No, literally, that’s what we’re talking about here. “Hey! Look at this post!” That’s the purpose of every single blog post title, right? What is the use of a blog post if no one stops to read it? Or share it?
Blog post titles matter, and it’s worth your time to get them right. The thing is, titles are more often turn-offs– boring labels of what’s inside– than they are attractive, engaging and impossible not to click. And that’s too bad. Because you worked hard on that article, and it deserves to be read. Unless you didn’t work hard on it and it sucks. Then never mind. You can stop reading. But do keep reading, because I think y’all should see this.
You Better Bring It With Quality Content
No, this isn’t a tip about titles, per se, but it’s where the issue begins.
Efficient writers often report that they come up with better titles once the article takes shape. (Some people insist on writing titles first, but I’m not smart enough to do that.) It’s about being flexible with what you expect to develop and letting your creativity wander. If you’re struggling to make an article topic work, it’s probably the wrong topic for you.
Pro Tip #1: Focus Your Strengths on Topics You Do Well
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can write about anything under the sun. You can’t. No one can.
And don’t stick with a loser of an article just because you sunk time into it that you don’t want to “lose.” That time’s gone. You’re better off starting fresh– or at least shelving that topic for the time being. Writers often succumb to the sunk cost trap, and trudge through to the article’s bitter end. But that’s the problem. Finishing the article isn’t the end– it’s the beginning of publishing something you want people to read.
As a small business consultant, I used to chide clients for using busy-ness as a form of laziness. Producing articles just to get them done is lazy. On the other hand, creating articles that treat readers to a new realization, a new perspective, a new piece of information, a better resource, or just a respite from their day, are worth publishing.
Pro Tip #2: Develop Great Topics First and Titles will Follow
That’s the point of this section, and it’s worth making because, by golly, the interwebz are chock-full of bad articles. You can dress it up all fancy, but if the post isn’t worthwhile, the title isn’t your problem– I don’t care how many tips, tricks, secrets (or kittens) you use to shill the thing. (What?)
This article represents my third go at the topic of titles, and the final title itself is a fifth or sixth iteration. The other versions just weren’t coming together, so I treated them like drafts and shelved them until my ideas came together. Don’t publish something because you have to– only write what deserves to be published.
Pro Tip #3: Revise Articles and Titles as Often as You Need
There is no reason you can’t go back and improve upon an article or title you’ve already published. Your blog CMS is good like that– one of the many reasons you don’t blog on stone tablets or a Gutenberg press. And unless your blog post is immediately linked to from far and wide, changing the title isn’t going to hurt anything. In fact, you can leave your post url the same and change up the title all you want.
Your next article is a mere drop in the ocean. With marketers and bloggers now eager to dispense as much information as humanly possible, there is too much to read. There’s just too much. You don’t own a little corner of reader attention spans, SERP pages or social media news feeds. They are constantly flowing, filling with new content whether you participate or not. You have to send up a flare in the middle of that content ocean and demand to be seen.
Every writer’s imperative, therefore, is to stand out. Having an original article may be the cost of entry, but you’ve got to give it some good reason for getting clicked, read, and shared.
Pro Tip #4: Make Curiosity to Goal of Every Title
Curiosity is highly motivating because it’s a brain state that is anticipating a pay-off of some sort. That’s why formulaic list posts and how-to articles can work so well. It’s the same with humor and off-the-wall non sequiturs.
The science of curiosity is fascinating, and you can dig into the subject further here, here and here. You’d learn that curiosity is highly motivating, making us search for things much more interesting than how to meet our basic needs. Curiosity primes us to seek out novelty and explore.
So, give readers a reason to explore.
Don’t just take for granted that curiosity matters. Realize that creating curiosity with your blog post titles is essential.
Words and Phrases that Trigger Curiosity
So, how do you do it? How to you bake curiosity into your titles? I’m about to lay on you the smartest piece I’ve ever found on the subject, and I’m jealous that I didn’t think of it first.
Pro Tip #5: Apply the TITLES Acronym for Powerful Triggers
In all my research on the topic– ironically, through a long list of articles with boring titles– no one’s said it better than Adam Vavrek, Manager of Skyword Writer Services on the Skyword.com blog.
I’m not kidding about this. This advice is money. As Adam explains (and breaks down into a handy framework), creating the curiosity you’re after is accomplished by employing a specific set of triggers: Teasers, Instructions, Threats, Lists, Engagement, and Secrets.
