Something as simple as your article title can mean the difference between an online hit, and an article that gets ten readers a month.
Now of course if your title is intriguing, but the content of your article is bland, or even worse doesn’t actually fulfill the promise of the title, then people won’t spend long at all reading the article itself, and even worse they certainly won’t be recommending it to others by linking to it and sharing it.
So if you’ve created great content that you want people to see, share and link to, it’s vital that you also have an article title that captures attention as well as accurately portrays the content.
So first of all — a good rule of thumb is, whatever audience you’re aiming for, think:
Magazine Article Title
Magazines and newspapers are a great source for what consistently works when it comes to titles, since their entire existence depends on capturing people’s attention long enough so that they actually spend money to read the rest of it.
Now of course, different magazines have vastly different tones. A magazine about marketing is going to have much more conservative article titles than a celebrity gossip magazine, so when constructing article titles, make sure the tone of the title (and the writing tone of the article itself) is right for your audience.
An Easy Example to Get Started With…
As I write this blog post, Windows 8 by Microsoft has just launched, so I’m going to use that as an example.
And let’s imagine you own a technology news blog and want to talk about Windows 8. With that subject in mind, here’s some quick title possibilities:
Windows 8 Has Launched
Boring. Doesn’t give the visitor any particular reason to read the article in question. It does present the article as news which is always a good angle, but it could easily be so much stronger. Let’s try again:
All Systems Go! — Windows 8 Has Launched…
Much better. Gets the reader involved immediately, excited, but still isn’t really giving the reader a strong reason to read right now. Let’s try once again…
All Systems Go! Windows 8 Has Launched…
But, Should You Wait Before You Buy?
Even better. Includes all the factors touched on already (exciting, gets reader interested, reports news…) but also asks a leading and relevant question to pull the reader in.
Questions can work great for getting visitors interested in the article itself as mentally they’re already trying to answer it.
And actually as a side note to this — you’ll find questions are often used in magazine article titles, even often slightly ridiculous questions in fact where the answer is almost without fail ‘No’. An example of such a title would be:
Is Today The Beginning of The End For Microsoft?
Very leading, intriguing, over the top, and the answer is 99% likely to be no.
You’ll see this format of title used a lot, and it does work, although generally needs to be somewhat sensationalist to really grab the attention, which may not be suitable for every audience.
Or how about…
Five Reasons Windows 8 Will be a Failure
An outlandish, controversial, timely statement delivered with absolute conviction.
You’ll find this format of title used a lot too, and if you do take this route it greatly helps if you can present a strong argument. You don’t have to necessarily be right, and this type of title may not be right for you, but as long as you can present compelling arguments to back up your case, it can create an interesting and informative article, and create a lot of debate.
Plus, such article titles are often called ‘Link Bait’ as they can attract a lot of links from other sites due to their controversial stance. Now of course you can take a controversial stance too far and it could end up backfiring on you, but used wisely this can be a great way to get attention, links and traffic.
Common Article Title Structures
If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to putting together article titles, do pay attention to what other blogs both in and out of your market are doing, especially the particularly high traffic sites. And if you’re not sure where to start looking for those go ahead and browse Technorati to find plenty of possibilities.
And it may be a bit of a side note but something definitely worth mentioning as regards article titles:
Just like magazine titles, article titles are often written in what’s known as Title Case, where the first letter of each word is capitalized, except generally the particularly short words (at, the…etc).
So here’s just a few basic title structures to help give you ideas and short cut the process:
The old classic ‘How To…’ is a classic for a reason — it still works great.
Using the Windows 8 example again:
How to Easily Upgrade to Windows 8
How to Decide Whether Windows 8 is Right For Your Business
How to Master Windows 8 in Two Hours or Less
Asking a Question?
Asking a question helps draw in the reader’s attention, particularly if the question is intriguing and the reader wants to know the answer to it. Some examples:
Will Windows 8 Mean the End of Computer Viruses?
Is a Windows 8 Laptop More Secure That an Apple Laptop?
5 Ways / Tips / Reasons…
People love to read lists Some examples…
Note: Due to the amount of numbers referenced in these example headlines (because of the ‘8’ in ‘Windows 8’) I’m going to use words instead of numbers to start these titles as I feel it should make them more readable, but generally I would lean towards using numbers instead of words to start these titles with.
Ten Reasons Why Windows 8 is Inferior Than Windows 7
Seven Things You Must Know Before Upgrading to Windows 8
Five Windows 8 Upgrade Disasters (And How to Avoid Them)
Writing Your Title First and Then Your Article
If you have an idea of what you’re going to write about, creating an article title first, and then planning the article after can sometimes help clarify your thinking and make the subject and overall impact of the article stronger.
So if you’ve not done it before maybe try this approach for your next article — if you know roughly what you’re going to be writing about, start putting titles together until you’ve a number of strong options. And then choose your favorite, put together a brief outline for that article, and if it all looks good, then write the article itself.
This approach forces you to think of capturing the reader’s attention first, then once you’ve decided on the title, by next creating an article outline if forces you to make sure you can actually complete the article successfully (that you’ve actually got enough to write about to keep the article on topic with the title), and only then fill in the blanks and write the full article.
Or — Writing the Article First, Then Creating a Title
Or perhaps you prefer to write an article first, and then figure out the title later.
Whether you start writing an article with a subject in mind, or are creating content purely around certain keywords, once your article is complete and you’re happy with it, you then need to start brainstorming title ideas.
If the subject of the article is one you know readers in your market are interested in, creating a title that draws interest shouldn’t be too difficult. You may however find it particularly difficult to create interesting and intriguing titles if you’ve simply written about what interests you, and then when trying to create an interesting title you may become particular aware that presenting your content in an interesting way may be difficult. That’s one benefit of approaching writing articles with the title first, as it forces you to think of your audience and what interests them.
Anyhow, put together a list of possible article titles, and then remove options from that list until you’re happy with the only one remaining. You may need to do this over a couple of days, as it’s difficult to be particularly objective often in one sitting (for the same reason it’s always good to read through an article you’ve written the next day, before making final edits and publishing it).
Choosing the Right Tone for Your Audience
As mentioned earlier, the tone of your article and title should be appropriate for your target audience, and that’s where knowing your market, and in particular being a regular reader of blogs, magazines and news sites in your market not only help keep you up to date with what’s happening in your market, but also helps you to become familiar with the writing tone your market is used to and comfortable with.
Writing in a matter of fact and conservative tone of voice on a celebrity news blog probably isn’t going to get you very far. And nor is writing breathless headlines with plenty of exclamation points going to go down well on a business blog.
Entirely obvious I know, but knowing the right tone of voice for your market (and being able to write in that tone) will greatly help your content get read and shared, as in particular it will allow you to craft headlines that your market responds to.