7 Tips for Ridiculously Clickable Headlines

CC Image • StockMoneys.com on Flickr
CC Image • StockMoneys.com on Flickr

At FaithVillage, we often talk about what constitutes a good headline. Collectively, we likely comb through 4,573 headlines per day in our curation efforts.
Recently, our fearless leader shed light on a challenge we face on a daily basis: to title enticingly or to title toward optimization. In other words, should you use a title that compels a reader to click it or one that sounds the siren call to Google’s search bots? According to Why ‘The Atlantic’ No Longer Cares About SEO, online entities should title their posts so that when they appear in someone’s social media streams, that person can do nothing other than click the link. For us, finding the middle ground seems best. We want Google to find our pages, but we also want real eyes to view our content too.
So, how can you craft pithy, clickable titles that both humans and bots will love?

1. Write your post first, then title it.

How often have you started on a new blog post by titling it first, writing your post, and never thinking about your title again? I did this for years. One of the cardinal rules of writing is to rewrite, and rewrite again. Do the same for your titles. Maybe it’s an idiosyncrasy of mine, but I often begin writing with just a kernel of an idea, only to have a tasty piece of popcorn burst open in the middle of paragraph three. My title should focus more on the popcorn than the kernel it once was.

2. Be short, but don’t lose the point.

The Bard must have known Twitter was going to happen when he wrote that “Brevity is the soul of wit.” (Not that I’d ascribe ‘wit’ to much of what’s on Twitter, but that’s fodder for another post). Be as succinct as possible without obscuring the article’s intentions. I can’t stand short, vague titles. They’re not unique or memorable, and I feel as if I’m playing Internet roulette anytime I click on such a title. Remove unnecessary words. Be concise, yet precise.

3. Elicit an emotional response.

Don’t be afraid to be funny or controversial or questioning or what-have-you. When you can emotionally engage a person with the power of only a few words, you’ve already established a connection with that person. A majority of your work has already been accomplished, just by spending a few extra, thoughtful minutes on your title.

4. Use Google search’s autocomplete to find keywords and key phrases.

For the lazy ones (ahem, like me), go to Google to check on keyword phrases you’re thinking about including in your post or title. For instance, I may want to blog about “What a Mongoose Can Teach a Blogger.” If I want to hit up the mongoose fans out there, I’ll just type “mongoose” into Google and see what its autocomplete function tells me are popular search phrases for “mongoose.” Since “mongoose versus cobra” appears, I’d try to incorporate that specific phrase into my title, and, at the very least, into my post. I’d then change my title to “Mongoose versus Cobra: How Bloggers Battle Old Media”
For much more in-depth keyword analysis, use Google’s Keyword Tool.

5. Begin your title with a number or “How to … “

By and large, these are likely the two most common types of titles we see at FaithVillage. They’re popular because they work. Just browse the titles of Mashable or any number of new media news sites. People love lists because they’re easily digestible (unless some former English major feels the need to pontificate at length on each point).
“How to … ” posts are popular because we all have specific things we’d like to know. If you can teach it to me in 10 minutes or less, I’ll be forever indebted to you (Note: “forever” on the Internet equals a few days)

6. Revise, revise, revise.

Your title is your first (and often fleeting) contact with a new reader. Save your best words for your title, then work through at least three iterations.
For instance, here’s the evolution of the title for the post you’re currently reading:

  • 10 Tips for Enticing Headlines
    Not descriptive enough, since I’m also talking about SEO
  • 10 Tips for SEO-Friendly, yet Enticing, Headlines
    Very descriptive, but too long and too disjointed.
  • 10 Tips for Clickable Headlines
    It’s getting there, but it’s still stale.
  • 7 Tips for Ridiculously Clickable Headlines
    The addition of an absurd adverb adds interest. Even though I am talking a little about SEO, there’s no pretty way to include that in the title. I also dropped the number to 7 because I couldn’t think of three more good ideas. These things happen. (Feel free to add at least three more good ideas in the comments!)

7. Deliver the goods.

Provide the payoff after someone’s clicked your title. If you’ve written an epic headline that leads to a one-paragraph post, I’m likely to think you’re over-selling your wares. I won’t be inclined to come back for another visit. Write an epic title to match your epic content. Entice me with your title, then exceed my expectations with your post. I hope that this post has done so, but if not, well, I warned you it was ridiculous.
I’m always keen to learn more about better titles for blogposts.

  • Have you employed any of these steps?
  • What would you add?
  • Do you have a titling process?
  • What’s been successful for you?