD MEDIA The Single Best Short Talk About Psychology NEW MEDIA The Single Best Short Talk About Psychology [VIDEO]
  39. “The geek equivalent of a Cosmo cover.” —Anil Dash
  40. “Contemporary media culture prioritizes the smart take, the sound bite, the takeaway — and the list is the takeaway in its most convenient form. You are, initially, sucked in by the promise of a neatly quantified serving of information or diversion. There will be precisely 10 (or 14, or 33) items in this text, and they will pertain to precisely this stated topic. You know exactly what you’re going to get with a listicle.” —Mark O’Connell
  41. “Promise me 11 things; I’ll read at least three of them.” —Choire Sicha
  42. HEADLINE SOURCE 7 Important Tax Facts About Medical and Dental Expenses 75 Facts About the 75th Secretary of the Treasury Top 4 Foolproof Ways to Build Better Chatbots 12 Ways of Looking at Frank Lloyd Wright The 6 Things You Never Thought to Tell House Guests 7 Ways to Make the Most of an AHIP Conference
  43. How to Win Friends and Influence People How to Win Friends and Influence Bloggers How to Win a Friend and Influence a President
  44. The Secret of Making People Like You The Secret of Getting People to Respond to Your Emails
  45. How a New Discovery Made a Plain Girl Beautiful How a New Discovery Made This Old Lady Young Again
  46. Do You Make These Mistakes in English? Do You Make These Mistakes on Twitter?
  47. How I Improved My Memory in 1 Evening How I Gained 500 Followers Overnight
  48. SCIENCE ✓ “List” + “article” = ________. ✓ Write numbers with numbers, or with letters? ✓ Where do numbers go? ✓ Should you capitalize each word? ✓ Double quotes, or single quotes? ✓ Italics, or capital letters?
  49. Let’s Talk About the Art of Headlines
  50. “Did the local sports team win tonight’s big match against their rivals? We’ll tell you, next.” “A well-known politician got into a screaming match with reporters today. The video, after this break.”
  51. You Will Not Believe What Mitt Romney Wants to Do to You Just right: I can’t help but click. Mitt Romney Says Something Bad, Again Too vague: I don’t want to click. Mitt Romney Says, “I Want the Middle Class to Be Tied to the Roof of My Car” Too specific; I don’t need to click.
  52. Adorable Chimpanzee Does Something Rather Unexpected Just right: I can’t help but click. This Is an Amazing Video Too vague: I don’t want to click. Chimpanzee Sniffs Own Butt, Passes Out From Doing So Too specific; I don’t need to click.
  53. Now This Is Why I Voted for Barack Obama What’s this mean? I must know! Click… Click… Click… Obama Blasts Obama’s Evasive Stance on Gay Marriage Great job, but now I know what it is and don’t need to click. Obama Says Same-Sex Marriage Should Be Legal Boooring. Already done.
  54. “Headlines now are a strange cross between imperative and inviting. The tone is soothing, seductive and at least a little bit demanding, like every character ever played by Linda Fiorentino.” —Choire Sicha
  55. Bold Fun Contrarian
  56. Be Bold
  57. You’re Doing It Wrong: Poached Eggs This Awesome Ad, Set to the Beastie Boys, Is How to Get Girls to Become Engineers Why the FBI Director Is Wrong About Encryption All the Problems at Bloomberg Come Down to One Stat Bill Gates Makes Over $1 Million Every Day Doing Almost Nothing
  58. Be Fun
  59. Why Infographics Are Terrible, in One Terrible Infographic Demand Media’s Bold New Strategy for eHow: Suck Less What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage Headless Body in Topless Bar
  60. Be Contrarian
  61. Think Like a Woman and Make More Money Congress Deserves a Big Fat Raise Coverage You Can’t Buy: Why the Disastrous Rollout Could Be Good for Obamacare Don’t Say Goodbye When You Leave a Party. Just Ghost Why Tom Brady Is the Most Overrated Quarterback in NFL History
  62. Personal Immediate Exaggerated
  63. Make It Personal
  64. Don’t Ask Hillary Clinton About Abortion if You Can’t Handle Her Answer Everything You Need to Know About iOS 8 19 People Who Are Having a Way Worse Day Than You What Recruiters Look at During the 6 Seconds They Spend on Your Resume 9 Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask
  65. Make It Immediate
  66. Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie 10 Things You Need to Know Before the Opening Bell The 15 Best Countries for You to Move to Right Now The U.K. Has Officially Begun the Brexit Process. Here’s What Happens Now
