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A Secret to Writing Posts that Go Viral on Twitter

Posted By Darren Rowse 20th of February 2009 Social Media, Writing Content 0 Comments

There are many reasons that a blog post might get spread widely through ‘ReTweets’ (when one person passes on the tweet of another) but one fairly obvious, yet often overlooked one, has to do with the length of your blog post title.

Yesterday on TwiTip I published a post with a formula for getting ReTweeted on twitter. You can read the full thing for yourself but the author of the post (@louisedoherty) proposed that to increase the chances of one of your tweets being ReTweeted that you need to keep your own tweet shorter than the 140 characters allowed by Twitter so that the person can include other information (your username, the @ symbol and the letters RT).

I’ve seen the wisdom of theory of Louise many times in my own use of Twitter. If I tweet something that is the maximum of 140 characters it make it more tricky for followers to retweet – they either have to change my tweet or don’t do it.

OK – so this applies to bloggers how?

Twitter can send you a lot of traffic if a link to one of your posts gets spread around via ReTweeting. Just look at the Top 100 Retweeted Links on Twitter at the moment – as I write this the top one has been passed on 331 times which means it is a link that could have been viewed on Twitter by many thousands of people.

To help the ReTweet thing along a little keep your titles short. They don’t need to be 3 words long – but keep in mind that when someone is going to tweet a link to your post that they will usually include:

1. The title of your post

2. A URL (often shortened using tinyurl or some other shortening service which means it’ll be anything from 20 to 26 characters)

They may also want to include a comment about your link.

That’s not all you want to think about – you then should consider that for the link to be ReTweeted it will include all of the above information plus:

1. The username of the person being retweeted with the @ symbol (usually 5-12 characters)

2. The letters RT and sometimes a : as well as a space after it (3-4 characters)

You can see that the number of characters is starting to add up so shorter Titles can definitely help.

Lets workshop it:

  • The title of this post is ‘A Secret to Writing Posts that Go Viral on Twitter ‘ – that’s 52 characters (with space at end)
  • Lets say that the URL is shortened with Twurl – that’s 22 characters
  • Lets say that the person tweeting it adds the words ‘Reading: ‘ at the start of the tweet (9 characters with space) and ‘ – cool post’ at the end (12 characters with spaces).

So far the original tweet is 95 characters long.

And would look like: ‘Reading: A Secret to Writing Posts that Go Viral on Twitter http://twurl.nl/qejpzq – Cool Post’

Lets just say it was @chrisbrogan who made the above tweet. As Chris has a lot of great followers at least one of them is bound to retweet it.

At the very least their retweet would read:

‘RT: @chrisbrogan Reading: A Secret to Writing Posts that Go Viral on Twitter http://twurl.nl/qejpzq – Cool Post’

We’re still under the limit of 140 and with 29 characters to spare could have added a few words to our title.

This is not something that I would spend a lot of time on and I would not compromise my titles too much to get them down in character length – however as someone who has seen significant traffic from Twitter over the last 6 months it is definitely a factor that I keep in the back of my mind as I blog.

PS: another reason to keep titles down in length is that Google has a cut off of 70 characters when it displays page titles in search results. A title over 70 characters gets chopped off mid title which could decrease the chances of someone clicking it. I’m told that other search engines cut off titles at as little as 65 characters so perhaps that is a better cut off point.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Good points on retweets, I have always wondered this when some of my posts have been retwittered on twitter. Also a great point about google..

  2. I’ve never really given consideration to the length of my titles, especially in relation to search engines and twitter. I don’t think I have even paid attention to them. Since I’m just now getting involved with Twitter, it is something that I will start paying attention to (though not strictly so).

  3. Hmm, now I know.. hope I could try this one out.

  4. Very useful tip and something I hadn’t thought about in such detail before. I wonder how well this works for niche blogs.

