A colleague of mine complains about them: “If I have to read ONE MORE POST about FIVE WAYS to this or SIX THINGS that, I’m going to throw up.” Funny thing is, he’s reading them and, like most of us, is attracted to the headlines that draw us in with lists and numbers.
Why are we drawn to this content?
Maria Konnikova of the New York Times says our brains prefer to process information this way. We like lists because they’re digestible and reassuring. Our brains can make quick sense of the information and in our content-flooded world, we can read, absorb, and move right on to the next piece.
That’s convenient and necessary because we’re expected to absorb much more content using the same daylight hours as our ancestors.
Slate and Michael Agger says that we read online in a lazy way: we crave:
- white space
- bulleted lists
- bold text (see what I did there?)
Back to another New York Times piece by Maria Konnikova telling us what makes things “go viral”: it’s a lot of crap, to be candid. It’s emotion-grabbing, Internet-typical headlines of which we saw a version of in supermarket checkout lanes for years, with a compelling tag that people just can’t resist clicking …
Headlines with OMG or WOW or LOL or “Nothing Could Prepare me for …” or “You Have to See the Rest…” or “Will Amaze You.” Every journalism teacher must be just cringing constantly. ViralNova, now the 7th most popular website, ever (WOW!) is a constant generator of this garbage and you know what? WE’RE ALL FALLING INTO THE TRAP.
So yes, if you want your content to go viral, it must be sensational. It must have that WOW factor and it must be in a list format with an attention-grabbing headline that goes for emotions.
It’s annoyingly simple, but that’s the secret.