It's tough but true: not every blog post succeeds at getting views and shares.
There are lots of reasons that posts flop, but bad titles are one of the most common. The title is how people decide whether to read your blog post, so in a way, it's the most important part of the whole thing and essential to effective inbound marketing.
To write high-performing blog post titles, you need to balance user experience with search engine optimization. That's a tricky skill set even for professional content marketers, and a step-by-step guide is a great way to stay on top of it all.
1. Create a working title.
Start by writing a simple statement of what the post is about and who it's for to help you stay focused while you write.
For this post, I might say "How to write blog titles that will make people want to click, read, and share." In other cases, I might add "for software businesses" or "for retail brands" if the content was specific to those groups.
2. Identify a target keyword.
When you write the title around a specific search term your ideal customer is using to look for answers, you'll get more organic search traffic and better engagement on your social media posts.
Choosing a keyword based on monthly searches, competition, location, and ranking opportunity is far too complicated to discuss in a few sentences.Here are a few posts to get you started.
- 5 Basic Keyword Questions Answered
- How to Do Keyword Research for Your Next Blog Post
- The Psychology of Searching: Insights for Keyword Research
Luckily, you can get many of the same benefits by thinking about how the perfect reader (i.e. someone who could become the perfect customer) would search for your post.
For example, I'm targeting someone who's already blogging, but wants to be more strategic about how they write their titles. That reader probably isn't getting great results from blogging yet, so I'm assuming "perform" is a word that will appeal to him or her.
3. Put the important words at the beginning and end.
According to KissMetrics, people are much more likely to read the first and last three words of a title, skimming or even skipping the middle.
Bookend your title with the most important words at each end, and keep it as succinct as you can. It's not always possible to be compelling and specific in 6 words, so don't feel like you need to force it—just keep "the bookend rule" in mind.
4. Add the right flavor.
Essential as it is, sheer accuracy isn't enough; you need a hook. There are a number of different approaches that work, including:
- alliteration, rhyming, or other subtle wordplay
- edgy or playful language
- a timeline (e.g. "in 30 days")
- a clear, specific benefit to the reader
- a visual disruption (e.g. a colon, em dash, digits, brackets, or parenthesis, like "[Template]," or "(No Kidding!)")
It's important that you let your personality shine through rather than just using something you've seen other people do. If the tone of the actual post is out of sync with the title, the reader will feel it.
Another good reason to avoid things that don't feel right: many of the words that were considered best practices just a few years ago have begun to feel clickbait-y and negatively affect click-through rates. Here are a few of those words, along with the decrease in clicks:
- Magic (-59%)
- Tip (-59%)
- How to (-49%)
- Simple (-49%)
- Easy (-44%)
- Need (-44%)
- Free (-41%)
- Why (-37%)
- You/Yours/You’re (-36%)
- Trick (-26%)
- Amazing (-24%)
- Secret (-23%)
- Best, Always (positive superlatives result in a 14% decrease)
- Now (-12%)
Note to statistics geeks like me: those percentages are for titles with the word compared to all titles without the word, not the same title with and without the word.
5. Check the length.
Now that you have a near-final title that's snappy, specific, and easy to read, make sure it will display well in search results.
Titles that are over a certain length get shortened in Google's search results. Some people cite a certain number of characters, but Google actually measures it in pixels. Since certain characters take up more space, the safest bet is to use Moz's Title Tag Preview Tool.
Oh, and one more thing...
Throughout this process, it's easy to get fixated on optimizing the title and lose sight of how accurately it reflects the post. The reader's experience is the #1 goal, and they need to feel that their decision to click was the right one.
If you have to choose, accuracy trumps an exciting title. Something snazzy but vague may boost your click-through rate, but it will increase your bounce rate as well if readers feel tricked. (In case this is all new to you, bounce rate is the rate at which people leave a page right after arriving).
Ultimately, clicks aren't the goal—long-term customer relationships are. In order for that to happen, your readers have to get value out of your content. If you achieve that, they'll want to share it and they'll come back for more.
The best way to provide value? Use buyer personas to guide your content.