  67. POPULAR SCIENCE Meet the Climate Change Denier Who Became the Voice of Hurricane Sandy on Wikipedia GAWKER This Guy Is the Reason Hurricane Sandy’s Wikipedia Page Didn’t Mention Climate Change Until Today
  68. Make It Exaggerated
  69. The Impossible Choice That Had Elon Musk on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown The Most Sensational Murder Trial You’ve Never Heard of Started 100 Years Ago A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius The Pope Just Published One of the Most Powerful Critiques of Modern Capitalism That You Will Ever Read This Is the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made
  70. A Boy Makes Anti-Muslim Comments in Front of an American Soldier. The Soldier’s Reply: Priceless See Why We Have an Absolutely Ridiculous Standard of Beauty in Just 37 Seconds Dustin Hoffman Breaks Down Crying Explaining Something That Every Woman Sadly Already Experienced 9 Out of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind- Blowing Fact This Amazing Kid Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular
  71. This Amazing Kid Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular
  72. Get Specific
  73. GENERAL How to Use Android SPECIFIC Android for Dummies
  74. GENERAL How to Sell Social Media SPECIFIC 15 Case Studies to Get Your Client on Board With Social Media
  75. GENERAL How to Get Better at Organizing Your Day SPECIFIC The 5-Minute Guide to Organizing Your Day for More Focus and Productivity
  76. GENERAL Telecommunications Best Practices for the 21st-Century Enterprise SPECIFIC 7 Simple Ways Enterprises Can Cut Telecom Costs
  77. Use Power Words
  78. WEAK WORDS 11 Tips to Writing POWER WORDS 11 Quick Tips to Brilliant Writing
  79. WEAK WORDS 5 Grammatical Tips Everyone Needs to Learn POWER WORDS 5 Grammatical Errors That Make You Look Dumb
  80. WEAK WORDS 5 Beliefs That Make It Harder to Write POWER WORDS 5 Crippling Beliefs That Keep Writers Mired in Mediocrity
  81. WEAK WORDS Don’t Do This With Your Marketing Efforts POWER WORDS The Most Dangerous Threat to Your Online Marketing Efforts
  82. THE ART ✓ Create an ____. ✓ Make your headline i__________ and i_______. ✓ To make your headline imperative, be b___, f__, and c_________. ✓ To make your headline inviting, make it p_______, i________, and e__________. ✓ Get ________.
  83. Don’t Forget About Search Engine Optimization
  84. HEADLINE FOR HUMANS All the Problems at Bloomberg Come Down to One Statistic HEADLINE FOR GOOGLE Slowing Terminal Sales at Bloomberg
  85. HEADLINE FOR HUMANS When Is a Flop Not a Flop? HEADLINE FOR GOOGLE The Fate of the Republicans Who Supported Gay Marriage
  86. HEADLINE FOR HUMANS Citizen Cain HEADLINE FOR GOOGLE Herman Cain’s Unlikely Republican Rise
  87. Or Social Media Optimization
  88. HEADLINE FOR HUMANS The Most Honest and Heartbreaking Reason to Leave Your Front Door Unlocked I’ve Ever Heard HEADLINE FOR FACEBOOK A Spoken-Word Poet Speaks About His Crippling OCD and How His Girlfriend Dumped Him
  89. HEADLINE FOR HUMANS 48 Reporters Asked This Guy the Same Dumb Question About Women. His Response? Absolutely Perfect HEADLINE FOR FACEBOOK Joss Whedon Complains About How Women Are Treated in the Media
  90. HEADLINE FOR HUMANS A Bunch of Young Geniuses Just Made a Corrupt Corporation Freak Out Big Time. Time for Round Two HEADLINE FOR GOOGLE Youth Advocacy Organization Cam- paigns to Prevent Xcel Energy From Undoing Municipalization of the Boulder Power Grid
  91. HEADLINE FOR HUMANS How Pornhub Milks Its Own Traffic Data HEADLINE FOR GOOGLE Pornhub Insights: How a Porn Site Milks Its Own Traffic Data for Publicity HEADLINE FOR FACEBOOK Sex site Pornhub has figured out a brilliant way to get free publicity.
  92. Write for the Outsider
  93. HEADLINE FOR INSIDER Good Housekeeping Gives Michelle Obama a Photoshop Facelift HEADLINE FOR OUTSIDER Michelle Obama Gets a Photoshop Facelift
  94. HEADLINE FOR INSIDER Bob Bowman Shares 9 Secrets to Coaching World- Class Athletes HEADLINE FOR OUTSIDER Michael Phelps’s Longtime Coach Shares 9 Secrets to Training World- Class Athletes
  95. HEADLINE FOR INSIDER Unilever May Acquire the Honest Company HEADLINE FOR OUTSIDER The Company That Bought Dollar Shave Club Is Now in Talks to Buy Jessica Alba’s Baby-Care Start-Up
  96. A Couple of Caveats
  97. FACEBOOK 7 Ways to Make Your Kitchen As Stunning As Gwyneth Paltrow’s PINTEREST 7 DIY Tricks to Redecorate Your Kitchen on a Budget
  98. “We sort of unleashed a monster. Sorry for that. Sorry we kind of broke the internet last year. I’m excited going forward to say goodbye to clickbait.” —Peter Koechley
