FREE SEX and other Attention-Getting Words

Attention Getting Words

When I was at Conde Nast, my colleagues and I periodically talked about how powerful the words “Free” and “Sex” were.

Those were the two words that sold the most magazines, the two most frequently used words on the covers. However, they were never used together (which, quite frankly, would have drawn even more readers).

Now that we’ve shifted into cyberspace, I’m not convinced these words still have the sex appeal they did pre-digital media. In fact, they certainly don’t for me.

When I see either word used in a tweet, I think spam. I see them as desperate hashtags trying to get attention. Free almost always is not free or involves a contest that requires filling in forms and committing to a life of junk mail. The word sex is used for porn—especially by those inviting tweeps to see it.

So what are the new words? The universally magnetic words? The words that are like catnip for the masses?

Do any of these grab you?

  • naked
  • genY
  • diet
  • chocolate
  • ashton kutcher
  • merlot
  • mini cooper
  • upgrade
  • abs
  • new app
  • pinterest
  • summer
  • deals
  • vacation

Not one of these work for me. Of course, putting a few together might just do the trick. I’m thinking along the lines of naked…ashton kutcher…chocolate…you get the picture.

~ Susan

What words make you click on a headline or read a story?

About Susan Farewell 27 Articles

Susan Farewell is the editor-in-chief of, a travel information and planning site drawing on the experiences and insights of passionate travelers all over the world. It features animations, videos, photography, artwork and of course, words, to showcase travel destinations, experiences and products.

A former travel editor and staff writer at The Condé Nast Publications in New York City, Susan is a widely known digital, print and broadcast travel journalist. Her work has appeared in numerous publications (and sibling websites) including  Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue, Gourmet, Cooking Light, Travel and Leisure, Outside, Metropolitan Home, McCall’s, Child and Bride’s. She also writes for newspapers such as The New York Times and The New York Post, newsletters (BottomLine Personal) and numerous in-flight and regional magazines as well as various websites.

In addition to writing, Farewell has also developed countless products both in digital and traditional media from travel guides to online magazines.

She is the  author of several books including "How To Make A Living As A Travel Writer", "Hidden New England" and "Quick Escapes from New York City" (the latter two have had multiple editions). She has also co-authored many books.

Susan is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, the New York Travel Writers, the North American Snowsports Journalists and the Eastern Ski Writers Association.


  1. Very interesting……I’m a sucker for attention-grabbing words…..but I have to admit that the words that get me every time are the ones related to looking younger and having more energy….I do like chocolate, but Ashton Kutcher I could do without. :)

  2. That’s right. Catchy phrases are rounding the rounds . So a bunch of words forming a phrase might do the job. Something like chocolate diet, great abs and so on.

  3. Indeed the two words “Free” and “Sex” both are highest searched keywords.

    Also if a study of websites is done then you would find that some of the famous and reputed websites also make a good use of these keywords.

    Out of the others: chocolate, new app, deals and vacation are the one’s that attract me.

    • A few years ago “porn” became more searched than “sex.” Interesting trend I like to share :)

      Great article and comments…thanks for the food for thought!

      (btw–“abs” stuck out to me, no pun intended)

  4. Yeah! Some of these catch my attention as naked, summer vacation etc. I agree that free and sex are the most attracting ones. But if some these are used together e.g. naked Bieber on summer vacation get me every time.

  5. You got a very nice and interesting post here. I am always attracted by free and sex words as these are most attention getting words over the web. I am fitness seeker so everything about fitness also attract me like great abs, diet etc.

    ~ Ella

  6. Very interesting topic and good discussion here. Well I think when we talk about internet the free and the sex both of them are most sensitive words and have been clicked and searched more than any other word. Me too have clicked them most of the times they encountered in front of me. Naked, best deals etc. are other words that catch my attention each and every time.

  7. Hmm there has been a proliferation in title and headings that claim to be Ten Awesome/Incredible/Amazing Things in which clearly are meant to attract reader’s attention but rarely deliver.

    I would be cautious though about using some of the more adult suggestions on a family friendly website…..

  8. Free and Sex,oftenly both are not using together but both are most searchable on Google for eg. if i am finding any software to download then always using free with download.And people are searching sex related pictures, videos etc on Google everyday even me too.Another lot of words if together used, become attractive like summer deals,
    vacation deals, Go naked this summer and so on.

  9. This is a good choice of article, I didn’t think about it but as I read I wowed myself; for me I think free download still holds though I have my dedicated sites for that and there can be risk of virus also; compulsive behaviour I presume. Others can be “free ipads competition” or is it for two words combination only?

    • Hi John, thanks for stopping by!

