A Scientific Guide to Writing Great Headlines on Twitter, Facebook, and Your Blog

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copywriting tips for Twitter, Facebook and your blogEver since we started Buffer a little over 2 years ago, people have been asking us about one question very specifically:

How can I write great headlines for social networks and my blog?

The topic is a very tricky one, as the accuracy for what works best is hard to nail down. Whilst we have some specific techniques that we are using for our own postings and article headlines every day, I thought looking at the most cutting edge research is definitely required.

So I thought of combining all the research we’ve done for the Buffer social accounts and our blog as well as the best research out there and combining them into one comprehensive guide.

Without any further ado, here is a scientific guide to great copywriting on Twitter, Facebook and your blog:

What works best on Twitter? 

Finding the right headline for your Tweet is one of the most important things to do, especially as Twitter only allows for text display.

Whilst there is a ton of data out there on which words to use and how to write headlines, the best way to do anything truly scientifically, is to test and learn yourself.

Test it yourself – here is how

For Twitter, we’ve experimented with A/B testing the right headline. A/B testing on social is arguably very hard, in fact easily one of the biggest social media mistakes. Yet we’ve found it’s possible to still get reliable data that way. Here is how we approached this:

1.)  Find 2 headlines for an article that you think will perform well.

2.)  Tweet both of these headlines at roughly the same time, at least 1 hour apart. Here I’ve found that doing the 2 Tweets both in the AM or both in the PM works best – 9am is much more similar to 10am, then say 12pm is to 1pm. So going with clear “morning” or “afternoon” times is crucial.

3.)  Compare the data for which headline to settle on.

Here is how we learnt which headline to use for our recent blogpost with this method.

First Tweet:

writing great headlines for Twitter, Facebook and your blog

Second Tweet:

writing great headlines for Twitter, Facebook and your blog

The second Tweet clearly performed better as we found out through our social analytics and Buffer’s algorithm also identified it as a top Tweet. In fact, you can clearly see that the second headline got double the number of clicks.

So this was an easy call and we settled for that headline, which subsequently turned out to be a really good decision. The article spread (and still does) like crazy and I do think it’s partly due to the headline improvement.

What the research says

Now, a lot of the time, it’s hard for us to do it with testing ourselves. Of course the optimal time to Tweet is also something that comes into play here. Either we don’t have enough time or enough followers to get meaningful and actionable data from a Twitter A/B test.

In that case, what comes in a close second when trying to be scientific is to look at public research data. Dan Zarrella has done a fabulous job here to help us with general guidelines on which words to include in Tweets.

I think the first and most interesting element that Dan highlights is to use action words when scheduling your Tweets – more verbs and fewer nouns in short:

writing great headlines for Twitter, Facebook and your blog

Twitter itself has also recently published some hard data on what they found to increase clicks, retweets and more most dramatically. Here are the top three ones:

  • Ask for a download:

Example:

writing great headlines for your blog

According to Twitter, this will increase your clicks by an average of 13%.

  • Ask for a retweet

Example:

copywriting tips for Twitter, Facebook and your blog

Another fact that both Twitter and Dan Zarrella have emphasized multiple times to specifically ask for a retweet:

“Tweets in timelines with an ask to retweet increased Retweets by an average of 311%.”

The 20 most retweetable words

Now whilst at Buffer we generally try to optimize for CTR and not retweets, the two often go together and can’t be separated. Dan Zarrella published an amazing list that shows clearly which words tend to be in the most retweeted Tweets, which of course also go in line with at what time you’ve scheduled these tweets:

  1. you
  2. twitter
  3. please
  4. retweet
  5. post
  6. blog
  7. social
  8. free
  9. media
  10. help
  11. please retweet
  12. great
  13. social media
  14. 10
  15. follow
  16. how to
  17. top
  18. blog post
  19. check out
  20. new blog post

I think this is a great list, as it is consistent with general copywriting tips, that you’d find over at Copyblogger and also contains real data.

We covered also some of the latest new changes to Twitter with this piece about  Twitter statistics, where a lot of the new insights get put into a very different, new context.

Time to move onto the next network to optimize your headlines: Facebook

How to approach FB postings: The power of self-explanatory pictures

Of course, for approaching posting to your FB page or profile, the underlying elements are very similar to Twitter. And yet Facebook couldn’t be any more different as a medium than Twitter.

