Self expression usually motivates our writing, even the title. However, expression provides only one motivation. We also pay special attention to our titles because of readers, Bing, and Google. One of our goals is to gain traffic, and both readers and bots first scan the title to determine whether to read on. The title represents the potential to grab or lose our audience.
Titles are important to me. As an English professor for the past 12 years, I have encountered 10,000 plus college level essays. Consider the number of pages that represents, most coming from reluctant writers. I nearly vomit when I see "Research Paper" or "Freedom" at the top of a 12 page paper, dread consuming me. If the student doesn't care enough to engage me with the title, what do I have waiting for me in the remaining pages? Drivel.
As bloggers, we consider technology when crafting those first words. We may grumble at the need to write for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but I find that search engines usually look for the same qualities as readers - fresh content. New readers are drawn to our website when our titles show up in searches, and keywords are the charmers. Usually this still allows for a creative, powerful title.
Based upon human readers and electronic bots, I have put together some items to consider as we craft our titles:
- SEO keywords empower - If you accept that search engines yield readers, tools exist to find keywords that work for your title. SEO is essential to being found on the web. Easy methods to discover keywords include: Google Trends and Insights (just combined recently), Blog Search, Yahoo Buzz, and Technorati. You'll find many more on the web, but these are sufficient.
- Searches reveal top content - A few Google and Bing searches pertaining to your topic will pull up top content in the area that you are writing about. Focus on the alternative searches that they provide, as these reveal what others are searching. In addition, if you use the auto-complete feature in the engine search, it will offer phrases that complement or complete what you are searching - terms and combinations that are frequently mined by search engines. Manytimes these words and phrases make all the difference in ensuring that your piece is found.
- Titles written after the article are sometimes best - Is the title the first thing you should write? When you start an article, you're might not be sure where you are going to end up. This is because writing is discovery and should be a process of creation. Wait to write the title until you know what you have to say. Then you can focus on keywords and content that reflect the article well.
- Power nouns and verbs draw attention - Readers search for solid content that responds to their questions and problems. Fluff in the title indicates that the reader can pass by your article. Fluff includes everything other than powerful nouns, verbs, and descriptive words. You need some connectors to make the title flow, but cut the rest.
- Powerful word combinations engage - Given all of these constraints, how do you engage the reader? Actually, all the previous tips have assisted you in this. The next step is to make your article seem essential to the widest audience possible. Be creative with those few words in the title. Show that you are a clever writer, while avoiding what might sound like a gimmick or cliche. Also, remember that readers and search engines are looking for word combinations and phrases - not just single words. Pay attention to the way that you combine the keywords and make them powerful.
- Multiple readers prior to publication can refine language - You are too close to a title once you've put it down on the page. Having various readers give you feedback will strengthen your language and the resulting title.
- Once written, searching for your title reveals much - You are a genius, but there is a chance that someone has already used a similar title. While this is unlikely if you have followed the above advice, a search on Google or Bing for your exact title might reveal problems or potential that you haven't realized yet.
- Cute and cliche detract - Cute and cliche titles are a dime a dozen (lol), and you want your title to be unique and engaging. Within the boundaries established above, focus on your originality and the new content you are adding to the body that already exists.
- Descriptive and clever deliver readers - At times the two purposes seem at odds. If you describe the contents of the article, it might seem difficult to be clever. But you have the skills to include both exposition and creativity. One method is to create two titles in one, using a hyphen, question mark, or colon.
Spending the extra effort to get your title perfect yields potent results, and you will see traffic increase.