Look, I said ass.
And in a minute, you'll know why. It's one thing to write great content, but it's another thing to get it read and ranked -- which is where nailing the title comes in. Titles are what sell the content. They represent it in search engines, in email, and on social media. It's no surprise, then, that one of the most common questions we get is around crafting titles.
So let's just dive right in, shall we? This post will outline a simple formula for writing kick-ass titles and headlines.
And download this free report for even more data-backed tips on writing awesome titles and headlines.
A Foolproof Formula for Writing Clickable Blog Titles & Headlines
1) Start with a working title.
Before you get into the nitty-gritty of coming up with a perfect title, start with a rough draft: your working title.
What's a working title, exactly? A lot of people confuse working titles with topics. Let's clear that up.
Topics are very general and could yield several different blog posts. Think "raising healthy kids" and "kitchen storage." A writer might look at either of those topics and choose to take them in very, very different directions.
A working title, on the other hand, is very specific and guides the creation of a single blog post. For example, from the topic "raising healthy kids," you could derive the following working titles:
- "How the Right Nutrition Can Strengthen Your Kids' Bones"
- "A Parent's Guide to Promoting Your Child's Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Well-Being"
- "X Recipes for Quick & Healthy Dinners Your Teenagers Will Gobble Up"
See how different and specific each of those is? That's what makes them working titles instead of overarching topics. It's also worth noting that none of those titles are perfect -- they should just be specific enough to guide your blog post. (We'll worry about making it clickable and search-friendly later.)
For the sake of this post, let's say we've decided that our working title is "X B2B Companies Using Facebook in Cool Ways."
2) Stay accurate.
Accuracy is critical when trying to finesse a title. Why? It sets clear expectations for your readers. While I'm sure lots of people would love to click into a post that said "10 B2B Companies Killing Facebook So Freaking Hard They Don't Need Any Other Marketing Channel" ... it's a little bombastic, no?
Unless, of course, you truly did find 10 B2B companies rocking Facebook that hard. And you could confirm that all 10 of them had stopped using other marketing channels. First and foremost, your title needs to accurately reflect the content that follows.
If you remember nothing else from this blog post, let it be this: The most important rule of titles is to respect the reader experience. If you set high expectations in your title that you can't fulfill in the content, you'll lose readers' trust. Clickbait is everywhere nowadays -- so it's more important than ever to serve your audience by accurately describing the piece inside.
With titles, it's best to under promise and over deliver. So if you're choosing between uber-compelling and accurate, choose accuracy every time.
Accuracy encompasses more than just hyperbole, though. With the example working title above, you'd also want to confirm all of the examples are, indeed, B2B. Or even that they're all companies -- instead of, say, individual bloggers that target B2B audiences. See what I mean?
3) Make it sexy.
Just because you have to be accurate doesn't mean you can't find ways to make your title pop. There are a lot of ways to make a title sexier:
- Have some fun with alliteration. The title and header in this blog post, for instance, play with alliteration: "Foolproof Formula" and "Writing Wonderful." It's a device that makes something a little lovelier to read, and that can have a subtle but strong impact on your reader.
- Use strong language. That's what we did with this title. Strong phrases (and, frankly, often negative ones) like "Kick-Ass," "Things People Hate," or "Brilliant" pack quite a punch. However, these must be used in moderation. As one of my coworkers likes to say, "If everything is bold, nothing is bold."
- Make the value clear. Presenting the format and/or contents to a reader helps make your content a little sexier. That's why we'll often use brackets at the ends of titles to denote format and content, like [Infographic], [Free Ebook], or, in this post, just "A Simple Formula" at the beginning of the title. Templates tend to be particularly powerful for CTR: We found that adding "[Template]" to our titles got the most average views of all bracketed terms.
All of this hinges on understanding your core buyer persona. You need to find language that resonates with them, and know what they find valuable. Your titles might not resonate with some of your readers -- but if they resonate with your core buyer persona, that's the most important thing. (Haven't created or refined your buyer personas yet? Use this template to create your own buyer personas for your business.)
