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Hate this Headline? You’ll Probably Share the Story.

I spent a chunk o’ time messing with the headline above.

See, I want a lot of people to read this blog post. Bloggers generally attach great value to the number of viewers a post earns. And a proven strategy for increasing the reach of your content is to inspire readers to share it via social media.

Search engine rankings aren’t everything

Sure, selecting the perfect keywords and optimizing your post to rank high on Google is an immensely powerful tactic for increasing your reach. It’s called SEO.

SEO is clearly one of the best ways to earn eyeballs. However, success with search doesn’t come easily and rarely comes fast. Should it happen, and your post garners a spot on the first page of a search, you’re likely to enjoy a steady stream of page views over a sustained period of time.

But let’s look at a different strategy today.

The objective: write something to earn heaps of social media shares to deliver a sudden and pronounced spike in traffic.

The key is giving your post an emotional headline

While an 8-word headline of a 1300-word post represents less than 1% of the content, I’m 99% sure it will be the line that dictates the destiny of your post.

Whether appearing on a blog post, the subject line of an email, a Twitter update, or any of the zillion places your content may appear, your headline prompts three potential responses:

  1. Nothing. Your post is ignored.
  2. Click. Your post is presented.
  3. Share. Your post’s reach is magnified.

The combination of 2 and 3 is the goal and an opportunity to achieve a fourth potential response: your post gets read and its call to action is effective. This is called “conversion.”

Emotions drive actions. We need not do a deep dive on this. The principle’s understood by neuroscientists and marketers (nearly) universally. The subject I do want to dive into is writing emotional headlines to invoke a response from your readers.

Proof that emotional headlines drive social sharing

My friends at CoSchedule are all about helping content marketers blog smart and earn traffic via social media. They’re also insanely analytical. So they analyzed more than one million headlines in an effort to determine which are shared most and how such a thing might be predicted.

coschedue aevs

As you see, CoSchedule determined (in no uncertain terms) headlines with a higher emotional value get more shares on social media.

How to score your headline’s emotional value

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, emotional value can be measured (what can’t?). Advanced Marketing Institute created a tool: the emotional marketing value (EMV) headline analyzer.

emotional marketing value headline analyzier

You enter your headline, select a category, and submit. You get your score…

free headline analysis results

To demonstrate, I went to Topsy.com, a free tool that provides social analytics, and entered “Super Bowl.” Unsurprisingly, a story published on Huffington Post about a Super Bowl commercial currently ruled from a social shares perspective, having been tweeted 59.5K times over the past 24 hours.

I pasted the headline into the EMV headline analyzer and as you can see in the screenshot above, the headline was ultra-emotional: 66.67.

Copy on the results page explains:

For comparison, most professional copywriters’ headlines will have 30%-40% EMV Words in their headlines, while the most gifted copywriters will have 50%-75% EMV words in headlines. A perfect score would be 100%, but that is rare unless your headline is less than five words.

Earning big share numbers with high EMV headlines

I used BuzzSumo.com, a tool featuring a search engine that finds the most shared content for any topic or domain, to validate the power of emotional headlines and show you some examples.

email marketing best practices

A recent post from the GetVero.com blog, 20 Tips for Dramatically Better Emails, by Jimmy Daly, is Vero’s most shared of the past six months. The headline gets a 50 EMV score and has earned close to 9K shares.

The EMV headline analyzer tool also reported this headline falls in an “intellectual” classification. Intellectual impact words are ideal for arousing curiosity. The analysis adds, the majority of words with emotional impact fall into this category, are the most used, and have the broadest appeal.

what not to post on social media

Among Hootsuite’s hottest stories of 2015 is What Not To Post on Social Media: 5 Questions You Need To Ask Yourself Before You Publish, a story by Olsy Sorokina. The headline gets a 53 EMV score and has quickly earned close to 2K shares.

The EMV headline analyzer tool classified the headline as “spiritual.” According to the Advanced Marketing Institute, spiritual impact words carry the strongest potential for influence and appeal to people at a deep emotional level.

perfect marketing plan

Everything You Need to Know for the Perfect Marketing Event (the headline differs slightly in the image they created), a story by Julie Neidlinger, on the CoSchedule blog gets a 55 EMV score. So far this year, the post is CoSchedule’s most shared.

And now back to the headline of this post

A few minutes ago, you learned I did a good amount of “messing” with the headline of this post. I wasn’t about to settle for a low score. I’ll show you what happened.

First, I tested the working headline I chose when the idea for this post began to gel. EMV scores follow each headline.

How to Accelerate the Reach of Your Content with Emotion-Packed Headlines (27)

The headline probably has strong SEO potential. Assuming “reach of your content” or “emotion-packed headlines” are keywords that get searched—coupled with the high authority of the KISSmetrics.com domain, it could rank. But for EMV, I didn’t even achieve “professional copywriter” status.

