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| 3 minutes read

The age of headlines isn't over: spend more time on yours!

Buzzsumo's post on the most shared headlines (from a sample set of 100 million headlines), has gone predictably viral. The author, Steve Rayson, also supplemented this survey by asking several marketing experts for their reflections on the results. The main conclusion can be summed up as: don't replicate these trends and expect the same result. The simple reason being that your audience is niche so a headline that works for the general internet reader won't work for them.

In short, while those kind of surveys are useful at reminding you to spend more time crafting your subject lines (and giving your audience a reason to care), a better move for you would be to look at your own content and its success/failure.

Auditing your content

In that spirit, I've recently conducted an audit into our newsletter. Every week, I send out a newsletter with extracts from the posts we create on to a select list of contacts. There are a couple of reasons why I do this:

  • It gives the sales and leadership team here a deadline event to work towards when creating content. 
  • That newsletter is an important driver of traffic (and we actually know who it is reading it, which is very valuable to us).

I decided to look into two aspects for the 2017 newsletters sent out:

  1. Best performing subject lines (per open and click)
  2. Best performing headlines inside the newsletter (i.e the posts we share within the newsletter that got clicked the most)

Best performing subject lines

The subject line is generally taken or inspired by one of the posts inside the newsletter. We've gone for that approach after trying various other ones including personalization, newsletter #37497, even emoji.

These were the subject lines that led to the most opens (not the most reliable of data of course):

  • Avoid death by powerpoint
  • 10 steps to level up your personal Twitter profile!
  • "In a virtual world you are your content"
  • New year, new content calendar!
  • Tech is shaking up B2B companies - are you joining in?
  • Are you ready for GDPR?
  • Make your content work harder for you
  • 10 steps to become a LinkedIn superhero
  • Social selling: it's more than a buzzword
  • Here's why you should reveal your company's secrets

Some conclusions you could draw here are:

  • 10 is a magic number
  • Question marks perform well
  • Longer subject lines perform well (the specificity of them)
  • They generally focus around an action: how to do something better, how to be prepared, etc, so there is a practical incentive at play.

Content that performed best

Within the newsletter itself, these were the 10 headlines that performed the best in terms of clicks this year:

These weren't necessarily the highest performers overall on, but to our key targeted audience, they were the ones that were the most alluring. That kind of data is therefore much more valuable to us, than Buzzsumo's trends. 

As you can see, there's some correlation between these and best performing subject lines with 6 out of 10 being on both lists. Again, the more specific and practical-looking bob to the top. 

Now it's your turn: do you have a similar list you could audit to get a better idea of which headlines (and therefore, content), your audience is into?

We took a quick look at 500,000 business posts on marketing and technology that were published in the same period (March to May 2017) as the 100m most shared posts on Facebook. This initial research indicates that the phrases that resonate and that gain shares in these areas appear to be markedly different from those that work for publishers on Facebook. Phrase Average Shares Number of articles in sample The age of 6,135 476 The impact of 5,622 293 The rise of 5,022 378 The future of 3,533 2,085 You need to 2,955 1,519 Is the new 2,608 201 To create a 2,522 404 Of the year 2,227 356 This was a relatively small sample and we are undertaking more extensive research in this area which we will publish later in the year.


content marketing, b2b marketing, headlines, clickbait, click-through rate, writing advice, writing, writing tips

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