So, how might we punch up our accurate-but-boring working title, "X B2B Companies Using Facebook in Cool Ways"? Here are some options:
- "10 B2B Companies With Brilliant Facebook Pages"
- "Think Facebook's Just for B2C? These 10 Companies Will Change Your Mind"
- "Facebook for B2B: 10 Companies That Could Teach You a Thing or Two"
I like that first title the most because it's simple, succinct, and has two sexy components. First, "Brilliant" is a very positive, yet strong word. Who doesn't want to be brilliant? Second, I know many of the B2B marketers we talk to believe Facebook is more geared toward B2C companies, though they'd love to take advantage of the platform if they knew how. A post that positions two things commonly disassociated with one another -- Facebook and B2B -- adds some great value. Third, it has a nice alliteration with "B2B" and "Brilliant."
4) Try to optimize for SEO.
I say "try" because sometimes, trying too hard to optimize for SEO can make your title sound strange. If you can optimize your titles for search, that's great -- but clarity should always be your primary goal. While keywords are important, it's more valuable to have a headline that gets clicked and shared frequently, which can have a positive impact on its ranking on search engine result pages.
I think we can optimize our accurate-but-sexy title without compromising clarity, so let's try to make it a little more SEO-friendly. I would do something like this:
"10 B2B Companies With Brilliant Facebook Marketing"
Why? Because I'd rather rank for the term "Facebook Marketing" than "Facebook Pages." (Learn how to compare search volume on keywords here.) And as long as my content talks about the companies' marketing, and not just their Pages, I'm still being accurate. It's a subtle tweak, but retains both the accuracy and the sexiness of the title.
I'm going to move forward with the title above, but it's worth noting that keywords do really well in search when they're placed at the front of the title. So if I was particularly interested in getting this post to rank for the term "Facebook Marketing," I might choose to reorder the wording to something like this: "Facebook Marketing Examples: 10 B2B Companies You'll Want to Follow." That way, users searching for "Facebook Marketing" see right away that that's what my post is about. (Read this blog post for more on optimizing your content for SEO.)
5) Keep it short.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how long or short your title should be. It depends what your goals are and where your headline will appear. Do you want this post to rank really well in search? Then keep the title under 65 characters so it doesn't get cut off in search engine results. Are you trying to optimize your title for social sharing? For it to be tweetable, you won't want to exceed 117 characters. (That's the 140-character limit on Twitter, minus the 22 characters a URL takes up in a tweet, minus one for the space between the title and the link.) I recommend testing out headline length to see what works best for your particular audience.
I try to shoot for 70 characters or less in my titles so they don't get cut off in most emails and search engine results. Do I always hit that on the dot? No. But it's a good threshold to keep in mind.
At 50 characters, our current title, "10 B2B Companies With Brilliant Facebook Marketing," is short enough. But if I wanted to shorten a title a bit, I would simply try to rephrase it and cut out extraneous words.
For instance, I might do something like this:
- Before: Think Facebook's Just for B2C? These 10 Companies Will Change Your Mind
- After: Think Facebook's Just for B2C? 10 Companies That'll Change Your Mind
Try sounding out the title in your head to make sure it's easily digestible for your readers. The less of a mouthful you can make your titles, the better.
6) Brainstorm with someone else.
Once you've refined your title using the tips above, it's time to come up for air and connect with another human. Title brainstorming is an essential part of the process.
Here at HubSpot, we spend a decent amount of time and brainpower coming up with our titles. The final step before scheduling a blog post is pulling another member of our team into a back-and-forth title brainstorm in a chat room. One member of the duo will post the title they recommend into the chat pane window. The other person will then refine that title even further, or suggest other title angles. After several back-and-forths, the duo will agree on the title that's accurate, sexy, concise, and SEO-friendly. Only when both parties agree on a title do we schedule our post for publishing -- which can take as little as five seconds and as long as ten or so minutes. While that seems like a long time, it's essential to putting our best foot forward with each post we publish.
I hope this has been a helpful walkthrough on crafting titles. Share your tips in the comments, won't you?
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in October 2013 and has been updated and for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.