Test it yourself – here is how

All the research, latest Facebook statistics and sensational headlines aside, the key to knowing what works best for you on Facebook is to test it well again. For example, the saying that “post pictures” isn’t entirely helpful at all.

Instead of pictures alone, which is often one of the biggest social media mistakes, here is one assumption that we’ve found validated over and over again on our own Facebook page:

“Post pictures that are meaningful without having to read any text next to it.”

Let’s compare 2 picture postings, that explain this best. Both were shared at the same time, on 2 different days during week days.

Here is example 1:

writing great headlines for Twitter, Facebook and your blog

Here is example 2:

copywriting tips for twitter, facebook and your blog

Clearly 1 performs much better and the biggest difference is that the picture itself already tells the whole story. In example 2 on the other hand, you have no idea what’s going on. So, we’re using this as an internal rule to avoid the “post pictures to FB craze”, that I’d put as this:

“Posting pictures to Facebook only works well, if the pictures are self-explanatory.”

Looking at our data from our social analytics we see this over and over again from the “Top Posts” algorithm that we have in place. The ones that perform the best are those where the picture is self-explanatory:

writing great headlines for Twitter, Facebook and your blogwriting great headlines for Twitter, Facebook and your blog

Now although this may sound anecdotal, I see a lot of people following the “post picture” advice too blindly (ourselves included!).

Instead, what we found is that if you think something is a strong article, but doesn’t have a good photo – post the link, which goes in line with what the latest Facebook statistics and research found as well.

What the research says

The general research on this topic from any company out there that has analyzed Facebook data all agrees on the one point: Pictures outperform everything.

Our friends at KISSmetrics put it the best way, showing that this counts for likes, clicks, shares and comments alike:

photos get more engagement on facebook

In terms of post length, they also have some interesting findings where it seems to be crucial to keep it short to increase your engagement:

writing great headlines for Twitter, Facebook and your blog

One other interesting element, that I’ve personally observed a lot myself is that self-reference works wonders on Facebook. Whilst this isn’t such a good idea on Twitter, where I (anecdotally) rarely get engagement for being very self-referential, this can be very powerful on Facebook.

The more you mention “I”, the more likes you can get, says Dan Zarrella:

writing great headlines for Twitter, Facebook and your blog

Of course, be wary of what the best time to post to Facebook is, on which we’ve recently published a guide, as that’ll likely have a huge impact on how well the posting will perform too.

With Facebook being an entirely different beast to Twitter, we’ve got one place left, where headlines is more important than anything: your blogposts.

Let’s dig in! 

How to write good blogpost titles – the ultimate science

Now onto the most powerful of all, the headline of articles. If you’d do a quick google search here, you’ll quickly see that I’m not the first ones who has thought to write about that. For another crucial element,  what the best time to publish your posts are, we’ve written a separate guide.

Of course, let’s start with a testing method again first:

Test blogpost headlines first on Twitter – The Andrew Chen technique

Here is how he validates which articles he should write and how to name them too:

“Using retweets to assess content virality
Recently I’ve been running an experiment:

  1. Tweet an insight, idea, or quote
  2. See how many people retweet it
  3. If it catches, then write a blog post elaborating on the topic”

Here is the Tweet he sent originally to validate this:

And with dozens of retweets on that quote, he went ahead and wrote that exact article that has now become an almost legendary post. Joel picked up on this and recently tried the same thing with this Tweet, which wildly validated the idea for a blogpost that will go live soon too:

 

So, if you have created a Twitter following that you can use to validate your blogpost headlines and ideas, I think this is one of the most powerful ways to make sure none of your precious time goes to waste.

You can of course use that same technique for Facebook too, in case Twitter is not your forte. The advantage of using Facebook is that you’ll probably get a bunch of interesting comments too that you can use for the article and make writing it even easier still. Here is how Joel did this.

writing great headlines for Twitter, Facebook and your blog

The best research on writing great blogpost titles

Of course, there has been tons and tons of research on which article headlines spread the best. The single most comprehensive source I’ve found however comes from Iris Shoor. Iris and her company Takipi have analyzed the top 100 blogs on the web and tried to figure out, which headlines work the best.

