The right combination of truly shareable words and ideas will energize marketing without crossing the line of becoming fake news. So even if you don’t use content marketing to support your overall campaigns, every marketer and copywriter can learn something from an analysis of 11,541 viral articles that reveals the top seven formulas that not only grab your readers’ attention, but gets shared to their friends.

“How to Give Your Content Wings: We Analyzed 11,541 Viral Articles from 2016 to Uncover the Secret Formula.”  Excluding articles considered “complete spam,” Patel’s post discusses ideas and confirms formulas that every marketer and copywriter should know.

The secret? Killer headlines.

The formula? Actually, it’s more like seven formulas.

Even if you don’t write content articles, there is something here to be learned for copywriters.

Here is an overview of Patel’s top seven data-driven tactics in headlines that drive more social shares:

1. Use Numbers

Patel says, “Use numbers in at least half of your articles.” In his analysis, 61 percent of top-performing article headlines had a number. A reason people click on titles with a number is certainty of what they will read. Another observation: You don’t necessarily need the number at the beginning of the title.

2. “This Is What…”

Because headlines with the highest engagement have 16-18 words, Patel looked for phrases that have been repeated. The phrase “this is what” was used often. Again, probably because of the certainty created with the definitive and authoritative phrase.

3. 500 +/- Words

More traffic may come from longer articles (due to higher rankings and traffic). But for sharing, shorter works. Images also impact social sharing. If you are publishing breaking news, write articles around 500 words.

4. “How to” Still Works

The phrase “how to” has been known to work for generations. No surprise here. An article in the vein of “how to” is usually informative, and teaches.


5. Question Titles

Two-word phrases forming questions like “Do you…?” “Can you…?” and “Is the…?” work. So does this three-word phrase: “Do you agree…?”

6. Controversy

2016 was certainly a year of controversy, especially with a nasty election. But controversy sparks curiosity and interest, according to Patel. His recommendation? Create a title that contains a controversial issue.

7. Video

Another non-surprise was that using the word “video” resulted in higher shares. That’s been true of email subject lines for some time. So, whenever possible, post videos and include “video” in the title.

If you’re looking for something new to test, start your search with what works, and add to it from there. These formulas, revealed by analysis, should energize your messaging, whether you’re writing online articles, email subject lines or direct mail headlines.

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