Readers make snap judgements on what to read or not read. And they often rely on titles of books, articles, blog posts, and conference sessions to make those decisions. As such, writers must learn how to write better titles to find more success with their writing.
With nearly 20 years of editing experience in publishing and media, I've been involved in figuring out effective titles for articles, books, conference sessions, blog posts, and even newsletter subject lines (which are basically titles). In this post, let's look at what I've learned about writing effective titles for various platforms and target audiences.
With the continued proliferation of online or virtual media, more readers turn to the Internet for news and opinions. For instance, subscribers to print publications decreases each year as digital subscribers increase.
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How to Write Better Titles
Tip #1: Include Numbers
Whether it's in the title or the subtitle, including numbers (like "10 Tips for Effective Book Covers") is a sure fire way to get a reader's attention. Especially when you're dealing with nonfiction, readers like solutions that are quantifiable and numbers are about as quantifiable as you can get. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 5 Love Languages are both perennial bestselling books that combine great content with a numerical strategy for solving a problem; the number is an important aspect of the title.
Tip #2: Solve a Problem
Effective titles solve a core problem affecting their target audience. For instance, the title of this blog post targets writers who want to learn how to write better titles. I could have titled this post something along the lines of "Catch Me if You Can," playing off the idea of trying to write catchy titles, or "What's in a Title?," which would have been an appropriate Writer's Digest article title back in the early 21st century. The problem with these more poetic titles is that they do not clearly communicate the core problem or that the post has the solution, which is clearly a problem, right?
Tip #3: Be Concise
Of course, the title and subtitle of this post includes 15 words. That is a lot. But the main title ("How to Write Better Titles") is only five words in length. When I feature this post in my newsletter, it will be a super tight three words: "Write Better Titles." I include the "How to" for one reason: SEO for folks who search specifically on how to write better titles. The subtitle further clarifies the post for readers who may be interested in specific types of titles.
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Tip #4: Search for Your Title
Before publishing any blog post, I type my possible post title into Google to see what results appear. If there's a lot of competition, I'll consider adjusting slightly to fill a niche that is not already covered. But writers should do this with article titles too. And it behooves authors to search Amazon for similar book titles before pitching. Differentiation leads to success in whatever form your writing takes.
Tip #5: Be Open to Change
If your project starts with a title, remember that titles can change as you dive deeper into your topic. You may tighten your focus. Or small subject may spread in new directions that interest a broader target audience. As such, be willing to alter your title. For this post, I started with the concept of "write better titles." But I quickly realized it may appeal to various types of titles: books, articles, and even conference sessions. It could also appeal to bloggers. But several other posts already cover this topic for that specific audience. Why waste my title real estate on that target audience?
Tip #6: Write Active Titles
Of course, the title to this post is "How to Write Better Titles." But that's mainly a result of the platform of this specific content (more on that in the next tip). As mentioned earlier, I plan to title my newsletter "Write Better Titles." More writers click on my newsletters when I identify a common problem and write an active solution. Other examples include "Blog Your Way to Success," "Write & Sell Your Memoir," and "Get Published in (insert year)." These titles work, because they tap into the goal of my target audience, and they encourage them to reach those goals in an active way. Parents might like an article titled "Break up Fights Without Breaking a Sweat." Long distance runners might be interested in something titled "Run Your Fastest Marathon...Without Getting Injured."
Tip #7: Consider Platform
As mentioned earlier, I plan to apply a different title to my newsletter than this blog post. The platform determines the title. Most long-term blog traffic comes from writing posts optimized for search engines. That is, online posts try anticipating which search terms people might type into search engines to find information. I'd like people who type "how to write better titles" into Google to find this post, just as I'd like people who type "write better titles" to find this post. And this is where tip #4 really comes into play, because adjectives like "catchy," "good," "great," "effective," and "brilliant" have already been used effectively; "better" has less competition. In my newsletter (and in print formats), I'd drop the "how to" and go with the more active "write better titles" version, because I'm not as concerned with SEO.
I hope this helps and that you share this post with other writers who might be interested in writing better titles. Of course, some readers might've noticed a title tip I did not include, and that's to write a provocative title. I thought about including that, but I feel that making a provocative title for the sake of provocation can often be misleading. If your subject fits, then great! Write a provocative title!
As with any form of writing, make sure the treatment matches the content and the target audience. When these align, your chances of writing success increase. However, trying to force a square peg into a round hole rarely works out for the reader or writer in the long term.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community, specifically working on the Market Books, WritersMarket.com, and maintaining the Poetic Asides blog. Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.
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