I thought I understood clickable headlines, and then I realized that I missed the most important thing

Last year I wrote a blog post on the 8 secrets that writers use to trick readers into clicking on their headlines. I shared the blog post on Medium a little later where the post went viral and got more than 20K views in the next few days.

Afterward, I felt proud of myself. Having a post go viral feels great. But beyond that, I thought I understood headlines .I thought I understood most of the important tricks writers used for clickbait headlines, and I felt informed enough not to be duped by bad headlines.

Recently, then I looked back at the post, thought of Upworthy (the master of clickbait headlines), and realized that I missed the most important thing about great clickable headlines.

For those that don’t know, Upworthy has built a business of finding shareable content, and making it go viral by creating great headlines. They have mastered the art and science of it. For each piece of content, they come up with 25 possible headlines, and then put them through a system that tests each of them to figure out which headline is the best.

And if you look at their headlines, one thing pops up over and over: they create a curiosity gap.

That means that after you read the post, you immediate ask a question, “what? how? what happened? who?”.

The curiosity gap, is all over Upworthy. Just check out the image below of today’s headlines.


See, it is all over.

Totally missed the curiosity gap *facepalm*.



The startup of headlines

The power of headlines has been known for quite a while in the publishing world. No matter how great a piece is, it doesn’t matter if the headline is bad. If a headline is good, you can easily 10x your page views. None of this is new.

Here is what’s new. Headlines may be much more powerful than we ever thought. As it turns out, headlines alone are enough to power a startup.

The best example here is Upworthy. If you use Facebook, I am certain you have come across Upworthy. They are the posts with super-clickable titles like “At first I was only  interested, but two minutes later, my mind was blown”. Have you seen any like those? And then clicked? I sure have.

Upworthy has a fairly simple business. It (1) chooses great shareable  content, and then (2) slaps a great headline on the content, and (3) shares it out on Facebook. A great headline compels the user to view the content, and great content compels the reader to share. That is all you need for massive growth. I have also come across Viralnova, which seems to be doing the same thing.

Isn’t that amazing? These are full VC-investable startups that are built on choosing great content, and writing great headlines. Yes, choosing great content is a value add. But it isn’t like they are creating the content. It is all out there. If you hire enough people, you can easily find great content, and then slap a new headline on them.

Can you write great headlines? You may want to consider a startup 🙂

P.S. This is post number #78 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Or, check out my current project Soulmix.