Triggers elicit gut responses from readers, making a click to the article more of an emotional reaction than a rational decision. Curiosity after all, isn’t rational. It’s like an itch that has to be scratched.
Ask a question or foretell reference to something new. Mention a report, a poll or a multi-media piece, like a video or infographic. Citing a specific statistic or recent study is also a clever way to show readers there is substance to be found in the post.
- Why is SMS Marketing Still So Effective? [Infographic]
- 57% of Married Couples Report a Desire to What?!
- The New Google Update: What You Need to Know
These include how-to posts and step-by-step instructions. Not only are these posts read because they solve problems and promise the reader will learn something, but because they make reading easy and actionable.
- Preparing Your Garden for Spring: A Step by Step Guide
- How to Pick the Right Time Management App for You
- Learn How to Wake Up Rested Without an Alarm
Among the most viral social media hoaxes are those that purport to expose a threat and (more importantly) avoid it. What might seem like gullibility has an evolutionary basis. Our brains are literally wired to seek out and fixate on threats. If your topic deals with a kind of threat, don’t be afraid to use it.
- Hacked: Not If, but When– 3 Ways to Protect Yourself Now
- Car Crash Scams– Headed to an Intersection Near You?
- 10 Symptoms of Chronic Illness You Need to Stop Ignoring
I love list posts, don’t you? They can be overdone, certainly, but the promise of the post is very clear. Readers want to know what they’ll get and lists deliver a well-organized and quickly scannable article.
- 8 Ways to Finally Break Up with Your Loser Boyfriend
- 6 Desgners to Who are Changing Spring Fashion
- 5 Habits that are Killing Your Sex Drive
Being funny, off-kilter, or controversial in an attempt to strike a chord can make for great reading. When it’s your own blog, emotional accounts of hardship and overcoming challenges win readers like nothing else can, but there are broader applications, too. Get the reader smiling, thinking about her own experience, or excited about a topic that might be really fun to share.
- A Dingo Ate My Baby! 3 Outlandlish Stories from the Outback
- What Would You Do with an Extra Hour Every Day?
- Are You Sick of Leftovers? A Culinary Cure
There aren’t any secrets online. It’s every blogger’s and content marketers job to do away with secrets and hyper-inform all readers everywhere. That doesn’t mean we don’t fall for the word anyway, and there are lots of angles that produce the same effect. Anything you can do to package up insights that aren’t commonly known makes for compelling titles.
- Title Writing Tactics of the World’s Most Popular Bloggers
- How Bill Gates Manages His Money
- Phishing Revealed: The Secrets Scammers Don’t Want You to Know
You probably noticed that many of the example titles above incorporate more than one trigger type. The more the merrier! You just want readers to respond, and if one trigger doesn’t work, maybe another one will.
Pro Tip #6: Make Benefits Obvious
Readers want a payoff, and they’ll click when they think they’ll get one. Without some meat behind your title, the triggers won’t work. Four Ways to Clean Your Kitchen doesn’t arouse curiosity, neither does The Secrets of Effective Lawn Mowing. Posts that claim to explain X Subject 101 aren’t likely to arouse interest, either. Use these triggers to tantalize readers with an interesting topic and make your benefits obvious. You’ll be a title writing ninja.
Pro Tip #7: Use Memes and Seasonal or Trending Topics
Again, you could employ the triggers above, but strike out because your topic isn’t on anyone’s mind. Blogging is content marketing, and content marketing is a component of inbound or attraction marketing, as opposed to old school push marketing, like TV commercials and newspaper ads. It’s about drawing readers to you. Work on finding an angle to rope them in. Timidity is not your friend. Which brings us to…
Blog Like a Boss, because memes and trends work.
There’s knowing you just completed a passable article, then there’s knowing you just had a lot of fun making the internet a better place. I’ve written my share of dry content. Not all of it bad, either. But, “Hello, here is a page from a textbook,” isn’t exactly an enthusiastic pitch. Ugh.
Using memes and trending topics as a hook works because people love being tapped into the zeitgeist.
We all know that blogs run the gamut of purpose, tone, audience and scope. A post doesn’t need to be written in one particular way to work well. A direct and useful newsy post can be very effective if it helps your audience. So can a longer in-depth study or instruction piece. But blogs are no place for reporting just the facts. And your title is no place to dryly report what is to follow.
