In this era of content marketing, the titles that you give to your blog posts or online articles do most of the heavy lifting. A keyword rich title can boost your rankings and search traffic. A catchy title will get more social shares. A captivating title will entice more people to click through to your website and maybe even read what you spent all that time researching and writing.
It’s intimidating, isn’t it? Trying to fit all that importance into 70 characters. And yes, not only does the title have to be good, it has to be short: brevity is the soul of a good online title.
Writing good titles requires practice, education and openness to new ideas — like any kind of writing. I wanted to brush up on the fundamentals and envisioned writing a post about the “5 Best Articles on Headline Writing” or “10 Resources to Improve Your Titles.” So I googled and read, googled and read.
And I found most of what I was looking for in one set of articles by CopyBlogger: How To Write Magnetic Headlines.
I encourage you to read all eleven of the articles (they are short), but here are a few of the key takeaways. The quotations are from the Copyblogger articles unless otherwise noted.
80% of the people who see your article won’t read it
“On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. This is the secret to the power of your title, and why it so highly determines the effectiveness of the entire piece.”
This statement is worth pondering. Imagine that 80% of your website visitors only read the titles of your articles or posts. Will they understand what you do? Have a good idea of the level of your expertise? Get a sense of your uniqueness?
Your headline is a promise
“Your headline is a promise to readers. Its job is to clearly communicate the benefit you’ll deliver to the reader in exchange for their valuable time.”
If your article or post doesn’t fulfill the promise of the title, why will the reader come back to visit you again, or share your content with others? Think about the promise you are making with your title, and then keep it. Writing a great headline for crappy content won’t work; not more than once anyway. The bar is very high for good online content these days. Does yours leap above the rest or try to slide by?
Steal good ideas
“ . . . great headlines are constructed in certain time and money-tested ways that can be adapted into different contexts and re-used over and over.”
In other words, you don’t have to reinvent the headline, and probably shouldn’t try. Certain formulas are used over and over because they work. How-to’s and list titles (7 Reasons Why . . .) are proven winners. Spend some time understanding what has worked in the past (many examples are given at Copyblogger) and test various formulas with your own audience to see what works best.
Apply the Four U’s
Speaking of high bars, here are four things great headlines must do:
1. Be USEFUL to the reader,
2. Provide him with a sense of URGENCY,
3. Convey the idea that the main benefit is somehow UNIQUE; and
4. Do all of the above in an ULTRA-SPECIFIC way.
Copyblogger provides examples, but Christopher Penn goes into more detail by running some sample headlines through the Four U’s test.
And Neil Patel writes about the 4Us in Forget SEO: Here’s How to Write a Post That Goes Viral. Keep in mind that Neil works with websites that have hundreds of thousands of visitors a month, not the very-small-business market. But if you want to study effective headlines, examining the titles of his blog posts on QuickSprout is time well spent.
Check the keyword usage in your titles
I get a lot of questions about how to choose keywords for blog post titles, such as “Which words are key words?” and “How do I choose the right keywords?”
If you really don’t have any idea about the keyword phrases that are important for your business, then get some professional keyword research to help define your online targets and goals.
Assuming you’ve got a good strategy for the topics that you should be writing about, the first step is to make sure your title includes keyword phrases and some context as well. Titles for online copy are often shared via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or email, so think about whether your title will be clear in a different context.
For example “Who Moved My Cheese?” was the title of a bestselling book in the late 90s. Online, that title would get no traction since it does not provide any information about the context or intended audience. A much better choice would be a variation of the book’s subtitle “How to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life.” It may seem boring in comparison to “Who Moved My Cheese,” but it has a much better chance of catching the attention of the intended audience online.
Tracy Gold at the Content Marketing Institute provides some good tips on using Google’s Keyword Tool to find the best terms to use in your headlines. While I was writing and researching this post, I did my own inquiry with Google’s keyword tool on variations of “writing headlines” and “writing titles” and was surprised to find that keyword phrases with “titles” in them had about 4 times more search traffic than those with “headlines.” Who knew?
You don’t always have to build posts or articles around highly trafficked keyword phrases, but it can really pay to test your assumptions about usage and search by using the keyword tool to check on variations.
Finally, remember to fit all of your title goodness into a very short space.
Write great titles and the traffic will follow
Titles that use your targeted keyword phrases, are built around the 4 U’s, are brief, and follow proven formulas will rank higher in search and will get more social media shares, thus attracting more traffic to your site. Of course if you are not on any social media sites, or your website is not optimized for search and does not have a good inbound link profile, writing good headlines will not save you. But if those other elements are in place, then the time you put in to writing better titles will pay great dividends.