  99. Here Are 3 Questions You Should Always Ask Yourself
  100. Would I share this article if I saw only its headline?
  101. If others are writing about this subject, will my headline stand out?
  102. HEADLINE (MEET) PUBLICATION Meet the Man Who Will Replace Jon Stewart The New York Post Meet Trevor Noah, New Host of the Daily Show ColorLines Meet Trevor Noah: What We Know About Jon Stewart’s Daily Show Replacement Grantland HEADLINE (WHO) PUBLICATION Who Is Trevor Noah? 10 Things to Know About the Daily Show’s New Host The National Post Who Is Trevor Noah, and How Will He Do As Jon Stewart’s Replacement The Washington Post Who Is Trevor Noah? Get to Know the Next Daily Show Host Entertainment Weekly HEADLINE (KNOW) PUBLICATION Everything to Know About Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart’s Successor The Daily Beast Get to Know Your New Daily Show Host Vanity Fair What to Know About Trevor Noah, New Host of the Daily Show Esquire HEADLINE (NEED) PUBLICATION 25 Things You Need to Know About Trevor Noah The New York Daily News Everything You Need to Know About Trevor Noah, the New Daily Show Host Mediate Here’s What You Need to Know About New Daily Show Host Trevor Noah BuzzFeed
  103. Should you write your headline first or last?
  104. “You may know some of the elements you’re going to include, you may know how you want it to begin and end, and you may know a dozen other big ideas that have to be in your story. But until you can come up with a headline, chances are you are going to end up like me, with all the hard work behind you and this small sign before you, demon- strating as clear as a Bahamian bay that the greater purpose was never framed and fixed.” —Mike Long
  105. How About a Little Comic Relief?
  106. Columbus’s Discovery of the New World
  107. Books
  108. ORIGINAL Ulysses LISTICLE 13 Things to Do in Dublin While Your Wife Is Cheating on You
  109. ORIGINAL The Sun Also Rises LISTICLE 7 Signs You’re Definitely in the Friend Zone
  110. ORIGINAL Romeo and Juliet LISTICLE 8 Ways Your Family Keeps You From Seeing Your Crush
  111. ORIGINAL Green Eggs and Ham LISTICLE 10 Reasons Picky Eaters Are the Worst
  112. ORIGINAL Hamlet LISTICLE 2 Reasons Your Uncle Is the Worst
  113. Movies
  114. The Major Events of the 20th Century
  115. 1916 “Physicist Dad” Turns His Attention to Gravity, and You Won’t Believe What He Finds [PICS]
  116. 1928 This One Weird Mold Kills All Germs
  117. 1945 These 9 Nazi Atrocities Will Make You Lose Faith in Humanity
  118. 1948 5 Insane Plans for Feeding West Berlin You Won’t Believe Are Real
  119. 1969 This Is the Most Important Photo of an Astronaut You’ll See All Day
  120. 1989 You Won’t Believe What These People Did to the Berlin Wall [VIDEO]
  121. Let’s Talk About Those Counter- arguments
  122. “Millions of readers are lured by sensational headlines, only to be disappointed to find a superficial dispatch with no new information, dashed off by a harried journalist tasked with producing three stories a day.” —Steven Levy
  123. “Upworthy posts don’t go viral because people click — Upworthy posts go viral because people share. ‘Clickbait’ is a totally viable way to get a bunch of initial views. But it doesn’t create viral content. By far the most important factor in getting people to share a post is the actual quality of the content. To share, they have to love what they see.” —Upworthy Insider
  124. “There is hyperbole and the occasional withholding comment, and then there is the pulling at your bleeding heartstrings with the subtlety of a monster truck.” —Lexi Nisita
  125. “Today’s headlines may appear gimmicky, and no doubt some still are. But when a gimmick endures after the novelty wears off — when it proves resilient to the backlash and to changing tastes and algorithms and market conditions — eventually it’s no longer a gimmick.” —Will Oremus
  126. “What special virtue is there in letting great videos, articles, and images fall into the Internet’s abyss simply because nobody thought of the right combination of words to unlock their audience? What’s more, when readers find themselves hating a headline picked by a testing audience and shared by 10 million people, whose tastes are we really objecting to — Upworthy’s or ours?” —Eli Pariser
  127. Clickbait is such a scourge that Facebook recently changed its news feed algorithm to reduce the prominence of these deceptive headlines.
  128. “This is Facebook’s fourth or fifth algorithm tweak in the past two years that was aimed at reducing clickbait. The problem is that clickbait headlines tend to get lots of clicks. So should Facebook alter its behavior based on what people do, or based on what they say they want?” —Mathew Ingram
  130. YOU TRY IT!
  131. EXERCISES ✓ Your organization’s blog ✓ A recent news release from your organization ✓ An important email you recently sent ✓ A memo or proposal you recently wrote ✓ A current event