Can You Write Viral Copy like The Huffington Post?

Here's 6 reasons why you might not be stacking up

If you’ve ever opened a Web browser, chances are you’ve visited The Huffington Post. That might be related to the fact that they (by a landslide) publish the largest number of viral stories on the Web, according to NewsWhip.

One of my favorite things to do when I find out someone is the best at something is analyze their method … and steal the hell out of it.

So I ran a query through one of my favorite sites, BuzzSumo, a content analysis search engine (my description, not theirs), and pulled up HuffPost’s most shared content over the past year.

Because you’re all marketers, and most of the world’s marketing is full of junk, I decided to let you look over my shoulder at my little swipe-file of sorts.

After studying the top 100 headlines The Huffington Post has written in the past year, I found a few reasons why most marketers (myself included) are failing to connect with their audiences compared to The Huffington Post, who is obviously pretty good at it.

Here are the top six reasons I found for why your viral copy isn’t as good as The Huffington Post’s (I’ve included the headlines I found so you can steal them with me.)

WARNING: Some of the headlines you see below may be offensive to some people. Please understand that at MarketingExperiments, we do not take any official positions on politics, religion or personal beliefs. We are only interested in studying what works in marketing. The headlines below are simply a dataset to be studied and learned from, not an official statement on a particular position MarketingExperiments takes.

 

Reason #1: You’re not writing copy that helps your audience discover something new about themselves

Sample Headlines:

Headline Total Shares
Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy 1255809
5 Minutes In A Mom’s Head 1039541
10 Ways Introverts Interact Differently With The World 624656
18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently 705417
The Achiever, the Peacemaker and the Life of the Party: How Birth Order Affects Personality 364977

 

Apparently, most Huffington Post readers are highly creative, introverted, yuppie moms with siblings. If that’s your audience, then start writing content like the articles you see above.

If it’s not your audience, then think about what you know about your audience that they may not know about themselves and incorporate it into your copy.

Helping someone understand his or her self is probably one of the best things you can do for a person. Also, it’s a big business — just ask your psychiatrist or look at your next bill.

 

Reason #2: You’re not writing copy that helps your audience win an argument with someone else

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Sample Headlines:

Headline Total Shares
5 Reasons You Should Have Sex With Your Husband Every Night 1165130
5 Reasons Modern-Day Parenting Is in Crisis, According to a British Nanny 1114892
Moms, Put On That Swimsuit 863569
15 Things All Dads Of Daughters Should Know 752715
The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying 689654

 

Wrong or right, winning a heated argument is one of the most satisfying things a person can do. Write copy that your audience can use to win an argument they are passionate about, and they’ll almost always share it with their opponent.

As a parent, I know for a fact that a favorite activity of Huffington Post’s highly creative, introverted, yuppie moms with siblings is critiquing other parents on their parenting.

Also, as a husband, I was very tempted to share article No. 1 with my wife, but, as a smart husband, I realized it would probably backfire on me. Still, the temptation to win that argument almost got that author another share.

 

Reason #3: You’re not writing copy that teases an interesting personal story

Sample Headlines:

Headline Total Shares
The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’ 1255809
 My ‘Naked’ Truth 754736
I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical 746014
To the Woman Behind Me in Line at the Grocery Store 635764
 WATCH: Incredible Story Of Transgender Son Will Have You Ugly Crying … And Then Cheering 501180

 

I found this pattern to be pretty interesting. For some reason, I wouldn’t have thought a personal story would be all that shareable. That may be because I surround myself with boring people, or, more likely because I’m not a HuffPost yuppie mom. (Yes, I realize that’s one too many references to the same joke.)

It may also be that it’s not as much the personal aspect of the story but rather the fact that it’s an incredibly interesting topic. Whatever the case, the stories above are performing incredibly well. It’s worth testing out an interesting personal story in your copy.

 

Reason #4: You’re not writing copy that blows the whistle on a potential hypocrite (Bonus points if your audience hates them already)

Sample Headlines:

Headline Total Shares
The Insidiousness of Facebook Messenger’s Android Mobile App Permissions (Updated) 814422
Shocking Photos: PETA’s Secret Slaughter of Kittens, Puppies 699946
Gluten-Free People Actually Have No Idea What Gluten Is 491743
Hobby Lobby Still Covers Vasectomies And Viagra 391341
Vibram, ‘Barefoot Running Shoe’ Company, Settles Multi-Million Dollar Lawsuit 342375

 

This ties back into the satisfaction we feel with winning an argument. Except this time, it’s because our opponent is revealed to be a hypocrite.

Go ahead and take a risk. Blow the whistle on someone in your industry who you know for a fact is a hypocrite. Or better yet, blow the whistle on yourself before someone else does.

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Also, here’s what gluten is in case you ever need to blow that whistle.

 

Reason #5: You’re not writing copy that sheds light on an important social issue your audience cares about

Sample Headlines:

Headline Total Shares
10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12 1577398
What Richard Sherman Taught Us About America 848860
If You Shop on Thanksgiving, You Are Part of the Problem 840184
Powerful Ad Shows What A Little Girl Hears When You Tell Her She’s Pretty 822799
Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids? 603236

 

What’s interesting about these headlines is that most of them deal with parenting or the results of parenting. That’s not really a hot-button social issue for mainstream America, but it’s nevertheless very important to the audience of The Huffington Post.

Are there small-scale social issues that are happening in your industry no one is talking about? Leverage them in your copy.

 

Reason #6: You’re not writing copy that promises a remix of something your audience already likes

Headline Total Shares
Florida State University AcaBelles Rock Lorde’s ‘Royals’ A Cappella (VIDEO) 1174219
Pentatonix Performs The A Cappella Version Of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ You’ve Been Waiting For 918676
‘Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark’ Movie Will Make Your Childhood Nightmares Come To Life 850040
The Piano Guys Will Blow You Away With ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ (VIDEO) 773558
Jimmy Fallon And Adam Levine’s Random Musical Impressions Will Blow Your Mind 582891

 

Building on the success of something that is already successful is how 99.9% of the world gets their good ideas. Don’t let the musical covers in these headlines distract you from the more important point: Your audience has products and services they already love.

Find out what they are and remix it in your copy.

Hopefully if you haven’t improved your viral copywriting skills reading this post, you can at least steal some ideas from The Huffington Post.

Also, if you’d like to get the list of headlines yourself, you can go to BuzzSumo and search for “HuffingtonPost.com” or any other site you’re interested in studying.

 

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3 Comments

  1. dan says

    Modeling successful people is a clear path to success – well said, we often forget this… or think it’s uncool to model others and we have to be original all the time. Very timely article (for me anyway) and very well written. Thanks Paul!

    1. Paul Cheney says

      Hello Dan,

      Thank you for your kind words. It sort of made my day when I clicked on your domain and found out that you weren’t a personal life coach talking about metaphorical mountains.

  2. Mitzi Perdue says

    This is the most personally useful post I’ve come across in months! The information is new, important, and something we can all try to use. Thanks, Paul! You’re a genius.

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