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What Makes a Good Web Title?

Posted by Tim

Titles are more important to web writing than maybe any other kind of writing. When titling a novel, a short story, or a long-form piece of journalism you may be looking for something metaphoric or a turn of phrase—something that speaks for the piece as a whole while managing to go beyond it. With web writing, however, titles work very differently.

General Guidelines for Creating Titles

  • Titles should give the reader a clear idea of what the article is about.
  • Titles should answer a question, actually be a question, or frame a topic.
  • Titles should set the tone of the writing.
  • Titles should contain keywords that are likely to be searched online.
  • Titles should be as short as possible.

Giving a Clear Idea

With an article titled something as simple as “Ways to Fix a Leaky Pipe,” readers are coming to it with a number of expectations already in mind.

They are likely expecting to read a step-by-step process for fixing a leaky pipe, as well as a couple of different scenarios and methods. If these expectations aren’t met within the first minute of reading the article, they’ll move on to another one. For instance, if this article only talks about fixing methods using tape, and that’s not what they’re looking for, then poof, they’re gone.

Sticking with this same idea, a better title might be, “How to Use Tape to Fix a Leaky Pipe,” or “Tape Fixing Methods for Leaky Pipes.” This way the reader knows exactly what they’re getting into, and won’t be surprised or disappointed by what’s on the page.

The main idea here is to make your titles as specific and as clear as possible, while making sure the writing fits the reader’s expectations.

Posing Questions

Most people search the Internet because they have a question that they want answered. Let’s use the title “Are You Investing Enough in Your Retirement?” as an example.

A title like this does a number of things.

First, by merely reading this title, it forces the reader to ask him or herself this very question. If they can’t come up with a definite answer, or have some doubt about what they’re currently doing for their retirement, they’ll likely take a peek to see what you have to say. This is a very effective psychological tool that marketers use all the time, and it works.

By prodding your audience to ask themselves difficult questions, you put them in a place where they may begin to doubt themselves, allowing them to be more easily persuaded.

By making the title of your article the question they are asking, you are also signaling to the searcher that their answer lies here. “Why is the Sky Blue?” Click here to find out.

Presenting your title as a question also creates a great opportunity to plant searched keywords into the title, thusly increasing the articles SEO ranking.

Giving Answers

Forming your title as an answer to a question works similarly, but takes a more direct approach.

A question draws intrigue, where an answer cuts to the chase. For example, a title like, “How to Create a Productive Team Work Environment,” tells the reader to expect the article to contain tips and methods for achieving just that.

This direct method to titling works best for people who want quick answers, and do not want to spend a lot of time reading. Anticipating the type of reader that your title will attract plays an important role in how you will write and structure the article.

Framing Ideas

In the same vain, a title that presents or frames a topic, such as “Most Unhealthy Fast Food Restaurants” or “5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Public Speaking,” alerts the reader to anticipate a list of items relating to a specific idea.

In the first example, the topic is fast food restaurants, but based on the title, we would not expect the article to look favorably on at least a few members of the industry. With the second title, readers should feel safe in assuming that they are going to see exactly 5 ways to improve their public speaking. Titles like these reiterate my first point of giving the reader a clear picture of what the article is about—i.e. creating a framework in which it can operate.

Setting the Tone

If we revisit our “Most Unhealthy Fast Food Restaurants” title, we can already begin to imagine what the tone of this article might be like. You’re likely not going to use words like “succulent” or “nutritious” in your writing unless you mean them sarcastically.

Even using the word “unhealthy” keeps this title kind of tame. You could take it a step further by having it be “Most Disgusting Fast Food Restaurants,” or further yet with “Worst Fast Food Restaurants of All Time.” These two titles use more “shock and awe” to grab attention, where the first feels like it’s trying to be a little more modest and accurate.

Finding the right set of words to accurately display the tone of your piece is important for how you want it to be received.

Using Keywords

Putting heavily searched keywords in your titles helps push them up to the top of Google’s results page. Google will also crawl the page to make sure that the words in your title matches with the rhetoric used in the article. It does this to ensure that what it’s showing to its users is useful and accurate information. So use this to your advantage as well as heed it to prevent your postings from being penalized and dropped in Google’s search rankings.

Short and Sweet

Lengthy titles often confuse readers and fail to capture their attention. Trimming your titles down to their bare minimum, while still keeping the essentials is crucial. If a reader doesn’t know what the title is saying, or if it fails to give any indication as to what the article is about, they’re not going to click on it.

To help keep your titles short without taking away from its essence, start out by writing a sentence that explains what the article is about. Once you have that, you can begin editing out any unnecessary words. If it still feels too long, crack open the old thesaurus and look for words that can concisely express your idea.

Please leave any title related questions in the comment section below. I’ll be happy to help in any way that I can.

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