The Dark Science Of Naming Your Post : Based On Studying 100 Blogs

June 6, 2013 — 36 Comments


Which posts get the most shares? With which title should you pitch your startup to bloggers?
Here’s what I learned from reviewing posts from over 100 blogs, after sorting them from the most shared ones to the least.

I’m in an interesting position these days, I lead the marketing at Takipi and the rest of the team are all developers. Of course they help with marketing. As you can imagine, having a marketing team made of developers leads to unusual content and methods. It’s absolutely amazing to view marketing from a different perspective and to use code as a marketing tool.
When we started planning our content marketing strategy we looked into different blogs to see which content works best. Now here comes the magic – we used a script (thanks @erans and Dor Levi) to analyze blogs and sorted all the posts from the most read ones to the ones least shared. While we can’t track page views, it’s possible to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ APIs to figure out how many shares each post received. Here are some examples of the script results : ArsTechnica Technology, TechCrunch Enterprise, VentureBeat Cloud. You can check out this small utility to get the number of tweets/ likes/ G+ per link

Which words to use in order to get more shares? 

When I reviewed the results, it was very clear that although the subject itself and the post quality are important, the post title has a huge impact on the numbers. It was super interesting to observe how titles which make use of certain words or patterns are usually among the top 20%.Following are some interesting conclusions about what makes a post more viral and the words you can use to get more shares –

Innocent post? Let there be blood. Using ‘Kill’, ‘Fear’, ‘Dark’, ‘Bleeding’, ‘War’ –

This is the first thing that popped up when I saw the results. ‘Google shuts down Google reader’? Or ‘Google kills Google reader’? The second version is much more likely to get more shares. All of our research was on tech related blogs so you can assume there wasn’t much actual killing, blood or black magic. However, a significant number of posts which were ranked as most shared had these elements and I could hardly find any posts which used these expressions at the bottom of the list. Here are some deadly examples :

“Oracle makes more moves to kill open source mySQL” (link) – #1 shared enterprise post on TechCrunch for 2012
“Oracle is bleeding at the hands of DataBase rivals” (link)  – Sounds like a good movie. One of the most shared enterprise articles on TC.
And here’s an interesting counter example, TC and Oracle as well – “For Oracle it’s about the machine, not the fantasy of a new world” (link) , as interesting subject as the previous ones but with less than third of the shares. Using fantasy instead of bleeding or kill doesn’t bring the shares.
“The worlds most mysterious potentially destructive malware is not Stuxnet” (link) – one of the most shared posts on ArsTechnica in 2012. (note the ‘not Stuxnet’).
“Big data is dead. What’s next?” (link) – #1 shared post on Data/ Cloud section on VentureBeat.
TC continues with the mass murder of Big Data with “Why we need to kill bigData” (link) on the top 5% shared posts of the year.

Ok, the scary part is over, let’s move on to other surprising conclusions.

With or without you? You should probably use ‘without’

Looks like using the negative form of a noun or a verb is much more powerful than the ordinary one. “Why Facebook is not a social company” or “Why Facebook is an Enterprise company?”, – go with the first one.  The words “No”, “Without” and “Stop” lead to many more shares. Even when the post is more about personal tips. “5 things you should stop doing” works much better than “5 things you should start doing”, for example. “The app you can’t live without” will go more viral than “The app which will improve your life”.

“Cloud adoption :it’s not about the price, stupid” (link) – top shared post from GigaOm Cloud
“Apple Is Not The Most Valuable Company In The History” (link) – #2 shared post on TC enterprise
Linus Torvalds: I will not change Linux to “deep-throat Microsoft” (link) – one of the most shared posts on ArsTechnica (so, they write that nothing is going to change, right? not really big news).

Show me the numbers (the bigger the better)

I think this is a pretty well known one – using numbers helps posts become more viral.

  • 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.

  • Use digits rather than words – “10 ways to…” works better than “Ten ways to…”.

