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18 Insanely Clever Tips For Writing Headlines That'll Make People Feel Things

Headlines to flex: I Asked XX BuzzFeed Geniuses How To Write Perfectly Crafted Headlines And Here's What Happened // XX BuzzFeed Geniuses Share Their All-Time Best Headline Writing Tips // 18 Ridiculously Useful Headline Writing Tips That Will Make Your Stories Go Crazy Viral // 18 Painfully Brilliant Headline Tips From BuzzFeed Writers // How To Give Good Headline (Graphic, NSFW)

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This post was created by Carolyn Kylstra, BuzzFeed Life's first Health Editor. She's now the executive editor for digital at Self.

1. Say your headline out loud. To yourself, to a friend, to your dog, to anyone who will or will not listen!

Does it sound weird coming out of your mouth? Maybe keep talking about it, out loud, until it starts sounding like something you might actually say, as a human person, when talking to another human person.

(This is my best tip!)


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2. Or if you don't feel like talking out loud to yourself, write your headline the way you'd talk about the story IRL out loud in normal human person speak.

Dreamworks Pictures / Via

"When you sit down to write a headline, imagine that you're talking to a friend IRL, and this is your chance to explain to them in one sentence why the thing you're writing about is worth their time."

Rachel Sanders


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4. Or write it the way some random non-journalist would write about it on Facebook.

"My main thing is I try and make my headlines as close as I can to the way someone on Facebook who isn't a journalist would tell a personal story or anecdote or share a thing they were excited about. I always want my stuff to feel naturally conversational but still a little urgent:

"omg so some guy somewhere did this crazy thing and then this other thing happened in some place because of it"

The rest is just tinkering with details to make sure we're emphasizing the right things."

Ryan Broderick


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5. Make sure that whatever your headline says, it's logical and normal and obvious in a memorable way.

"A lot of our search results come from people searching particular strings of words from a post, possibly that they've heard people talk about or that they've seen posted somewhere but can't quite remember or scroll back enough to find. Having catchy/memorable and logical phrases as part of the hed will make it easier for people to find us when they need to."

Jess Probus


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The big theme here, FYI, is to just make sure you sound like a human person and not a media spam-bot headline generator. The awesome thing about that is you already have exactly what it takes, because you ARE a human person.

7. Kill your darlings. Kill them all! Optimizer should help you with this.

Carolyn Kylstra / BuzzFeed

"Don't be precious or protective about your headline ideas, even if you think you've come up with the most brilliant or punny frame of all time. You'll learn more about what makes a good, appealing headline from Optimize results than you will from anything else."

— Rachel Sanders

8. When using Optimizer, max out your options.

Carolyn Kylstra / BuzzFeed

"But make sure they are different."

Javier Moreno

Like significantly different. You can and should change the order of words around, use different adjectives, and try entirely different structures/ideas.

9. Think about the identity of the person reading and loving this post, and write your headline targeting that person.

Rachel Sanders / BuzzFeed / Via

"Imagine the identity of your dream reader for this post and use that to frame what you're talking about, rather than basic descriptive adjectives - i.e. 'Recipes For Lazy People' instead of 'Simple Recipes.'"

— Rachel Sanders


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10. Tell the reader EXACTLY what's in it for them.

"Instead of just writing a funny headline that tells people what's in the post, write a headline that makes it clear exactly why the post is useful to them or worth reading and gives them a reason to click.

For example, one of my most successful posts is a pretty mediocre round-up of vaguely fall-themed alcoholic punch recipes. If the headline had been 21 Deliciously Boozy Punch Recipes That Are Great For Fall, which is an OK headline and is totally accurate, the post would have done just OK. But, 21 Big-Batch Cocktails To Get Your Family Drunk On Thanksgiving gives people a VERY SPECIFIC reason to click, and that's why the post worked."

Christine Byrne

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11. Be really fucking specific about what the story is about and why it's special and different. This is basically the opposite of clickbait.

Carolyn Kylstra / BuzzFeed / Via Facebook: BuzzFeedHealth

"The best headlines are specific and tell the reader why the story is going to be interesting. People who read these stories have seen it all, so if we're too broad, they won't care. For example, recently, instead of the headline 'A little girl with cancer had an amazing birthday party, I recommended saying something like, 'A little girl with cancer was thrown an amazing prom, wedding, and birthday all in one.'

Ask yourself what's special about this story, and what makes it different/better from the literal millions we've seen before. This is why we say we 'don't do clickbait' — we think the stories are good enough that we can reveal what the person will read and they'll still want to click on it."

Rachel Zarrell


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13. Some words should just always be included in your headlines if they're important to the story.

Javi suggests, as examples: "Teen, TUMBLR, woman, man, guy."

I'd add: Snapchats, selfies, photos, "graphic", Nutella, and Netflix... also all tend to do pretty OK.


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14. But some words aren't quite as impactful and maybe you should think about avoiding them.

"Avoid stuff like 'The internet reacted...' because for some reason in posts like that the world 'internet' turns people off. Also if it happened in another country flex one headline with the country and one without. The one without however will almost ALWAYS win."

— Javier Moreno

=( Sorry other countries and also The Internet!

15. Add an adverb. Add another!

Disney / Via

"Another tip that would be antithetical to any other writing tip I'd give is that you can always add an adverb in to make the hed more convincing. That's the Peggy school of thought. It's not just 'clever' it's 'insanely clever.' But that only works if a post actually lives up to or exceeds the adverb's set up expectation."

— Jess Probus


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17. All hacks are tips. Not all tips are hacks.

Flickr: listorama

Don't oversell it!

That trick pictured above is a bona fide hack. Examples of things that are NOT hacks: "Make your bed every morning." "Eat your vegetables." "Stop hitting your sister."

18. And come up with some good headlines BEFORE you even start writing the story.

Carolyn Kylstra / BuzzFeed / Via

"If you can't think of a good headline, either from being too complicated or just not that interesting, pass on it."

— Rachel Zarrell

This generally applies to more social news-type stories, but it can also apply to general servicey/lifestyle ideas too! Along those lines, something I like to do is to figure out potential headlines during brainstorms. So we'll be tossing around ideas: Let's write about pooping when you travel! Let's write about workout snacks! Let's write about gross medical things! And instead of just jotting down:

-travel pooping

-workout snacks

-gross medical things

I try to keep notes like this instead:

-XX Reasons Your Poop Habits Go Totally Bonkers When You Travel

-XX Healthy Snacks To Eat Before And After A Workout To Get Swoll AF

-XX People Share The Grossest And Most Outrageous Things Their Bodies Have Ever Done