Here are her 3 top tips:

Give your readers numbers – the bigger the better

What they found is that the bigger a number in a post, the farther it spreads. Iris puts it more clearly with great examples:

  • Make lists :8 reasons to…”, “15 tips to…” – Indicating a number of items on your post makes it sound more diverse, practical and easier to read. We found these to work exceptionally well.
  • Use digits rather than words – “10 ways to…” works better than “Ten ways to…”. This is often a common blogging mistake, that can easily be avoided.
  • Place the number at the head of the sentence. “5 ways social networks are changing the world” will work better than “How social networks change the world in 5 ways”.

Of course, we can’t always make a list post for every article we write. In that case, the following might work:

Everyone wants to be taught: Use “Introduction”, “The beginners guide”, “In 5 minutes” and “DIY”

A key idea about writing great headlines that great copywriters have mastered for a long time, that Iris and her team underline also is to teach people something.

After all, we all want to get smarter. A common way to think about it is to make a lot of “How to” articles. The bad news is, that whilst they do teach people something, they don’t spread as far.

Instead, change it to something more specific, so people will know beforehand, what they will get.

An example:

  • Instead of: “How to get better at organizing your day.”
  • Try: “The 5 minute guide to organizing your day for more focus and productivity”

Being specific, whilst also showing that the article will be in depth, is one of the most important things to focus on. In a recent example of a post about how to go about social sharing, this seemed to resonate extremely well with people.

General words that make posts more viral

Last but not least, Iris also offers us a list of different words, that, if used in the headline make for a big uptick in viral spread:

  • Smart,
  • Surprising,
  • Science,
  • History
  • Hacks (hacking, hackers, etc)
  • Huge/ big
  • Critical

Iris also offers some more great tips on this topic and the research methodology. Fortunately all of this seems to be in line with the top performing articles on our blog too.

For more great tips on optimizing your blog, check out our post on 16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners and also 7 Simple and Proven Tips to Increase Your Blog Subscribers.

Over to you now. How do you approach finding great titles for your Tweets, Facebook posts and blog articles? I’d love your best tips on this in the comments. 

  • http://www.PuraVidaMultiMedia.com/ CAELAN HUNTRESS

    This helps me move beyond what I’ve been doing to study blog post titles so far – read the Buffer blog post titles.

    Keep up the great work. Not only do I love the Buffer app, the Buffer blog is also a consistent fountain of useful information.

    • LeoWid

      Hi Caelan,

      Thanks for stopping by and so glad you like our blogpost titles and that both Buffer and the blog are a helpful resource! Trying our best to keep the fountain flowing! :)

  • http://tyronneratcliff.com/ Tyronne Ratcliff

    This was some awesome content LeoWid,your headline can make or break you. Writing better headlines is something that we all can get better at as writers, thanks again for the informative content!

    • LeoWid

      Hi Tyronne, thanks for stopping by and so glad you liked that one! :)

  • Aston Ward

    I think this is a great and very useful post, I’ve taken a lot from it, but the engagement levels with the community I look after are currently pretty low so A/B testing is more or less useless at this stage as there would be minimal response to each.

    Obviously we want engagement to increase and we think it will, but do you have any advice in the meantime? Maybe stick with similar structure and form to others’ post titles that visibly work – or just sit tight and keep at it until we do get that feedback that can be analysed?!

    • LeoWid

      Hi Aston,

      Great to hear from you and those are some good points.

      Yep, until you’re able to get meaningful data from your own postings, I think looking towards what the top dogs in your space are doing is a great way to go about it. In my case for example, I often look for inspiration at Copyblogger or the KISSmetrics blog, I figure, if they have done something, they have done it after tons of testing and smart thinking – of course, this doesn’t always work out, but most of the time!

      And even though the data from your community might only be sporadic right now, I’d still experiment lots and not just follow what others are doing, I think a healthy mix is good!

      Keep me posted on how you get on with your experiments!

      • Aston Ward

        Yep thought it might be just sticking with it and experimenting – I’m trying to look at others’ examples and go by them – slow and steady etc. etc.!

  • http://winniekepala.com/ WinnieKepala

    I’ve always tried experimenting and learning from expert tips as well as doing a check on how I behave as an audience myself. What makes me click or share an article. That’s helped me a lot.

    Been doing all the above – my tweets asks for action, my Facebook posts have the most self explanatory / eye catching pictures, my headlines are not always list posts or “how to” ‘s but I always use the tone of sharing tips / informational posts in my tech blog.