  5. Thanks for the tips – this help me a lot in the future.


  6. I definitely have to get back to using Twitter. Oh how I wish there were 26 hours in a day.

    Thanks for the great suggestions…………….:)

  7. As someone who is fairly new to Twitter, I have never been ReTweeted. I think my posts have all been way too long. I’ll be more concise.


  8. Thanks very useful tip

  9. This is a cool analysis .Great tips Sir !

  10. Great informative post. Once I write a post that is worthy of being retweeted we’ll see how it goes.

  11. Definitely something to keep an eye on — cheers!

  12. Thanks for the great tips. I will put some of these in play and see what happens.

  13. Interesting point regarding the intersection of SEO and Social Media Marketing. The playing field for everyone and anyone online has changed doesn’t matter if you are a provider, marketer or consumer.

    Interesting times and great post.


  14. It’s a well made point – I had to mess around just now for ages to retweet something from a friend, and ended up wondering if it then made sense. If I’d been stuck for time, I would probably have given up!

  15. Thanks for the tweet advice. It’s always a challenge to come up with just the right lure, length and timing to pull others to your posts/retweet. I will definitely try your some of your strategies soon.

    Best wishes to all of you!

  16. Thanks for the post. Didn’t know about the Google cut off at 70 characters.

  17. I’ve seen several folks make it super easy for others to retweet by starting their post off DMing themselves. Their own tweet starts with “@theirowntwitterID” so their followers only have to enter RT at the start of the message when they go to retweet.

  18. I know that when I try to retweet a post, if the bar goes “red” showing me I’m over 140 characters – I’ll usually just not Retweet rather than try to recompose the tweet. So I’ve been living this, just hadn’t written a “rule” for it yet! THANKS for writing the “guideline”!

  19. Twitter is amazing!! I really should be considering all these points while blogging, i already receive around 75% of my traffic from Twitter… I highly believe in Twitter and should optimize working on it!

    One thing i want to add is the main point to get your post retweeted over Twitter is to have useful content, if the readers didn’t benefit out of the content or didn’t enjoy it, they wont be retweeting it what so ever!

    Thanks Darren, Such a great article!



  20. That’s great. I read the post on TwiTip yesterday, and figure out this formula is really:

    <140 – (username + 5) x interestingness = probability of RT

  21. That’s mean there should be Character counter every where Just like We have on Twitter… :) Isn’t it Darren???

  22. Great tips for twitter lovers.Thanks Darren Rowse.

  23. Great points, thanks! Wondering if there is twitter etiquette if you retweet a retweent, etc. To whom does the RT credit go to? Just the last person that you saw it from? Food for thought.

    Also, is asking to be retweeted taboo or not?


  24. Now who says summary classes are useless back in the schooling days? It’s all about straight to the point. The magic of social networking tools are beyond expectations, even for Twitter. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  25. Great point Darren. Like you say something to bear in mind but not to be too slavish about it.

    After all your blog post could be retweeted by someone with a long username so they’d have to edit the title anyway.

  26. Hey =)
    Those are realyl good tips! I will really try to consider them!

  27. There you go making sense again, Darren! THANKS! Good tips, especially for wordy nerdies like yours truly…

  28. Great tips. I posted a Thesis theme review and Chris Pearson was nice enough to start a retweet it… led to my highest traffic day on the blog so far!

    RT is definitely a tool that bloggers should become familiar with.

    I’d also recommend that you don’t RT willy nilly as to place more value on the few times that you actually do.

  29. I constantly find it amazing that twitter is so interesting to so many people. Twitter is the last social networking site I would have guessed would succeed. Follow me on Twitter @jmichaelwarner….LOL

  30. Great post Darren. One thing to keep in mind with this as well, when using something like TwitterFeed to feed your blog posts into Twitter (which I am still mixed on this type of automation) is that you can specify a pre-amble so to speak, a.k.a. New Post: Title of Post Here url of post here. So keeping that in mind to keep it short is a good idea I think, just as when you manually Tweet your posts.

