What makes a great title anyway?



Technical SEO

Good copywriting is an invaluable skill within the SEO world; we can all agree that writing interesting, useful and engaging content is the first step towards getting people to link to you. However in order for people to share that content, they have to read it first and that’s where a great title comes in.

Regardless of whether you’re promoting linkbait, scouting for potential guest post opportunities or syndicating a press release, no one is going to be interested in reading, sharing, linking to or hosting your carefully crafted piece if the title doesn’t draw them in. In fact, some people argue that there should be an 80/20 split in the amount of time spent writing an article’s title (and lead paragraph) compared to the rest of the piece! Although I don’t agree with that theory personally, I do think that having a title that packs a punch makes a lot of difference when it comes to the success of a piece of content.

When I was looking through industry blogs to find inspiration for this post, I found myself scrolling through pages upon pages of posts, and only occasionally clicking on titles that took my fancy. This got me to thinking: what exactly did the titles I was clicking on have in common? Obviously general subject matter has a part to play; for example, I’m personally much more interested in content creation than technical SEO, and am more likely to read something that I know I’m going to be interested in. When filtering posts by subject I only see posts I know I’ll be interested in, though I still only click through to read about one in three of them – and they were invariably the ones with most indications that they’d been read by others. When filtering by subjects I was less interested in, I noticed exactly the same pattern.

So what makes people drawn to particular titles, want to read them, link to or share them with people we know? I’ve identified three ways to ensure people read your content from the title alone…

1 | Create curiosity

For me, this is definitely the most important one. The main reason anyone reads anything is for a desire to know more about the subject, and an interesting title is a great way to hook people in while they’re scrolling through a blog so that they want to read more. So what makes people curious enough about a title to click through and read the content?

Something unexpected…

“How Adorable Kittens Can Help You With Your SEO”

You don’t expect to read about kittens in conjunction with SEO, so that’s immediately going to make people want to click through to find out where the connection is. However, you do have to have a connection to write about; I’ll touch on that more a bit later.

How to create great titles

Open questions…

“How Do I Come Up With A Great Title For My Blog Post?”
This is self explanatory; people will want to find out how or if the question will be answered in your post.

Creation of conflict/Challenge assumptions…

“High Quality Content Isn’t The Only Way To Get People To Link To You”
Again – self explanatory. Tell people something they know isn’t true and they’ll want to find out what is. Another way to do this is to present a choice in the title; similarly too with an open question, people will click through to find out which resolution you chose and which they should choose.

2 | Sell the benefits

A title is essentially a mini-sales pitch, so use it to state the benefits of your article right off; letting people know why they should read on. Highlight something useful, interesting or entertaining about your content – even something that will make the reader look knowledgeable if they share it. Examples (that seem to pop up time and time again) include:

“4 Things About…”

“Find Out More…”

“Improve Your Understanding Of…”

3 | Manage expectations

Of course, the title has to be relevant; calling this post “How Adorable Kittens Can Help You With Your SEO” such as in the example above might have generated a lot of initial interest, but I’m sure you would have been sorely disappointed when you clicked through and discovered no mention of how kittens can actually be of benefit in an SEO strategy. Likewise, if I’d called it “Three Ways To Ensure You Come Up With The Perfect Title Every Time”, although more relevant to my post, it could have set the wrong expectation. Either way, make sure you’re not misrepresenting the content of your post; ask yourself the following questions:

Does the title match the content? What would you expect to read if you saw this title?
Does the title let people know what kind of content it is? If it’s an infographic, say it’s an infographic! Let people know what they’re going to see.
– How long will your piece take to consume? Basically, don’t say something’s a “comprehensive guide” if it isn’t. Don’t promise “10 simple steps” if actually there are 15. Be realistic.

The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to include all these ingredients; some subject matter will provide conflict without you trying, or make readers naturally curious without any extra effort on your part. Don’t over-think it, and try to have fun! If you think you’ve come up with something snappy that will encourage people to read, link and share your content, the chances are you’re probably right.