    Problem is – although Buffer helps a lot with optimal times to share, unless I do repeat postings of the same posts, I can never reach 100% of followers / fans. FB algorithms don’t help as my reach count differs too much, regardless of consistency of day / time of post. So, tough for A/B testings.

    Guess it can never be outlined in exact “science” per se. Just have to keep engaging and learning your audience’s behaviour as you go along.

    PS. Excellent post. Always loved Buffer team’s blogposts. Sharing this, of course.

  • http://wpblogexperts.com/ Ishan

    Nice post Leo. You may very well add “scientific” to the list of viral keywords as well. That is what made me read this! ;)

    • LeoWid

      Ha, good idea, I’m sure we’d find some data for “scientific”! #meta

  • Elaine Huang

    Great post! I’ll keep this in mind while writing/editing. :)

  • Nicolas Daudin

    Great and awesome post! You guys rock!!! Love it and gonna use it!!

    • LeoWid

      Awesome to hear it Nicolas! :)

  • denysedd

    Another great post Leo.

    Can you help, as I am sure I’m misinterpreting the stats on Buffer? In your first example comparing the two Tweets, the second had twice the potential of the first, so wouldn’t you expect it to get twice the clicks, favs and RTs?

    Sorry to ask such a basic question, but this being at the start of the post, I didn’t absorb the rest of the great stuff you shared and had to reread!

  • CDSRV TechSupport

    20 Great insights! THANKS for the smart and surprising information.. I just learned how hackers can make a science out of huge amounts of critical historic data..OMG. Please #RETWEET this, at least 10 times folks.. help our CTR @CDSRV #w00t

  • Tim Ludy

    Great title and very useful article. I’ll save this to keep in mind when titling my posts.

    The research on Facebook photos was interesting. Its easy to get carried away with them but this proves they are only useful to a certain point.

  • DSonder1

    thanks for the great summary!

  • PHI SOUNDS

    I make lists… twitter lists…of interesting (and frequently tweeting) people and organizations that share information on the subjects that are most relevant and of interest to me (organized into subject areas). And I then I look at their lists, and I read who they read, all the while constantly refining and finding the most ‘on point’ posts and content posters. Any time I need to know anything, I look at what’s trending among my lists of experts on various subjects.

  • Chris O’Dell

    Articles like this are the reason I subscribed to your blog. Thanks!

    • LeoWid

      Thanks so much Chris, really glad you enjoyed that one! :)

  • http://www.lastfm.ru/user/AntonioKidult Anton Gorodetsky

    Finally got there from my Pocket – this is huge! Thanks so much, Leo! This goes into my Evernote for sure.

  • Veena V

    Great advice! Will definitely be implementing these on my blog.

  • http://www.eyeflow.com/blog/ Eyeflow

    Great article, thanks for pointing out how smart it is to understand how to compose a catchy blog title! They are the key to enticing more readers! Viewers don’t have time to read every blog post if they’re looking for something specific; they want to know exactly what the content will tell them from the title. If the title doesn’t have a promising deliverable, viewers will move onto a blog that does promise exactly what to expect in the content and how reading it will benefit them. Thanks again for sharing these useful tips to how to make the most of a blog title.

  • http://www.inficode.com/ Rohit Agarwal

    Thanks very helpful post……

  • http://charliesaidthat.com/digital charliesaidthat

    Brilliant insights guys. Think it really is all about testing what works for your audience too!

  • Sam

    Just came across the blog last night and I’m already a fan!

  • http://www.lawritersgroup.com/ Nicole

    Great post, love the idea to tweet out things and create blog posts from the tweet that gets the most engagement.

  • http://www.brandignity.com Brandignity

    It can definitely be challenging to squeeze all that conversion power into such a short piece of content. It just comes down to testing, testing and more testing.

  • Shaun McCarthy

    Fantastic article! Love the references to developing content to suit learners, can’t not share this.

  • http://www.travelinindian.com/ JO

    Few best points which I liked that start with numeric like – top 5 best recipes, and other sentences, thanks will I apply it surly on twitter, FB etc.

  • ShopTalk®

    Great post – tons of good advice. I really like the idea of testing blog titles on Twitter. Thanks. More please!

    • http://www.praverb.net/ Praverb

      Great point ShopTalk. I never thought about testing blog titles on Twitter. I usually used the basic headline. I need to step it up.