  • Make your content more reliable – “3200 websites were damaged”, “88% of students say” and so on.

  • The bigger the better – this is an interesting one – the higher the number is it usually works better. “35 ways to…” will probably be more viral than “5 ways to…”. ArsTecnica titles one of their most shared posts – “Extremely critical ruby bug threatens more than 200,000 sites” . 200,000 is probably the overall number of Ruby sites. However, it sounds very dramatic and went super viral (critical + threatens + a very high number = success!).

  • Use time units – “How to x in 4 days”, “Tickets to WWDC sell out in under 2-min” and so on.

  • 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”.

“25-GPU cluster cracks every standard Windows password in <6 hours” (link) – goes viral by ArsTechnica. I’m not sure how many readers know what a 25 GPU cluster is or how long it usually takes to crack a windows password, but it sounds good.
“Billions of online user actions say gamification increases site engagement 29%” (link) – #2 shared post on VentureBeat Social.

Where should I start? Using “Introduction”, “The beginners guide”, “In 5 minutes” and DIY

Here is some good news, it seems like we don’t just want to be told what not to do or to be threatened with scary verbs – we also want to learn new stuff. Preferably in 5 minutes. Titles which promise to teach you something in an easy way or from scratch tend to be viral. There will be a huge difference in the virality of a post titled “How to use Android SDK” to the virality of “The beginners guide to Android SDK” (the second one wins). Using DIY in a post title also seems to increase virality (I’m referring to tech posts and not real DIY, of course).

If you can’t beat them – join them. Piggybacking Twitter, Google glass and other brand names and hot topics

Twitter, Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon definitely star on the most shared posts list. It was amazing to see that at least a third of these posts were not about Facebook, Google or other cool companies but just piggybacking on their brand name. Some use titles such as “How Facebook manages its …” to tell the story of a different product, some use analogies like “x is Twitter for students”. “WhatsApp bigger Than Twitter with over 200M monthly active users” is one of the most shared posts on TC this year. While WhatsApp does not compete with Twitter in any way the writer uses Twitter as reference and makes it go viral. Backing it up with numbers probably helps as well. VentureBeat asks “What Twitter and Pinterest know about DevOps that you don’t” – of course the data was produced by a different company and doesn’t refer to Twitter and Pinterest directly but it sounds more interesting, isn’t?

Some other words that make posts more viral

The most viral posts also tend to include the following in their titles: Smart, surprising, science, history, hacks (hacking, hackers, etc), huge/ big, critical.

What doesn’t work

Reviewing the bottom of the list – the least shared posts, was as fascinating as understanding the popular ones. How come some posts that deal with interesting topics and the same companies end up with only dozens or a few hundred shares?
Announcing – the ‘announcing’ posts are usually ranked at the bottom. I’m not sure if it’s because it sounds like a PR release or people are just not interested in reading about new features.
Wins, celebrates, grows – it seems that as much as we like to read about negative things we dislike the positive news. While posts with the word ‘lose’ will usually make the top 50%, posts with ‘win’ will usually fall below. I wish it would have been different :)
Me or you? Either one works  – There are certain rules I used to follow, but it seems some of them don’t have a real impact on the share results. I always believed that using ‘you’ is powerful but it seems to make no difference (for better or worse). Same goes for posts that start with ‘how to’ which can be found all across the board. The use of ‘how to’ doesn’t seem to have an effect on how viral the post will be.





36 responses to The Dark Science Of Naming Your Post : Based On Studying 100 Blogs

  1. The Artful Marketer June 7, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Really interesting points- good to know that killing, bleeding, war and fear are the best motivators for social sharing! :)

  2. Caroline Temple June 7, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    You better believe I checked your blog title after reading this post! lol! Thank you for pouring over all those blogs to deliver this post! I almost feel bad benefiting from a few paragraphs when you did all the hard work. :)

    • Caroline – I think that’s true for all the useful posts out there :) Glad to hear you enjoyed it and yes, the title is aligned with the post content other than placing the numbers on the head of the title

  3. This is phenomenal Iris, really. A data goldmine. Thanks for sharing it with us! Time to test out the magic :)

  4. “The Dark Science” certainly got me clicking :) Great post!

