8 Headlines that Work: Lessons from Political News Sites

| August 24, 2014 | Reply

headlines that work

I have been doing a lot of research as to the types of headlines that work. As bloggers and online publishers, we are always on the quest to get our articles and blog posts read, especially in this age of social media. Headlines play a key role in getting the article read and shared.

I’ve been looking at political news sites (in both sides of the aisle) to determine what types of headlines get the most shares. Most of the stories they cover are being covered by all the news media across various medium across the globe. They need to be especially crafty in creating content with compelling headlines to get through the clutter of similar stories.

While portions of the content produced by political sites are original, they are also making use of content that others have already covered. Some of the political news websites also publish “fluffier” content instead of all hard, serious news in an effort to win audiences. For content others have covered, these sites have to work doubly hard to make their headlines even more compelling to make users read their version of the news story.

Here are 8 headlines that work:

1. Know your target market

The first step to a successful headline is to understand your market. Consider who you are targeting and ask yourself if this will really get their attention. The headline needs to target the emotions of your readers.

For example, Washington Free Beacon’s video with the title “Pelosi taken apart by David Gregory on false Obamacare promises” speaks well to its conservative audience.  Love it or hate it depending on your political leanings, this is the type of headline that their target audiences (people on the right) will love. No wonder the video became viral and got 1.099 million views on Youtube.


headlines that work youtube


2. Choose one thing about the article that can get the audience’s attention

Choose one interesting angle that only you provide in the article – and focus on that in the headline. You can also use one outrageous factoid or quote from the story, even if that’s not what the whole story is all about.

Take a look at this headline from the news website Vox.com: “This map shows every school shooting since Sandy Hook.”

headline that works - vox
It is a pretty straightforward title about the story. The headline uses a specific fact that is visual – the mapping of every school shooting – rather than broad statements is intensely interesting. The story got more than 438K shares in social media.

3. Use the element of surprise

Surprise is one of the key principles of headlines that work. People love to be pleasantly surprised and read about something they are not expecting. They want to see something novel, something totally unexpected.

Take a look at this headline from Independent Journal Review: “When a Homeless Man Walked Onto a Music Video, No One Expected Him to Join In Without Missing a Beat.”

headline that works - ijreview

The story comes from an old Youtube video posted on September 5, 2011 with a headline “Homeless Man Joins Carlos Whittaker for a Very Moving Performance.” But suddenly the video became viral in various Christian, news and other websites in 2014, helping the video generate 2.58 million views.

Independent Journal Review posted the story only in April 2014. Its clever use of the element of surprise in the headline — you don’t often see “homeless man” and “music video” in a sentence – helped the story become even more viral, receiving 687K shares.

4. Make it sound mysterious

Leave some element of mystery to the headline. How can you make them “need” to click in order to be satisfied?

Take a look at this headline that has received 533.7K shares: “There’s a Reason This A Cappella Cover of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ Has Gone Mega Viral”

headline that works -blaze

This headline makes one instinctively curious. Why did that a cappella cover gone viral? Well, the only way to find out is to click on it to find out why the cover version of the song has gone mega viral.

5. Use powerful words

There are a number of words that have proven to be effective in enticing users to click. Here are some of them (be sure to check your thesaurus for other similar words!):

  • Incredible, epic, outrageous, monumental,
  • disastrous, bizarre, odd, creepy, shameful,
  • blasted, revealing, perplexing, secretive
  • stunning, surprising,unbelievable, passionate, etc.

Here is an example of a highly successful headline from Blaze.com that uses one of the words above:

headline that work -blaze

6. Employ “You”

Using the word “You” in the headline can help grab your audience’s attention. It speaks to them directly, and gives you the feeling that it is a one-to-one conversation.

This headline of a piece from Blaze “Stop Everything You Are Doing Right Now & Watch the Budweiser Super Bowl Ad Guaranteed to Melt Your Heart” is a direct call to action. It got 179K shares.

headline that work blaze

7. Use Questions

Using questions as your headline is a good strategy. However, questions work only if you do not answer them within the question, or make the answer too obvious that readers won’t have any need to read. You want the reader to continue reading to discover the answer to the question.

Below is a headline from Independent Journal Review:

headline that works - ijreview


8. Use Numbers

List posts and numbers have been one of the most successful formulas in headlines that work. It immediately hooks the reader’s interest. There is also the promise of specificity and substance – in a title that says “7 Ways …” there may be 1 or 2 that you may like even if the rest are duds. Organizing an article into a list also makes reading (skimming may be a more apt description) on the Web that much easier.

Take a look at this this article by the left-leaning Think Progress posted after the death of Nelson Mandela.

headline that works - tp
When Nelson Mandela died, every news website produced a huge amount of stories about the man, his death and his legacy. Think Progress had to find a unique angle, and use a headline that will be effective in drawing in visitors. They found it with their piece entitled “Six Things Nelson Mandela Believed That Most People Won’t Talk About.” The headline gave people the “heads up” about Mandela that they may not know about. As a result, the piece got shared 306K in both Twitter and Facebook.



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Category: Social Media

About the Author ()

Isabel Isidro is a small business owner who writes about her experiences in starting and running a business. She is the co-founder of PowerHomeBiz.com and also runs WomenHomeBusiness.com

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