  • http://www.photodoto.com/ Ann Davlin

    Kudos! You have the ‘guide’ word in your head line. It made me interested in the post among other article in the MOZ top 10 issue

  • Charles Dickens

    YUK

  • http://saicyberspace.blogspot.com Sai Sayson

    Wow! I really need this. It helps to know these things especially for a blogger like me :) Great stuff! My blog will really benefit from this haha!

    Sai Montes, http://www.fashionbysai.com

  • Vermont Design Works

    As a B2B firm in a small state whose customers are more often than not “local” (also in Vermont) we find that locally relevant blog and social media posts can garner a lot of attention. Additionally we tend to blog about online issues we’ve encountered personally when there’s a reasonable assumption others are experiencing the same problems (Facebook white screens, Tweetdeck problems, issues with Google+ Local listings, etc.)

  • Student-Tutor

    Thanks for sharing these tips. There is so much to think about to get your content read! :)

  • Michele

    Good article but can you stop saying whilst? No one says that.

  • Danny Howard

    Great Post Leo, some really interesting tests and data that is very useful and great to use for ourselves.

    May I ask what conversions you get higher with images, links, and info graphics within the tweets, Facebook Posts, etc…

    Thanks

    Danny

  • Shlomo

    Joel, What did you put on the link for testing your tweets?

    I’m currently testing the headlines on my landing page. Still no definite decision. http://www.Gofinish.com

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Very useful article that confirms a number of my theories. I like the testing methods, though not sure I am powerful enough on twitter to get response that determines article topics or titles.

    in your twitter test, the less successful tweet incorporates a question (but then a nonsense second sentence). By most social logics, the question would be more successful. I notice it is also at 9:15am, while the tweet with the higher numbers is at classic coffee break time. Seems like this a/b test is not perfect, and a combination of the two texts would be preferable: “How many hours should we work each day? Why 8? Time to rethink it!”

  • http://www.praverb.net/ Praverb

    Had to reread this and check out Andrew Chen’s technique…I will start testing headlines as tweets. Thank You Buffer!

  • http://bloggersideas.com/ jitendra vaswani

    What an ultimate guide of twitter and facebook headlines. This technique surely gonna get huge traffic.

  • Mike French

    Genius help right there. Really handy figures!

  • aminkorin
  • Lindsay

    Thank you so much. What a brilliant idea to test blog titles. It makes eminent sense and is so simple. I can’t wait to try these techniques out. Again, thank you.

  • cara-ririn.blogspot.com

    Very wonderful tips. I like it. I will try to apply your tips to write great article in my blog. Because my writing skill is bad. Thanks for your information. This is useful for me :)

  • digiprog III

    Very impressive comments to read that,thank you for reporting this,it is very usefulW%

    FLY 200 PRO

  • http://www.triggerapp.com/ Mariel Castro

    Thank you for an awesome article. This is insanely helpful, and i can see that alot of time and effort went into putting this together.
    Signed up to the mailing list.

    Thanks again. :)

  • http://www.neevgoldkin.com/ Neev Goldkin

    So much information! I’m constantly realizing that social media is a fine art that requires plenty of in depth research and action. Thanks for the great article.

  • http://socioblend.com/ Rhea Dutt

    Believe me! This is my twitter handle and this is my tweet :) How did i get so many retweets ? Answer is very simple http://www.fiverr.com/tweetretweet/add-10100-retweets-and-favorites-to-your-tweet-to-optimize-your-twitter-and-seo

  • Kitty Kilian

    I really don’t think you can call this a scientific guide. And I think Dan Zarrella’s research in this field is highly speculative and partly nonsensical. For instance: of course tweets with PLS RT get reteetwed more – IF the content of that tweet is retweetable. Etc. You cannot just isolate words from their context and tell people to use them for better results.

  • http://www.geroldbraun.de/ geroldbraun

    didn’t expect such great insights at all when i subscribed to your service. An excellent posting – not for the first time here. Thank you.

  • http://www.clippingpathbusiness.com/ Clipping Path

    I feel fervently about this and I take pleasure in learning about this topic. Please, as you gain information. Thanks for sharing.

    Clipping Path

  • hely fell

    This is
    very essential blog; it helped me a lot whatever you have provided.

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  • HackSecureMe

    Someone has intentionally made this article complex. These aspects could have been easily explained in simple style…someone said and I quote
    “Any fool can make things complex but it takes the touch of a real genius to make things simple”