So I wrote alternate headlines and scored them. Here’s what that exercise looked like:

Touch Readers with Emotionally Charged Headlines to Inspire More Social Sharing (36)

If Your Headline Moves Me I’m Likely to Share It (40)

Move Readers Emotionally with a Headline Worthy of Sharing (44)

Headlines that Move Readers Emotionally Move Them to Share Your Story (55)

You’ll Love the Astonishing Effect Emotional Headlines Have on Your Content” (55)

As you’re learning, I was catching on and making progress. I thought I might beat a 55 score with this one:

If You Don’t Care for this Headline You’ll Probably Share It

No such luck. It tied the previous one at 55. I did like where that one was going, so I tested a hunch. Would a strong emotional word such as “hate” increase the headline’s score? Maybe a one-two punch with a question…

Hate This Headline? You’ll Probably Share the Story.

Score: 75. Cha-ching.

How to write emotional headlines

You understand the reason behind topping your blog posts with emotional headlines and now know of a tool to assess your ideas. Perhaps the question swimming between your ears now is “how do I write emotional headlines?”

The answer: you use powerful words, words that invoke feelings.

I did some searching and clicking in an effort to provide an emo-glossary and found a great resource here: feeling words (courtesy of PsychPage). Jon Morrow, the mastermind writer of Boost Blog Traffic dedicates a post to explaining (and listing) power words here. And finally, CoSchedule created a cheat sheet of 180+ power words.

I’ll refrain from listing them, but attempt to help you understand the big idea by categorizing them. Emotional headlines that touch readers make them feel various forms of pleasure and pain.

Most notably, for pleasure, use words that invoke:

  • Happiness
  • Fun
  • Belonging
  • Awe
  • Love
  • Positivity
  • Strength
  • Empowerment

For pain, consider words that invoke:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Discomfort
  • Confusion
  • Helplessness
  • Indifference
  • Sadness

Above all, use the most powerful word any headline can contain:

  • You

There is no better way to engage a reader emotionally than speaking directly to them. When you know their name, you should use it. When you write a headline, use “you.”

Remember, the headline for this post scores an EMV of 75. With “you’ll” in the headline, it speaks in second person. What if I wrote it third person style, for… hmm, I don’t know… people, I guess. The headline might read:

People Don’t Share Headlines They Hate.

EMV score: 17. How about that? Same subject: headlines. Same action: share. Same feeling: hate. Far less connection.

Feeling drives sharing

Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to uncover why people share information. He and his colleagues examined hundreds of brands, thousands of articles, and millions of purchases.

jonah berger

Want to write contagious blog posts? Apply this idea to your headlines. Choose words that touch your reader.

And hey, obviously you didn’t hate this post. Here you are at its end. Now I’d like to ask you to share it. It’ll make me look smart.

About the Author: Barry Feldman operates Feldman Creative and provides clients content marketing strategies that rock and creative that rolls. Barry has recently been named a Top 40 Digital Strategist by Online Marketing Institute and one of 25 Social Media Marketing Experts You Need to Know by LinkedIn. Visit Feldman Creative and his blog, The Point.

  1. Awesome post Barry. I have to say, I read the title, and thought “Oh yeah? Will I share it? Better look to find out…” Haha. I think you’re right on. Of course, certain topics lend themselves better to SEO-targeted (if it’s authentic) blogs, but to your point, if you want shareable content, appealing to the emotion/human side is the way to go.

    The next couple weeks, I’ll definitely be sure to use these tips and see if we’re not gaining more shares via our content.

    • Matt,
      Yours is a cool comment because it speaks to having a game plan before you post, at least for the headline.

      And you get it: I’m not saying think social instead of SEO. In fact, the perfect headline would give you short-term spike from social and the long-term benefits of search.

      It was fun to dig into the “how to” with this thesis (and play with the EMV tool), which I borrowed from CoSchedule who did some cool research and a post about it.

  2. Thanks for sharing ‘Emotional Marketing Value Calculation Tool’. It is amazing how these useful and innovative tools are emerging. I have been publishing articles and I know that we should do our best to create appealing headlines but we should not be carried away and make it unrealistic. A headline should be catchy but not unrealistic. Thanks for the great tips.

    • Robert,
      I’m not sure what you mean by “unrealistic,” but I suspect you’re right, you don’t want that. You may be referring to the “click bait” style headline that doesn’t deliver on its promise—very much a no-no if you’re trying to win a reader’s trust. Thanks for your comments.

  3. Emmett Hughes Feb 04, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    I agree – blogs with emotion in the headlines garner the best results. I also think that the underlying reason for this is because the writer thinks about who his/her target market is and why they would click on a blog in the first place. Well done!

  4. That’s sooo useful! Not only because of the tips and explanations. I’ve learned about so many new awesome tools today. Awesome! Thank you very much

  5. I like this post and agree that search engines sometime do not rate websites properly. to catch emotions is the ultimate thing to promote.

    • Barry Feldman Feb 06, 2015 at 7:03 am

      Thanks Anonymous. Glad you liked it. For the record, I did not say search engines do no rate websites properly.

  6. Candice Landau Feb 13, 2015 at 3:17 am

    What a great article Barry! I’m going to share it with our Better Writers group on LinkedIn. Great book recommendation as well. Keep up the good writing!

  7. I love the headline analyzer tool, but it hasn’t been working lately. Does anyone know what’s going on? I emailed AMI for support, but no response…

  8. Thanks for this post. I won’t settle until I get a 100% EMV score.

    Keep it up :)

    Just subscribed.

  9. As always this is a great post, really loved the tools you guys recommend here and will use it for one of my new blog posts titles. :)

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