Marketers can increase their content writing's viral potential by including certain verbs, perspectives and details in their headlines.

Headlines are powerful. They convince internet users to click one brand’s domain or pass over it for a competitor’s catchier title. Headlines can be injected with keywords for added SEO value or loaded with verbs to inspire action. Unfortunately, marketers are sabotaging their blog content’s sharability if they are taking the glass-half-full angle with headlines, according to a recent Startup Moon study. 

After reading through more than 100 blogs and reviewing content analytics data, the study determined a number of common traits found in widely shared blog content headlines.

1. Powerful (and dark) verbs

Surprisingly, websites’ most successful news content often feature somewhat morbid headlines that use words like ‘kill,’ ‘fear,’ ‘dark,’ ‘war’ and ‘bleeding.’ For instance, the title “Big data is dead. What’s next?” was the most shared post in VentureBeat’s Data/Cloud section, the study found.

Putting this into practice, ecommerce retailers might want to say “online marketplaces are at war with brick-and-mortar stores,” rather than “brick-and-mortar stores look to prevent showrooming.”

This isn’t the first news that strong verb use increases engagement. Brafton previously reported that Pinterest marketing strategies perform better when the social content features verb-laden descriptions. ‘Use,’ ‘look,’ ‘want’ and ‘need’ drive more interaction with brands’ Pinterest boards.

2. Say what’s missing

“Marketers should position stores about what’s not happening, rather than what is, to drive clicks.”

Online content is more likely to go viral when titles use words such as “not” and “without,” the study revealed. The top shared post on GigaOm’s Cloud page was called “Cloud adoption: it’s not about the price, stupid.”

Therefore, marketers are advised to position stories about what’s not happening – rather than what is – when appropriate.

A payroll processing company can title an article, “DOL finds restaurants not paying servers properly,” instead of “DOL finds restaurants violating FLSA.”

3. Specificity

Online articles might have more viral potential when they use powerful language, but marketers shouldn’t include buzzworthy terms at the risk of losing accuracy. Headlines are shared more often when they include specific qualifiers, like the number of examples coming. According to Startup Moon’s analysis – titles with higher numbers perform even better, so marketers shouldn’t be afraid to go all out with their lists.

If the web content is actionable – think a how-to, or an introduction – authors are advised to craft headlines that promise to teach. The study found internet users prefer topics that can be digested in five minutes or fewer, but they tend to click and share beginners’ guides and do-it-yourself advice.

Of course, marketers must consider their individual audiences when creating effective headlines. By reviewing content metrics and social monitoring, they can determine whether people click and share titles with numbers, strong verbs or calls to action.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.