James Parsons is the founder and CEO of Content Powered, a content creation company. He’s been a content marketer for over 10 years and writes for Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, and many other publications on blogging and website strategy.
50 Examples of Buzzfeed Headlines (And Why They Work)
Buzzfeed is a very interesting phenomenon in the world of content marketing and writing.
On the one hand, they’re considered a joke. They’re widely ridiculed. They’re pithy, garbage content seemingly tailor made solely to game the algorithms on the social networks, but who among us ever actually visits the site?
And yet, they’re immensely popular. In fact, Buzzfeed News, their journalism branch, is actually one of the best and least biased journalism outlets available in these trying times.
Really, on what other site (no, Reddit doesn’t count) would you see these two posts next to each other?
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- Trump Had A Mandate To Target All Undocumented Immigrants For Arrest. ICE Has A New Plan To Change That
Dramatically different in tone, content, perspective; everything. And yet, the one exists seemingly solely to fund the other. It wouldn’t work at all except for one thing: Buzzfeed has nailed the algorithm. They know with extreme certainty exactly how to get eyes on their content, leverage the curiosity gap, and ensure that people click on their site. They’ve even built up a base of loyal visitors who click their ads and engage with their posts, building up traffic and revenue.
The key to all of it is not just the fact that a ton of their content is “borrowed” from Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, thus making it very easy to produce. The key is in the headline.
That’s right. You’ve probably heard content marketers talk about how important your headlines are for a long time now, but Buzzfeed is proof that you don’t need a long word count, you don’t need a deep and unique subject, heck, you don’t even need original content; as long as you have a powerful headline, you can rake in the traffic. Buzzfeed articles are famous for this.
I’ve decided to analyze a bunch of headlines and point out specifically how they work, so you can try to replicate them. I’ve broken this up into categories and listed a selection of headlines in each, which you can use as examples. I’m not going to bother linking to all of the posts – you can find them just by searching the headlines if you want – since the content itself isn’t important. It’s all about that headline.
Note that I’m mostly picking headlines from the first few hundred posts published around when I’m writing this post. While this might introduce some temporal bias, it’s mostly immaterial, since Buzzfeed is notorious for having a formula that they can reproduce endlessly. I bet that if you come back to this a year from my time of writing, you’ll be able to slot in and out many of the same kinds of headlines, just with a few nouns and verbs changed.
Ah, clickbait. Clickbait is the core of what Buzzfeed creates. It’s everything you see shared on Facebook with extreme levels of exploitation of the curiosity gap.
Buzzfeed actually doesn’t make these posts quite as much as they used to, and not to quite the same extreme level, for one reason: Facebook started cracking down on it, years ago. The more overt clickbait-style titles are usually suppressed, and while they can still gain some traction anyway, they don’t perform well enough. Buzzfeed has opted to go with a less garish, more subtle approach.
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4. 40+ Cooking Hacks That’ll Make You Say, “How Come Nobody Told Me This Earlier?”
5. 33 Cathartic Movie Moments That Kinda Feel Like a Mini Therapy Session
6. 23 Exceptionally Weird Things People Found At Thrift Stores
7. 18 Around-The-World Soup Recipes That’ll Warm You Up This Winter
8. 15 Money Management Tips People Wish They Had Known Before College
9. 24 Self-Care Products That’ll Make You Look Like You Just Left The Salon
10. If You’re Finally Ready To Get Rid Of Your Clutter, Here Are 29 Products To Help
Clickbait titles have several hallmarks, which you can begin to see above. The biggest of them is leveraging the curiosity gap. I’ve mentioned that before, but what is it? It’s the gap between what you know and what you want to find out. A headline that leverages the curiosity gap does so by teasing you with something, whether it’s a pithy group of screenshots or some information they promise you can find inside. You want that information, usually spurred on by an emotional sentiment or a teaser of what’s inside. You aren’t given it, either in the headline or the snippet.
You can see the curiosity gap at work all over the internet. Some sites, like Buzzfeed’s old content and Upworthy, lean hard on it. Though you don’t see the “number 7 will surprise you!” phrasing much these days, it can still be seen in the wild occasionally. Likewise, YouTube videos rely on thumbnails that invoke the curiosity gap alongside the headline.
Emotional headlines are one of the more prominent techniques we see throughout content marketing. Leveraging an emotional perspective gets people invested in the content.
It can be positive, using “cute” or “funny” concepts and content to attract users. It can also be negative, with content meant to make you angry, which spurs on engagement as people want to share it with others and make them angry too.
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13. My Head Is Spinning About How Much Money Cardi B Is Spending On COVID-19 Tests Every Week
14. I Didn’t Use Toothpaste For A Week
15. 17 Messed-Up Things Characters Actually Did In Movies Marketed To Children
16. Pete Davidson Thought “Something Was Wrong” With Him Until he Was Diagnosed With Borderline Personality Disorder
17. I Am Dumbfounded After Hearing These “Compliments” Guys Thought They Gave Women When They Were Just Flat-Out Insults
18. I Got Plastic Surgery And I Regret It
19. 40 Strangers Who Did Unbelievably Kind Things And Expected Nothing In Return
20. People Are Sharing Underrated Websites And You Will Never, Ever Be Bored Again
Emotional leverage in headlines is one of the most well-studied kinds of headlines in content marketing, so I’m not going to go too deep into it. You can read more about it through blogs like CoSchedule. Suffice it to say that this is one of the most accessible and most effective kinds of headline to make.
The “cool” factor in headlines isn’t one that Buzzfeed uses quite as often as some of the others, but they leverage it for one reason specifically: to sell products.
