I've been an online content creator since 2009. I've learned a trick or two along the way.
Why Are Titles So Important?
Your article title or headline is the most important part of your writing. It’s what gets eyes on your page, whatever platform you are writing for. It must pique the casual searcher’s interest. And it must make them want to read your article over all the others that appear in front of them. You have approximately two seconds to impress—and a boring title won’t cut it.
If you want to attract readers via search engines, you need to have a basic knowledge of SEO. I’m not teaching that here. What I am teaching is that there are subtle differences between an okay title and an irresistible one. Don’t settle for ‘okay’.
Think of it this way: your title is a miniature work of art. It deserves a whole lot more attention than you might think it does.
What Are You Adding to the Topic That Is Uniquely Your Own?
What does that mean? Well, let me give you an example:
“How a Keto Diet Will Help You Lose Weight” Informative, yes. But oh so dull and lifeless.
“How My Keto Diet Helped Me Lose 20lbs--It Could Help You Too”, isn’t that more clickable?
“What Is a Narcissist? 5 Important Characteristics” Yawn… so many of these doing the rounds.
“5 Lessons I Learned from My Narcissistic Ex-Boyfriend” This is better. Sort of.
“Dating a Narcissist? 5 Reasons You Need to Run Away—Now” Much better as it addresses the reader and implies a sense of urgency.
Avoid Clickbait Titles
What is Clickbait? It’s an attention-grabbing headline followed by an article that does not deliver the goods.
Don’t do that. Make sure your title is truthful. You can make it attention-grabbing, sure, but the following content must live up to its promise.
Write to the Title
This means making sure every sentence connects to your title. It’s too easy to go off on a tangent and we’ve all done it. Sometimes it seems important to get in extra information but if it is unconnected to the title, then you are wasting your time. Delete it.
Notice that each sentence and paragraph I am writing here is about creating titles. Nothing else, I’m not giving other tips, but sticking to the topic of ‘Your Title Exists Only to Attract Readers’.
Read More From Owlcation
I heard a useful tip today: it is to copy the title into the main body of the article as you are writing. Type your content above it so the title is always visible underneath (don’t forget to delete it before publishing). This helps you to keep your writing tight and on topic. That is ‘writing to the title’.
Speak To Your Reader
In popular, non-academic writing, titles work best when they address the reader.
Address their concerns.
- Offer help.
- Teach them something they didn’t know before.
- Express your unique take on a topic that makes them need to know.
Avoid Generic Titles Like the (Covid) Plague
Generic titles are the most off-putting. So boring. Even if your topic has been covered a zillion times, you must find something sparkly to add to the title. Otherwise, it will get passed over. Every time. Remember those two important seconds you have to grab a potential reader’s attention? Make good use of them.
Think About Headlines
As you go about your day, think about your writing. You might find a likely title popping into your head almost randomly. Write it down, speak it into your phone, or email it to yourself. You can’t afford to lose it. It may be a nugget of gold.
It might attract over a million readers—one of mine does. At the time of writing it has 1,816,014 views… and to be honest, it’s not even a pretty headline. How I would love to change it, but I daren’t.
It doesn’t have to be perfect; you can always shape and primp it later into a miniature work of art. Playing with possible titles is a lot of fun and it prevents writer’s block from ever plaguing you. You’ll collect so many ideas for articles that you will be impatient to write them.
Don’t Write Obscure, Vague or Esoteric Titles
You are not writing for a print magazine; you are writing for an online audience. Don't be clever by attempting tricksy titles. Your reader needs to understand immediately what the article is about. Depending on the platform, you may have the luxury of a subtitle to further explain the main heading, but it should be clear from the off what the piece is about.
Beware the Overlong Title
Try not to let your headline ramble. Search engines truncate long titles so your erstwhile reader may miss the whole point.
Where to Find the Seeds of Headlines
Some people create their title after writing the article. I used to do it. However, I’ve discovered that collecting a ton of potential titles is a much better way of doing things. Titles first; writing second. So I often go on a headline hunt.
I go onto sites that reflect my own interests and I look at the article titles. I don’t read the actual articles because I don’t want to inadvertently plagiarise. All I want is a title. And I always change it, because again, there’s no way I ever want to be accused of plagiarism. Their title sparks a new idea for me. That’s all I want. Steal like an artist and all that.
I find headline ideas in comments, on Quora, in newspapers, and in what people say. They’re everywhere if you care to look. All they need is a personal tweak to reflect what you want to say. I keep all mine in a file and dip into it as necessary.
Sometimes, if I am writing about a topic I’ve covered previously, I scan through my own writing, looking for likely titles.
These headline hunts are so easy; you’ll have more ideas than you can write.
Just remember, if your title sucks, your story or article will sink into oblivion.
Sources and Further Reading
- How To Write Attention-Grabbing Headlines: 14 Strategies
While it’s in a publisher's best interest to make headlines as engaging and “clickable” as possible, it’s also important to get the gist of an article across accurately and succinctly.
- 6 Tips for Article Titles that Grab Attention | Prose Media
Most writers rely on two tried-and-true methods for grabbing people’s attention: Lead with an eye-catching title and follow it up with a brief but compelling introduction that lets the reader know that the answer to their question lies below. Titles
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