  5. Good article, I’m always looking for ways to increase how clickable my titles are. I stop a couple of these titles and put them in my headline outlines sheet :)

  6. Andrew Warnes June 19, 2013 at 3:30 am

    Fantastic article. Thank you….

    Iris, Is there anything to say you’ll go more viral if we personalise a post, Such as ‘I’ or ‘we’. If so any difference between ‘I’ and ‘We”?

    • Thanks Andrew!

      Most of the blogs I researched were pretty technical so there was not much room for personalization there. From my own experience “you” works better than “I”/ “we” (for example “X is helping you to save time” instead of “We released a new feature which saves time”). Between “I” and “We” I would go with I, “we” tend to be a bit vague (the company instead of people).

  7. I can not wait to test out the concepts shown in this article. They seem a little off the beaten path that many experts have discussed in the past. I thought this fact was very interesting “posts with ‘win’ will usually fall below”

  8. This is so much better than all the tips and tricks and “headline hacks” I’ve read for one simple reason. It’s based on actual data. Great work, Iris, and thanks so much for sharing with the community.

  9. Great post – I’ve shared this so many times with colleagues and started applying some findings. I think you are on to something :)

  10. You should have name the post:
    “37 DIY simple ways not to kill your bleeding blog without Twitter, Google, Facebook, Apple or Amazon in less than 5 minutes”

    (although the current title is also good)

    :) :) :)

  11. I’m going to try using some of these words in my blog posts to see if they will work for me, too.

  12. This is an incredible post. Love that it’s backed up by data!

  13. ➡ Ilma Nausedaite November 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Wonderful article.

    I recently published post about numbers. I suggested to use numbers in subjects lines and newsletters as a way to stop the wandering eye and attract fixations, when the readers are embedded within a mass of words.

  14. Really good post, that I sometimes get back to.
    I’m now wondering – is there any wisdom as to using a title and a subtitle?
    (for example – use an obscure yet tempting title and demystify it in the subtitle)

    • Hi Oded,

      I apply the same rules to the sub-title and try to use it just for more space. For example – “Why I stopped using Ruby * And how it decreased our performance in 72%”. The sub-title is a great place to use some numbers

  15. It’s stuff that I had a vague feeling was right, but I’m glad to see some solid data on it. Really nice job, and a very useful resource for all content marketers out there!

  16. I never thought that playing with words will be this fun. People are
    attracted to things online because there are just some great writers who are
    able to express them in a truly interesting manner. Creativity plays an
    important role here. Also, make sure that you do not follow trends just because
    they look cool. Make sure that you do something unique but can last a lifetime
    in the Web.

    • I’m glad I found
      this site, I couldn’t find any data on this matter some time recently.

      Schlüsseldienst Berlin

  17. Iris the big numbers bit works so well. People cannot resist clicking through to get their 7, 15, or 45 tips….the more the better. Thanks!

  18. very nice post I think i will be using some of these tips in the near future!

  19. Great tips there! Thank you!

  20. Great ideas, provocative style always works better, we all probably love blood

  21. Ah yes! Your headline totally got me in. 😉 I must be sick, wrong and just like everyone else. But seriously, thanks for this info. Great post.
    You killed it. 😉

  22. Leonard Frankel June 19, 2014 at 7:49 am

    Thank you Iris, the comprehensiveness in which you optimize your marketing keeps on amazing me.
    I’m about to release a first guest post and will definitely construct a new headline based on your research.

  23. April 25, 2015 at 4:24 am

    Someone who really works in this fashion and transforming / enabling many start-ups, SME and SMB
    Leverage the power of

  24. Indonesian people will say “keren banget” which translated into “Wow cool”.. instantly capture my interest. Thanks Iris

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