Have fun with your article titles. Be daring. Be ridiculous. Just don’t be boring.
Title Structure for Sharing and SEO
There are specific mechanics to remember when crafting titles so that they work through a variety of channels, because most readers are likely first to encounter your post somewhere other than right on your blog. Here’s how to make sure your titles always work.
Pro Tip #8: Google Your Title Ideas to See What’s Been Done
You don’t want to end up writing a duplicate title, but you do want to see what works. Surveying the landscape is a great way to see how titles like yours look, how they read in the SERPs and how you might adapt yours from some ideas that hadn’t yet occurred to you.
Googling your title ideas also helps in research and improving your article by citing additional resources.
Pro Tip #9: Size Matters– Get Your Title Length Just Right
Type any random query into Google, and you’ll find that there’s an absolute width of page titles that will fit onto the results page. Depending on the actual characters, anywhere from 55 to 100+ characters (including spaces) could span the width. Rarely will you see more than 65 characters shown before Google cuts off the title with an ellipsis [...].
Make sure the first 60 characters of your title communicate your topic. My title for this very article gets the point across in the first 38 characters. If the title is shortened at some point after “Action Steps…” the cutoff only heightens the effect of the teaser!
Once you’ve published the post, you can check to see what the Google search listing will look like using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Just pop in the url of your page and you’ll see the listing. Handy!
The 60 character rule likewise ensures that your title remains intact when you include the url (or a shortened one) and perhaps a comment in a Tweet. It also leaves space for others to retweet without further editing. Which brings us to another question.
Does your title make a great tweet that your followers want to share? Would it actually stand out on Facebook? How about in your blog’s rss feed or newsletter? Is it something you’d happily tweet again next week and next month? If you find that you often want to re-word your social media updates, rather than use the actual post title, your titles can probably use some work.
Pro Tip #10: Whenever Possible, Keyword Optimize Your Titles
You never want to force a keyword in where it doesn’t belong. And loading up your post and meta descriptions with “keyword rich” content is a thing of the past. However, better keyword management can help your post to be seen more often, and to contribute to your site’s SEO performance on the topic.
Try to put your keyword phrase close to the front of your title, but only if you can make it read well. How close your keyword is to the front of your title tag is a factor Google uses to assess relevance and it’s definitely helped me to get many pages to rank better. For example, I found that “blog post titles” has some decent search traffic and very low competition, so I’m certain I can get this actual post to rank well for the term, especially because very few other pages use the term right at the front of the title.
You’ll also notice that the search term is bolded in the meta description. By including keyword variants in your meta description, you’re more likely to get clicks from similar searches as well. Google’s Keyword Tool makes it easy to find related phrases you might want to include in your text.
Pro Tip #11: Authorship Markup Makes Your Listing More Clickable
See the pretty pictures and author names in some of the listings above? Names and faces improve click throughs, even if they’re further down the page. Authors make that happen by claiming their content and linking their sites to Google+. Google published the Agent Rank patent way back in 2005, and have been promoting authorship markup since the summer of 2011. As Eric Schmidt, Google’s Chairman, said in the Wall Street Journal:
“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”
Authorship isn’t currently affecting search rank, but it does make for pretty listings that users like to click, and it also helps pages show up in search for people connected to you through your Google+ graph. To learn how to start using authorship, this post provides excellent instructions. It’s just one more tool for helping your titles do their job of getting readers to your content.
But That’s Not All: Special Bonus Resource Section
Like so many topics that have been thoroughly discussed throughout the blogosphere, a lot of smart people have had a lot to say about the subject of blog post titles. I would be remiss in my duties to you, fair reader, if I didn’t point you to additional resources to help on your quest for Title Writing Nirvana.
Two of the most popular bloggers on the planet have, as you might expect, two of the most thorough resources on blog post title insights out there.
Brian Clark, founder of CopyBlogger, created an entire section on his site called How to Write Magnetic Headlines in which he shares 11 posts on the subject, tackling a variety of issues and doling out great advice all the way.
Jon Morrow, an associate editor at CopyBlogger, and well-known blogger in his own right has a fantastic ebook you can download at www.headlinehacks.com. Go do it. You can use it. I can use the reminding. I think I’ll read it again now.
Happy Title Writing Everybody!
If you have any more blog title tips or resources, we’d love to hear about them in the comments. We’ll happily add useful suggestions to the resource section above.