How to Hack Your Way to a Great Title
Imagine you’re hosting a party and you’re serving burgers where the meat is well-seasoned and cooked to perfection and the condiments are arranged artfully. You look for the buns, but because you weren’t paying attention they were accidently flattened by your spatula. Greasy meat, tomatoes, and ketchup ooze onto your guests clothes because the buns were not strong enough to hold all the ingredients in. The next time you host a party, no one shows up.
Article and/or blog post titles are like burger buns. No one puts enough thought into them because they are not considered to be as important as the content of the post. Statistics prove otherwise. On average, 8 out of 10 people will read a title, but only 2 out of 10 will read the actual blog post or article. So what makes an effective title?
Research Research Research
It’s time to go back to school and study the best titles from like-minded blogs. Because unless you grasp the principles that make an attractive title, you’ll never be able to produce great titles of your own. Tool: Here is a Google Doc of some affinity blogs we created for ourselves in 2013, as an example.
When you look at the top blogs in your industry and analyze the top 25-30 posts of all time, you identify a common thread. Sometimes it is the amount of keywords used or influencers or timing. This allows you to figure out their formula and replicate the titles by inserting your keywords. For example:
Top Kissmetrics post: CEO’s Don’t Trust Marketing. What’s the Solution?
Onboardly keywords: 'Content Marketing' inserted into the title and tweaked
Top Decision Makers Don’t Trust Content Marketing. What’s the Solution?
Ok, some say this is cheating. Sure, if you think so. But it's merely just replicating their formatting. Don't use this as the be all, end all for your title creations, it's a useful step when you want to get the creative juices flowing.
Test Titles Out On Social Media
If you get your news through social media, you’ll notice that many media platforms tweet and Facebook the same article a few times a day all with varying headlines. It’s not because they are trying to trick their readers into reading the same article twice. They’re testing out which headlines work best. And you need to do the same.
To track clicks make sure you use a url tracking service like bit.ly. And at the end of the day or week (whatever fits your schedule) tally up the clicks, retweets, and comments different titles receive. But keep in mind that the effectiveness of a title can also be dependent on the time you post on social media. But that’s another blog post.
Analyze Your Own Metrics
Look at your posts and notice which ones get the most traffic. Then look at the titles. What do they have in common? What makes the titles clickable?
When you answer these questions, use the results to make a template for future posts. Effective copywriting is a science. So once you see increased traffic based on your template, don’t change your method. Why mess with what works?
Time to Get Emotional
Up to this point we’ve been hammering home the notion that a great title is the culmination of research and analysis. And while that is true, emotion is also a necessary factor. People are drawn to articles they think will satisfy a need in their life. Great titles capitalize on this.
This Copyblogger article gives you many ideas for emotion-based titles. Our favorite example is: A Limited Number of Spaces Are Still Available for Founders’ Circle Membership. The emotional benefit? Sense of belonging, exclusivity.
Keep It Short and SEO Friendly
With information coming at them from different screens in addition to their real life responsibilities, people’s attention spans are extremely short. So to get someone to click on your post, your title has to be as short as their attention span.
As a rule of thumb, try to limit your title to 45 characters or less. But you also need to get the attention of search engines to improve your search rankings a.k.a. your Googleability.
This Problogger article gave us a nice tip: “In most cases, post titles with 10 words containing at least 2 keywords is considered SEO rich and will do better both in ranking and in attracting the attention of readers.” So in addition to keeping your titles short, make sure to include some keywords to maximize the amount of traffic our content will receive.
Rewrite Until You Have a Title That Works
Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “There is no great writing, only great rewriting.” I’m pretty sure he was talking about legal briefs, but the same could be applied to writing titles.
You’ve spent so much time and care rewriting your content that it would be silly not to take the same care when it comes to what actually convinces people to read your blog post–the title.
Rewrite your title until you produce something that you know will draw people in. Consistent rewriting forces you to practice. So before you know it, you’ll become a pro at writing titles.
An effective title is necessary if you want people to actually read your content. Without a good title, most people will glance over your content, thinking they don’t need to know whatever piece of information you’re offering.
But writing good titles is an acquired skill that takes research, time, and practice to master. Yet the increased traffic, visibility, and higher search rankings make all the time and effort it takes to write a great title worth it.
Use numbers: Research shows that numbered headlines get more clicks, especially those with the number 7.
Use What, Why, How, or When: Those are top trigger words.
Make a crazy promise: Be bold and dangerous and offer the reader something new; an idea, a solution, or an argument.
Lists post work: Yes, they still work despite all the naysayers. But use them wisely and sparingly. And when you do use them, make sure you are creative in using reasons, tricks, how-to's, principles, and facts.
People love adjectives: Essential, fun, absolute, incredible, brilliant, surprising, easy, clever.
Make your offer clear: What will the post be about? Do the subheads follow the tone and tense of the title? Your post could do any of the following: How-to's, templates, secrets, rules, steps, methods, etc.
A cheater formula that works
Try this out to get started.
Number or Trigger word + Adjective + Keyword + Promise
Great resources for further help:
- 10 Sure-Fire Headline Formulas That Work
- 4 Post Headlines That Are Sure to Get Readers Excited
- Headline Writing 101: How to Write Attention Grabbing Headlines That Convert
Are there any tips on writing a great title that we didn’t cover? Let us know below or tweet us @Onboardly!