9 Headline Tips from Buzzsumo 100 Million Posts Research


Buzzsumo recently conducted a study on 100 million blog headlines to discover what it takes to create blog titles that pull engagements in social media; Facebook and Twitter.

Here is what we can pick up from the study. These headline tips can be very instrumental for content marketers, both copywriters and content writers.

1. Emotional headlines

Back in 2017, emotional words in headlines attracted a lot of engagement, with one particular headline raking as much as 1.7 million shares of Facebook. Phrases such as

  • Will make you
  • Tears of joy
  • Give you Goosebumps
  • It’s so cute
  • Shocked to see

However, it seems people have grown past them, with the latest emotional headlines getting ten times fewer shares. Nowadays, emotional headlines only go viral when they’re referring to exceptional content.

Lesson: Use emotional words in headlines with content your audience cannot afford to miss.

2. Quizzes and Tribal headlines

There was a time when identity was a major thing online, and quizzes allowed people to get that feeling. So did tribal content such as articles for stay-at-home mums or Drag Racing Fans from Florida.

Blogs and publications published numerous Quizzes to leverage people’s desire for inclusivity. And this interactive content was viral.

It turns out quizzes now seem archaic.

Yet, I still believe their virality is yet to sprout again once the younger generation gets older.

Lesson: I would do less of these but won’t dismiss them yet.

3. Headlines length

At this age, people want need information fast. There’s so much online to distract us from meaningful work, and our goldfish memory makes it no easier.

That’s why people now prefer snappier headline; 11 words and 65 characters, four words and 30 characters less than it was in 2017

This graph shows how the performance of headlines fair with their length.

Headlines length vs performance
Performance of various headline lengths

Lesson: Be precise and use the most important words first.

4. Social Media Engagement

Headlines are getting shared more on Facebook than on Twitter.

Over the past three years, Facebook shares of the most engaged trigram “will make you” have grown threefold, while general shares on Twitter have dropped by 14 % based on an analysis of 11 million engagements.

Just when I thought of dropping Facebook from my marketing strategy for contributing less than 1% of traffic, I guess I should rethink.

Let’s not forget Facebook updated its algorithm to promote content from family, close friends, and associates.

Lesson: It’s time to rethink Facebook and find out how you can make use of these improved engagements.

5. Most powerful Headline Phrases

Most of the top shared headlines follow the rule of three, a combination of three words that humans find satisfying, impactful, and memorable.

This pattern of communication has been used for centuries in religion, poetry, and advertising.  

They include

  1. of the year
  2. in x years
  3. for the first
  4. the first time
  5. one of the
  6. you need to
  7. need to know
  8. x years in
  9. on social media
  10. to know about
  11. at least x
  12. of all time
  13. of the most
  14. is not a
  15. x of the
  16. here are the
  17. of the best
  18. how to get
  19. how to make
  20. what your need

For instance, using the ‘of the year’ award causes a big discussion on whether people agree or disagree with the list of awardees. Proponents will then share in solidarity while opponents share in mock, both generating immense engagement.

If there’s one thing that always gets people to play the First Amendment card, it’s controversy.

Lesson: Print the list above and have the phrases in mind when creating content.

These headlines attracted the most engagement on Facebook. Buzzsumo analyzed, categorized, and ranked the top 60 trigrams based on the most common combinations.

  1. Ranking – Headline with awards and public votes
  2. Newness – Phrases that centered around unique and rare events
  3. Hyperbole – Exaggerated statements, e.g., ‘one of the.’
  4. Instructional – Phrases that gave a sense of obligation or urgency: ‘need to know.’
  5. Surprise – Shocking or challenging standard views
  6. Curiosity – E.g., ‘ here are the.’
  7. Guidance – ‘How to’ tutorials
  8. Story – Centered on a person or topic. E.g., Inside the story of how H.E.B planned the pandemic – 357k shares

Lesson: Evoke curiosity, urgency, and surprise through your headlines.

7. Headlines Start Phrases

The top 20 most effective phrases at the start of a headline are

  1. X ways to
  2. X of the
  3. How to make
  4. The x best
  5. X reasons why
  6. What is the
  7. X things to
  8. X thing you
  9. How to get
  10. Everything you need
  11. This is the
  12. Why you should
  13. The top x
  14. This is how
  15. X reasons to
  16. What you need
  17. The X most
  18. The story of
  19. What are the
  20. What is a

With 6 phrases starting with a number and 3 others featuring a number out of 20 terms, its clear listicles are popular.

They make headlines more specific and promise a reader actionable takeaways. No wonder they are more clickable.

Lesson: Shift gears towards listicles and witness growth in social media engagements.

8. Headlines End Phrases.

How you end your headlines also matters. These are the top 20 headline end phrases from the study

  1. in 2020
  2. the year
  3. this year
  4. in 2021
  5. first time
  6. and more
  7. social media
  8. to know
  9. right now
  10. all time
  11. x minutes
  12. for you
  13. the future
  14. and beyond
  15. is here
  16. x seconds
  17. coming soon
  18. should know
  19. to do
  20. the best

The first 4 ending phrases were mainly attributed to the COVID 19 pandemic, so they can generally be overlooked.

From the rest, we can pick up a few lessons

  • General time-centric headlines work well
  • Numbers work well as elements of surprise. E.g. Detect Coronavirus in 45 minutes.
  • Numbers also work well to highlight speed to insight. E.g., Lemon Icebox Pie in just 5 Minutes
  • Using social media trends to fuel content works: Latest Beauty Trend Taking over Social Media

9. Headlines for Facebook vs. Twitter

First, Buzzsumo discovered that the most shared headlines on FB had 590x more shares than on Twitter.

They also analyzed the top 60 headline phrases on Facebook and Twitter and categorized them as below.

headlines tips twitter vs facebook
Facebook Vs Twitter


  • Curiosity headlines faired a lot better on Twitter than on Facebook
  • Instructional headlines work best in both FB and Twitter combined
  • For “story” headlines, Twitter is the best place to share.

Final Word

The days of clickbait headlines are going past us. People online have matured and can sniff BS from far. Now you have to build trust and offer real value for people to share your work.

About El Gwaro

El Gwaro is a content writer and HubSpot Certified Content Marketer. He blogs about meaningful content creation that adds value to people. When he's not writing, he enjoys watching combat sports and fantasizing.

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