  31. I post a lot of things I’m reading to Twitter using (that application that I can’t think of the name – bad fibrofog day). I use delicious to bookmark the link with a specific tab and (that application that I can’t remember the name) posts it for me automatically.

    I’ve found a few issues with some blogs doing that.
    1) Many blogs don’t use a metatag for their titles so I just get a link there. I have to remember to put in a title for it.
    2) Many blogs have their title set up with their blog name first and then a long title after. I have to remember to shorten it up so the TwitterFeed (that’s the name…TwitterFeed..*sighs* hate it when I can’t remember things) won’t end up being more than 140.

    So, if you want your articles tweeted, help us twitterers out and fix your metatags, folks.

  32. a good post but please let me know this way how many users will be able to retweet a post, depending on the limit of 140 characters, as far as i see only 2 – 3 users will be able to do this.

  33. Great ideas to get the word passed along. Less is better.

  34. I need to start considering the whole world of RTs. Too many things to be thinking about when posting a simple blog entry these days. Let’s not lose sight of the most important facet – writing high quality content – like this entry.

    Thanks Darren.


  35. Excellent points, when I come to start using Twitter more often and for gaining traffic I will definitely look into this some exceptional tips there.

  36. How many times have I wanted to Retweet and I couldn’t because I was over the 140 character limit. Thanks for pointing this out.

  37. How timely: I was JUST thinking about maximizing Twitter as a resource! This will help a lot. And I bet you have tons of us tweeting this today–ingenious!

    : )

  38. Good tips, I have just started trying to get more traffic to my blog through twitter, thanks for the info.


  39. Darren, I really enjoyed this post. Posts which offer real business examples are my favorite. Keep up the fantastic work!

  40. I will often give up on RTs if it take me too long to get it under 140 characters. It would have to be a pretty important tweet for me to take the time. So this works for me.

    Because the search engines cut your title down to 65-70 characters it is important to put your keywords first.

  41. Darren

    Thanks for this great information. I didn’t give it much thought before
    so thanks for bringing this to my attention.

    Gary McElwain

  42. In a tweet where I announce a new post, I’ll put the shortened url at the beginning of the tweet and follow w/ the post title. My logic being that if it get’s retweeted, the title will roll off the end, rather than the url.

  43. Wow logic with the perfect counting … you were good at maths. This post proved that … lolzz

    I know only you can provide such in depth analysis on twitter and thanks god I am here :)

  44. Google also takes (advises web masters) 65 characters for title tag.
    I realized the fact about twitter that I need to shorten my URL when tweeting. So I use a plugin which shortens URL to 16 characters. I save many character. Using short titles is a good idea.

  45. Very good tip to get more retweets indeed, on the practical side at least… But, how do you get people to WANT to retweet your tweets?

  46. Curious: is there a particular sort of post content that tends to go viral on Twitter?

  47. I just follow your tips today and able to see the results. I just added my tricks as well. So that it can look much better and attractive as well.

  48. Great and timely tip. Just yesterday I found a something I wanted to RT but it was too long and I didn’t want to mess with editing it, so I didn’t.
    Very informative.

  49. Thanks for reminding us all about keeping our character length short enough on Twitter so that we can be RTed (retweeted). I know there have been times when I wanted to RT a fantastic post and couldn’t, b/c there just wasn’t enough room for me to tweet it. I even asked my followers a couple of weeks ago to please consider leaving enough space so I could RT their tweets. A few still don’t even understand what retweeting is, or how to do it. Now I can merely point them to this post of yours (either tweet it, or retweet it if someone already has tweeted). Thanks for the great post!

    krissy knox :)
    follow me on twitter:

  50. Thanks for the tip on using Twitter. I would like to leverage Twitter and other social networking systems more than I currently do, so any tips are welcome. Priority number one in post titles for me in the past has always been accuracy, in that the title properly describes the content and uses the right keywords. After that, I’ve geared titles towards clarity and efficient use of words as I think in general a shorter clearly worded title that still covers the content properly is the best title to use.

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