Buzzfeed occasionally publishes articles listing products and items that they want to promote, typically through affiliate links. It’s a big part of how they make their money, and it’s extremely effective.
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22. 39 Valentine’s Day Gifts For When You’re Totally In Love, But Broke
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25. 35 Of The Best Valentine’s Day Gifts For Your BFF
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27. 43 Of The Best Valentine’s Day Gifts Under $50
28. 28 Pieces Of Furniture And Décor To Organize Your Entryway
29. 44 Sexy Intimates That Are Actually Comfortable
30. 29 Splurge-Worthy Products That Will Keep Your Skin Hydrated This Winter
One big thing about these headlines is that they’re usually pretty time-sensitive. For example, I’m writing this post in late January, which means Valentine’s Day and various other spring holidays are just around the corner. Thus, Buzzfeed has a push for Valentine’s products and themes. If you check in a different month, you’ll see similar headlines, but with different themes.
This is all stuff that gets shared either because of its immediate value, because of the interesting products contained therein, or because it has that “wow” factor that people think their friends want to see.
Part of what makes Buzzfeed so successfully viral so often is engagement. Every platform, from Google’s search to Facebook, rewards user engagement.
Why wouldn’t they? Sites love it when people spend time on them and leave comments, interacting with the author and with one another.
31. Some Movie Endings Aren’t 100% Satisfying, So We Want To Know Which One You’d Rewrite
32. Choose The New “Mean Girls” Cast And We’ll Reveal Why You Can’t Sit With The Plastics
33. Your Taste In High Heels Will Reveal If You’re More Elegant, Classy, Or Sophisticated
34. Tell Us Which Of These Shows You’ve Watched And We’ll Reveal Your Aura Color
35. Here Are 13 Sets Of Famous Siblings – Who’s More Famous To You?
36. What Do You Consider The Best TV Blooper Ever?
37. Can You Identify Whether These Storylines Happened In The First Or Last Episode Of These Iconic Shows?
38. What “Drivers License” Lyric Describes Your Love Life?
39. I Genuinely Want To Know Which Celebrities You’d Match With On A Dating App
40. Can You Match The Weird Law To The US State?
This selection of headlines illustrates two kinds of interactive content Buzzfeed uses regularly. One is the quiz; take their quiz, get a result, share it, and ask your friends to do the same. These come in and out of style on social media, but there’s always a handful of them on Buzzfeed. You’ll also notice that some of them are evergreen, which is an added bonus for Buzzfeed.
The other style is the question-based headline. The content itself isn’t interactive, but everything in the content is asking you to leave a comment. They’re explicitly made to spur discussion, but here’s the kicker: Buzzfeed doesn’t care if that discussion is on their site or not. In fact, if people leave their comments on a post on Facebook instead, it’s even better for Buzzfeed’s social exposure.
Trending headlines are exactly what you’d expect; headlines based on something currently trending in the news or on social media. These are great for an immediate viral push of traffic, but they have a much more limited lifespan than most Buzzfeed content. That’s why a surprising number of Buzzfeed’s posts are not time-sensitive or trend-focused.
41. Grimes Just Gave Her And Elon Musk’s Baby A Haircut, And The Result Is Very…Interesting
42. Six Lucky Drivers Caught In A Snowstorm Got Surprise COVID Vaccines
43. Even If You Have No Idea How To Understand Stocks, You Can Enjoy These Memes About Reddit Owning Wall Street
44. 15 Funny Tweets From People Who Just Learned The Truth About Credit Karma Scores
45. People Are Freaking Out Over This Pink Mac And Cheese That Kraft Is Releasing For Valentine’s Day
46. Here’s Everything We Know About Demi Lovato’s New Show, “Hungry”
47. Actor Cloris Leachman has Died At Age 94
48. JoJo Siwa’s Coming-Out Showed How Gen Z Is Doing It Differently
49. Amanda Gorman Will Be The First Poet To Ever Perform During A Super Bowl
50. The Racist Guy Behind One Of The Most Influential Pro-Trump Twitter Accounts Was Arrested For Election Interference
I will say, however, that I slightly cheated with this section. Several of these headlines are in fact Buzzfeed News headlines, not just Buzzfeed headlines. Here’s the thing, though; you probably can’t tell which ones. Some of them are obvious (#10, for sure), but others aren’t. There’s a lot of crossover in styles, and Buzzfeed makes it work.
There are a few qualities that Buzzfeed headlines have that are common across the various “types” of headlines they publish. You can check for yourself.
- Most of them have a number in them. Numbers and lists are always popular.
- They’re mostly casual. The use of “kinda” and other simple language is attractive, particularly to younger users.
- They’re on the long side. Short headlines don’t have as much room for variety and personality.
- They’re a low grade level for language. Run them through Hemingway and you’ll see they’re all very simple.
All of this contributes to making them the equivalent of potato chips in the content world. Thin, not much substance, but you can’t stop eating once you start. The only question is, what can you leverage out of all of this to use in your own content strategy?
Finally, there’s one element to Buzzfeed that I haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s testing. Buzzfeed relentlessly split-tests and time-tests their headlines. In the middle of writing this post, the page refreshed, and a good third of the headlines I’ve posted above changed. They’re still the same basic topic, but the phrasing is different. For example, “33 Cathartic Movie Moments That Kinda Feel Like a Mini Therapy Session” changed to “33 Deeply Satisfying Movie Scenes That’ll Make You Feel Like A Weight’s Been Lifted”.
Which one gets more clicks? Well, that’s something you’d have to ask Buzzfeed.