Let’s face it. You could have written the internet’s most interesting article, but without one special ingredient, it might go completely unnoticed. This key element is a good headline. In essence, this is what internet users share — not the article itself, but the brief text preceding it. The headline basically “sells” the rest of the content.

One recent interesting study indicates 59% of links shared on social media networks aren’t even clicked (never mind read) before being shared. The Science Post published a story that backs up this finding entitled “Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting”.

The 10 million most shared articles

But how can you be certain that a headline is good? Well, you can look at some helpful data and experiment with your writing to hopefully boost engagement. The people at BuzzSumo analysed 10 million LinkedIn articles that got the most shares between January and May 2017 to see which keywords were especially effective. As part of this study, they also covered B2C headlines. We will review these in one of our next blog posts very soon.

3 things you need to know about headlines

According to the data, these are the most popular two-word phrases starting B2B headlines on LinkedIn (by the way, X is just a placeholder for any number):

1. How to…
2. The X
3. X things…

It is very interesting to see that the top three places went to phrases that typically start guides (or “how to” articles) or lists. The most popular opening phrase was associated with almost three times as many shares as the one that came in second. But the difference between the second and third spots was marginal. It should also be mentioned that the next two popular phrases are commonly related to lists as well. Overall, four out of the five most often shared article headlines referred directly to lists.

Research done and presented by BuzzSumo

Should this finding influence the way you are preparing your content? The best answer is probably “yes and no”. You should not go out of your way to use the most popular headlines for every piece of content you want to publish. But you should remember that this data shows that people want to learn from content (i.e. “how to”) and that they like when it’s organized (i.e. into lists of “X things”), which can give a sense of how much time it will take to read through it. Content like this will most probably get many shares on LinkedIn.

The future of writing?

One would think, that if you analyse headlines for three-word opening phrases, the results will be similar to those for two-word phrases. But this is not the case. After analysing 10 million LinkedIn articles, BuzzSumo found that these are the most often used three-word phrases in shared content:

1. X ways to…
2. The future of…
3. X things you…

As you may notice, the exact words used did change, but the type of content they are probably associated with did not. Again, we can see the dominance of lists — i.e. “X ways to”… or “X things you…”, which were in first and third place. Interestingly, none of the top three performers overshadowed the others like “How to…” among two-word phrases. The data also shows that the majority of readers are always interested in things that may help them in their work, present something new to them or explain how something should be done to achieve a certain goal. LinkedIn users also tend to be forward-looking people trying to make predictions or gain insight about the future, hence the popularity of “The future of” as an opening phrase.

Research done and presented by BuzzSumo

The magic numbers

As the research suggests, lists are very popular among LinkedIn users, so BuzzSumo also provided a closer look at the popularity of numbers. The gathered data should confirm what you have already figured out on your own a long time ago — certain numbers are just a little special. There are three specific numbers that are used most often in B2B content headlines:

1. 5
2. 10
3. 3

On a related note, the research also identified the optimal length of headlines for generating LinkedIn engagement. To maximize sharing on the business-oriented social media platform, it is recommended that between 7 and 12 words should be used in a headline. This is of course not set in stone, but headlines within this length range tended to perform better than longer ones. The optimal character count is also worth noting. On LinkedIn, the best performing headlines have between 30 and 55 characters — once again, shorter is better.

All in all, this tell us that when writing B2B headlines, it is best to keep it brief and get straight to the point. Lists are popular among users, as is content that gives some kind of advice or a quick overview of things. The same goes for content that gives a glimpse of the future and how certain things might evolve over the coming years. Hopefully, this knowledge will help you prepare engaging business content that your readers will enjoy and share.