Titles are an important part of your total writing package. They are among the first things to jump off the page when a reader loads your page, and they are also part of the information that will be copied to a search engine or when a link from your page is shared on a social media site. Strong titles help to boost your search ranking, and they will attract readers too.
Among several factors you should be considering when you compose a title for your content is the headline style. Most people find it challenging to choose a title; many will opt for a short, rather flat generic title because they really aren’t sure how to go about choosing their headline.
Questions, lists, and how-to titles are some of the most effective headline styles. There are also a number of lesser-known styles that compare two things, reference time, or focus on a negative. All of these headline styles are preferable to a generic style (e.g. “Introduction to Web Writing” or “Key Elements of Effective Titles.”)
How to Transform a Generic Title
It’s not really hard to transform a generic title. To prove this, I picked several posts from LiteracyBase, a writing site that publishes user-generated content. I scanned the titles in the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer. Then looking at the structure and content of the post, I rewrote the titles so they’d get a higher rating. In some cases, I was able to improve the score by 40 points or more. That kind of improvement could
(Note: I’ve slightly altered the titles for publication here, out of respect for the original authors. But the scores cited are for the original title as it was first published here on LiteracyBase.)
The first title I looked at was, “Mortgages for Beginners.” The subject matter was great, and the post had some good bullet points explaining the benefits of mortgages and how they work. But the title rated only a 51% – a red light. It’s too short, too generic, and has no power words or emotional words whatsoever. Looking at the way the post was written, I proposed a new title: “8 Awesome Things You Didn’t Know About Mortgages.”
I went from a short generic title to a list with more words and characters. I also added the power word, “awesome,” which helped to boost the score for the new title to 75% – a green light from the analyzer!
Celebrating People Who Do Good
The next title I chose was, “Tribute to Nurses,” and belonged to a post that extolled the virtues of this important profession. The title ranked only 26%, in large part because it is extremely short. But it’s also generic and lacks any emotional triggers.
I proposed a change to, “Let’s Celebrate Dedicated Professionals on Nurses Day!” That title is a time; and the power words, “celebrate” and “dedicated,” add emotion that improves the score to 70% – a green light. Going one step further, I came up with, “Time to Celebrate Dedicated Professionals on Nurses Day,” which is a bit closer to the optimal length for a title. This title ranked a 73%.
Writing about Life’s Milestones
As most people experience certain rites of passage throughout our life, writing about these in an informative and yet entertaining manner can result in a lot of interested readers. But the title needs to appeal to readers too! I found a lovely post entitled, “First Born: Oh the Happiness You May Know!” The title does have a power word, and it’s got a decent length. But as a generic title, it only ranks a 66% – a yellow light from the headline analyzer.
I tried, “Do We Easily Forget the Downside of Becoming Parents?” because a good half of the post focused on the unexpected costs and challenges of being a first-time parent. This question title had two power words and was slightly longer than the generic title. But it only scored a few points better at 70%. Still, that earned it a green light!
“Is Parenthood Worth All the Troubles It Brings?” earned a slightly better score, at 72%. I scored a 75% with, “What are the Hidden Costs of Your Delightful Child?” Admittedly, it doesn’t sound terribly positive! But that’s the point! People want to read about trials and tribulations, about challenges, about hidden costs or other secrets we feel we should have been told upfront. We’re hard-wired, both for intrigue and to identify with someone who may have been cheated.
How are your titles stacking up against the headlines in my examples here? Can you take a generic title that rates poorly, and turn it into a power performer?
Original content © 2016 Kyla Matton Osborne
This article was published on my writing blog, RubyWriter. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!