      No I don’t think there is a two-word limit, simply that we’re exploring what words get people to actually click through and read an article based on the title alone.

      I’m a sucker for “free download” too, but like you, I’m very cautious about what I download and from where…….however on competitions I generally skip those – I’ve learned that most of them want too much from you for the *very* slim chance of winning something.

      Glad you enjoyed this article!

  10. Free trip? I know they are not free but in some cases you get to see a write up about a beautiful location with some photos,and rest I can find from the net. Instant satisfaction is another one. It is apparent that they are fooling but still I read. For men I think -what women want- is another one to catch attention but they will tell this puzzle has no solution.

  11. Try to promote any software and not use the FREE call-to-action. All players on the market are playing the same rules. It just appeals to modern trends.

  12. I think these two words are sure to be an attention grabber. Apart from these there are also words like hot, bathtub, beach which will instantly catch anybody’s attention. The most common phrase that grabs attention is hot deals.

  13. Very nice article. You are right FREE and SEX are the most popular words over the web. There are some other words that are frequently searched over internet are Lifestyle, Innovation, Peace of mind, Efficient, Ultimate, Powerful, Exciting, Vacation etc.
    These can be more powerful if used in group like “The Ultimate destination for Vacation“.

  14. Yes you are absolutely correct FREE and SEX are most searched words over the internet. Me too have googled these two words many time over the internet but with in combination to other words as Free software download, Sexy T-shirt, Cheap Deals etc. Anyways nice article, It was good to read your article.

  15. Yes, that is correct. These are the most sought after words on the internet. Other words that are mostly searched are hot, chocolate, lingerie, vacation, bathtub and related words. It is just a promotion spree.

  16. I’ve noticed a weird adjective being used a lot in ad headlines lately, and it seems weird that advertisers think it could work. Since it is being used so much, maybe it is working, weird as it may be. The word is “weird”. Has anyone else noticed this lately or am I the only weird one? Example Headlines: Man discovers one weird trick to grow hair. Learn this weird secret to make money working from home.

  17. There are many words which are used to grab attention. Some words like “Dream destination”, “beaches”, “hot deals” and many such words are used to create unique ads. But sadly I think most of the ads do not seem so “hot” as they clim to be.

  18. Very true. There are catchy words like lingerie, hot steam bath, female masseurs etc that are just done to attract customers. In most cases, the ads turn out to be sham.

  19. The most popular requests on the Internet are the word sex, woman, lingerie for all men’s fantasies …

  20. This is a new marketing strategy I guess. There are many such ads on the web. But I don’t think all these ads are really true. Most the time I see ads that mentioned that the commodities are free, but once I click on them, I don’t really find they are true.

  21. There are many such words I see which grab our attention. Mostly I see words such as Free, Sex, Dream holiday and many others. One thing I also notice is these words are always in caps which make them more noticeable.

  22. According to me the word ‘sex’ does not necessarily get reckoned as any cheap or vulgure stuff as it used be in pre-digital media.The words that you have mentioned also don’t strike to me as provoking or exotic that would raise eyebrows.The words like ‘sex’,’genY’,’pininterest’,’naked’ and many others can be used in context of education,social issue or review of any show/movie.In fact,there are many more seductive keywords that could stir anyone’s mind and grab their attention.Today when porn are readily available and openly seen,these words don’t carry so much of vantage in fetching one’s attention.

  23. I don’t think I can totally agree with Ava Jackson. These words are not offensive, but they are surely used to grab other’s attention. i understand they can be used in many contexts, but we see them used mostly in magazines and ads. In these situations they are surely used to grab readers’ attention.

  24. In today’s internet world,visual medium draws more attention than any other.When adult,obscene movies,shows are easily uploaded,seen on videos and shared on social media,the words though provocative don’t have that much power to create upheaval at least amongst young generation.The best proof for this fact can be given from this post itself as the picture posted at the top agitates the interest of those viewers who look at the woman holding the poster that says ‘Get Naked And..’ rather than those who only the listen to the words.The woman,the colourful billboard and reader’s fantasies would compel him to know about it more rather than only keyword ‘naked’.

  25. I too have seen many magazines and sites using these words. But once you look into the book or website, there is really not much. Once I received a price coupon which said that I had won an exotic holiday. I believed it and wrote back to them asking the details. Then I came to know that it was a trap because I had to pay for my tickets. It was ridiculous.

  26. The words like sex, naked or gen Y which may seem promiscuous to older generation till few years back are freely used even by the teenagers.It depends upon what context or the reference,these words are used.Critical writers, editors and authors are seen readily using such kinda words to elaborate their ideas on various erotic subjects. But since people are so much used to it that they don’t get shocked,surprised or raise brows or remain agape.

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