Content Marketing

How To Write Traffic-Gobbling Headlines Like Huffington Post

When another site does a weekly round-up highlight of your best headlines, it’s safe to say you’ve mastered the art of headline writing. Over the past few years, Huffington Post has developed a reputation for its headlines, including such recent zingers as “Dennis Kucinich Invokes Legalization Of Marijuana With Arab Spring At Hempfest” and “Lion’s Mane Jellyfish Washes Ashore in Puget Sound, Boy Thinks It’s Alien.”

Anyone interested in increasing traffic to their site should take note of Huffington Post’s headline style. If you create fabulous content, but have a dull headline, your post is not going to get as many readers as it deserves. But even an average post with a great headline could become one of the top read articles of the day.

Here’s how Huffington Post does it:

When you read a headline, such as “Mom Tries to Sell Son for $5,000” or “Man Finds Brick of Unknown Substance in Water Near Marathon, Fla, Sniffs it And Dies”, you think the story couldn’t possibly mean what you think it does, so you click the story to find out. Huffington Post purposely uses headlines that border (and often cross the border) on absurd.

Provoking and Provocative

If you did a search for Tiger Woods and a headline came up that said Tiger Woods Sex (video), you would probably assume that the video was well, of….. But as the Columbia Journalism Review reported, the readers who clicked on the video were treated to a video of actual tigers having sex in the woods. But the headline made people click on the story, which was exactly their point.

Group Write

How many times have you read a headline for an article and came up with a better one yourself? Huffington Post capitalizes on the armchair journalists out there by inviting readers to help write headlines for some posts. When the site used reader Benjamin Lowe’s Headline “I’m Sorry… Send Me Money” for a story about Representative Joe Wilson heckling Obama, it received over 100,000 clicks on the story.  In addition to coming up with great headlines that the editors might not have thought up themselves, this gives Huffington Post readers a feeling of ownership of  the site.

Testing 1, 2, 3

When Huffington Post puts up a new story, it will often try out the post with two different headlines to see which one gets the highest number of clicks. This approach, known as the A/B approach, can be used for many different content management situations, but can be especially effective with headlines since you can quickly switch to the higher rated headline. After a quick test, Huffington Post will switch both versions of the story to the highest rated headline.

Harnessing Google

While many sites focus on SEO to the demise of their content, Huffington Post effectively uses SEO in its headlines by using words which are trending high on Google at the time.

An example cited in the New York Times article ‘Taylor Momsen Did Not Write This Headline’ was the headline “Obama Rejects Rush Limbaugh Golf Match: Rush ‘Can Play With Himself” because both liberals and conservatives would find the story through search with both players in the headline. And the site will sometimes even throw in key word just to get clicks that aren’t really related to the story — as in the tigers fornicating in the woods example.


While several of Huffington Post’s strategies, such as the A/B testing, might be challenging for small sites to implement, many of the strategies can be used by any site. And next time you feel stuck for a headline, browse through Huffington Post to get some ideas. I guarantee that if nothing else at least you’ll have a good chuckle.

Get better at your job right now.

Read our weekly newsletter to master content marketing. It’s made for marketers, creators, and everyone in between.

Trending stories