If you’re like many content marketers, you may be missing out on a key part of a successful content strategy: excellent blog post titles. After agonizing over creating perfect, thorough, compelling content, it’s so easy to forget the title until the very last minute. We’ve all been there, and we should all be ashamed.
Sure, titles aren’t very long. Yet they are an extremely significant part of your content strategy because blog post titles — and all content titles — draw readers into your content.
If no one is reading your content, what’s the point of your wonderful call-to-action? Or your amazing compilation of 100 content marketing examples, or whatever type of content you’ve slaved over for hours? If you write a blog post and no one reads it, does it even exist?
In my last post, on creating a title report, I talked about a preliminary step to writing great titles — building a report to illuminate what the best blog post title types are for your specific audience. Yes, building a meaningful title report requires a lot of data, and a lot of time.
In this post, I’ll share some of the trends the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) found in the title report we conducted, as well as some of the methods we use on a daily basis to ensure we’re writing the best blog titles possible.
Read on, and change the way you think about titles!
1. Focus on titles
I know. Duh. But think about it — how much time do you spend on your blog post titles, truly? For the Content Marketing Institute, we spend an average of 30 minutes per title in search of the absolute best wording. That adds up to a good chunk of time, but as I explained above, what’s the point of having an excellent blog post if its title won’t draw in traffic? Take the time to think twice about your blog titles or, if time is tight, bring in an outsider (like CMI did with me).
2. Never write misleading titles just to get people to click
No matter how sensational and marvelous your blog post titles are, if your content doesn’t live up to your title, say goodbye to returning visitors and conversions, and say hello to a high bounce rate and a bad reputation. For a hypothetical example, take a post titled “9 Steps to Social Media Monitoring Success,” that actually only describes nine features of the monitoring software company publishing the post. Title-content mismatches will only confuse — and alienate — readers.
3. Find the right keyword
If you have SEO targets for your web presence, make sure you are using your blog post titles to help you reach those targets. But even if you already have extensive SEO research at hand, you’ll likely find yourself wandering into new keyword territory at some point. In these moments, I rely on Google Adwords’ keyword tool to help me decide between keywords.
For example, I often use the word “headline” to talk about blog post titles in order to avoid confusion with SEO page titles. But a quick search on the Google Adwords’ Keyword Tool tells me that “blog post titles” gets 260 searches a month, while “blog post headlines” only gets 16. (That’s why the phrase “blog post titles” is in this post’s title!)
4. Position keywords near the beginning of your blog titles
This is a good SEO practice for both robots and humans. Let’s face it. We humans are too busy to read to the end of a long title to find the term we’re searching for (I know, it’s pathetic).
Again, you can see an example of this tactic in this post’s title with the keyword phrase “content strategy” placed at the front of the headline. Colons are your friend for this method, but make sure the keyword is relevant. In this case, we’re going from a general topic to a specific topic that lies underneath that “umbrella.” But the dual purpose of something like, “Unicorns for Sale: 12 Reasons Why We Love Unicorns” can turn readers away — the second part may catch the eye of fantasy genre fans, but they would likely avoid clicking on the post because the first part (“Unicorns for Sale”) looks like a spam email header.
5. Use numbered lists in blog titles
We all groan about numbered lists in blog posts. But the truth is, they work. In our research, titles that began with a number performed 45 percent better than the average.
Another approach is to start with a keyword and include a number later in the title. Take “Content Marketing Checklist: 22 To-dos for SlideShare Success,” for example. We tested both title types, and when the headline started with a keyword, it actually performed slightly better.
While one approach to this method is to work more numbered lists into your blog content strategy up front, you can also use a numbered list in a post after it’s written. Is the post split up into sections? Can those sections be numbered? Boom. But again, don’t mislead your readers — make sure a numbered list format actually fits the content of your post.
6. Avoid dropping names
Here’s another snippet from our research: Blog titles that included person or brand names received 47 percent less traffic than average. Unless you’re dealing with a major brand name — or perhaps even if you’re dealing with a major brand name — think about how you can pull out a relevant topic or trend mentioned in the post instead of using the name of the person, brand, or campaign the post is about. Your target audience may not be willing to click on a name that’s unfamiliar to them, or on a brand that they are not interested in, but chances are if the topic applies to their business, or the post highlights a trend that they will need to know about, they will click to make sure they don’t miss out on vital information.
7. Learn to love your thesaurus
There aren’t many words in blog titles. Thus, you need to choose exactly the right words. I use thesaurus.com to jog my brain when I can’t find the word I’m looking for, or even to find a synonym that’s alliterative with the rest of the title. Watch out for words like “things,” which waste precious space and can often be substituted with a more specific word.
8. Brainstorm the heck out of that baby
Don’t stop at just one or two title ideas — you might miss out on a really good one because it didn’t occur to you immediately. If you get stuck, unleash yourself at the title with no inhibitions until you’ve practically got a page full of ideas. Then you can mix and match the best words and phrases on the page to form your final winner.
9. Treat titles as a team sport
Ever notice how much easier Scrabble is when you’re playing on a team? Well, sometimes writing great blog post titles is like playing a game of Scrabble (except harder). You have a limited space in which you’ve got to fit in a keyword, yet you also have to make the title compelling and communicate what the blog post is about. Plus, you’ve got to keep track of your editorial calendar, and avoid using the same three words in your titles for five posts in a row.
Though it’s my job in CMI’s editorial process to focus on blog post titles, the whole editorial team supplies feedback and suggestions that inevitably result in stronger blog post titles, and a stronger blog. Make sure the key players on your team have titles in mind, and that the person responsible for titles — whether it’s the author, or someone else — is open-minded.
How will you work writing great blog post titles into your content strategy? Have any tips to share from your experience with blog post titles? Comment, and join the conversation!
Want more guidance on simple strategies that can improve your content in a meaningful way? You’ll find these helpful tips, and more, in CMI’s Content Marketing Playbook.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons