Three ways to feed and care for the Twitter headline beast

An extraordinary hack for writing
twitter headlines that get more web traffic.

Not all tweets are alike. In fact, the difference between a good headline and a bad one can make a difference to the tune of a 73% conversion uplift. So how do you write the tweet that gets 73% more clicks?

Provided you want to get as many clicks as you can, there are a few things you shouldn’t do:

  • Don’t start with advice
  • Don’t start with data
  • Don’t start just writing tweets

Start with what makes you click. If you can figure out why you click one headline over another, you’ll write great headlines the rest of your life.

(Go with me on this one; I’ll give you some links to generic twitter headline posts at the end, but by then I don’t think you’ll need them.)

What’s wrong with generic headlines?

  1. Context: Every piece of content you want to share on Twitter is part of a broader context. Ignore context at your peril.
  2. Tastes: Every business niche has its unique style of communicating. The insurance industry talks and tweets differently from, for example, the automotive sales industry.
  3. Culture: Twitter’s in constant evolution. Today’s best bet, in terms of headlines, is tomorrow’s dog. Even advice that aims to be timeless will quickly lose perspective.
  4. Personality: Generic advice is just that: generic. You’re probably going to see the best results from your most off-beat headlines.
  5. Irrelevance: Aggregated data on links clicked in tweets is often irrelevant because successful Twitter headlines have little to nothing of significance in common (it’s like telling actors to wear green because the plurality of Oscar-winning actors wore green – success is probably not down to their choice of wardrobe).

You can’t just best-practice your way to tweets that people will click. Some work will be necessary.

Fortunately, it can be done by anyone, it doesn’t take you more than a few hours every quarter or so and it’s pretty much guaranteed.


Step 1: Track what you click

What’s the best proxy for what someone in your market would click on Twitter? Easy. It’s what you would click on Twitter.

You’re going to keep track of the tweets that inspire you to open a link. There’s no technical trick for this (unless you write browser extensions in your spare time). For me, the easiest workflow works like this:

Review your Twitter feed as you normally would. When you see a tweet for which you’d normally want to click on the link, hold on a sec.

Click instead on the tweet’s time stamp. It shows up right here:

twitter screenshot

Then click the link. That’s it.

When you want to review the tweets that get you to click, open your browser history. All of those tweets will be logged there as URLs. Open them up and copy/paste them into a .csv, for example

Ideally, you’d do this for long enough to get a good sample of 30 – 50 tweets. Then review them one after another in the .csv. Look for patterns. I can pretty much guarantee you at least one or two “ah-ha” moments.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What topics led me to click through?
  • What tone and style did I find most compelling?
  • Which tweets that I clicked was I most happy/unhappy to click (after clicking through and reading it)?

Step 2: Apply what you’ve learned, and test

Sad business fact: We repeat a lot of stuff that doesn’t work. Testing is the way to avoid this pitfall.

Write 2-3 different tweets to share your content (based on what you learned examining your own tastes) and run each with a unique shortened URL, leading to the same page. As long as you’re signed in, the shortener will let you do this.

You’ll want to run these tweets at a controled time (whenever an app like twilio suggests most of your followers are online and using Twitter). Run the experiment first, then the control. Then try switching.


Step 3: Observation and repetition


Finally, add in some technique:

Headline writers always write ten headlines. Read them aloud. Simplify them. Share them. Generally, the headline that tells the story will be best (but note your findings from your own experiments).

If you find yourself writing a different headline for Twitter, change the post’s headline too. And don’t hesitate to update a post title if you think of a better one (and share it with the new title). Just don’t change the URL, because you may break links.

Then the generic advice

That’s it. As promised, here’s a curated cull of run-of-the-mill Twitter headline-writing pieces. Just take them with a grain of salt (they may not work for you):

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