According to Steve Rayson, Director at BuzzSumo and Jason Miller, Global Content Marketing Leader at LinkedIn, the five key elements of content are topic, headline, format, type, and length. It makes sense that these are the primary facets of good writing – in fact, English teachers have been teaching these basics for as long as we can remember. Maybe even before that.
But what might be difficult for marketers lies not in the elements themselves, but in the thought process behind the creation of them. I mean, have you ever had a research paper assignment, and the hardest part of the whole thing was choosing the topic? I know I have. Sometimes, the topic just comes to me. Other times, however, finding the perfect concept to write about seems elusive, almost impossible. Why is that?
In a marketing landscape where everyone is trying to write quality content on a consistent basis, knowing the whys behind our own writing process can make a world of difference in the final outcome. So, let’s look at the psychology surrounding the invention process of each of the five elements of effective content. This post, the first in a series of metacognition strategies (thinking about your own learning and understanding) to help the content writing process, will focus on the process of title creation.
So, let’s get to it.
Headlines are a lot like poetry: they can be awe-inspiring, memorable, touching, unique—or they can fall flat.
There’s also a “je ne sais quoi” to the whole writing process, an indescribable element, the spark that certain writing has. Headlines must have that spark to get noticed.
- Title/Post Synchronization: A good title must accurately announce what the article is about. Before you wordsmith your title, make sure that you know what your topic is. For instance, at this moment in my drafting of this article, I am not sure if I want to have a list of 5 or 10 items in my title, or if I just want to stick with the “How to…” format. Some writers like to create their titles first and then write the post, but I’ve always done it the other way: content first, then title. It’s the same with an essay or a research paper or even a chapter: when you write the larger piece first, you do a lot of learning as you go and you come to understand what you were trying to say as you write. That’s why I often advise my students to write their introductory paragraphs to essays LAST, instead of first. By the time they get to the end of their essay, they have figured out exactly what they were trying to say.
Thinking about it: I do know, however, that my title is going to have the words “How to” and “write” “title(s)” and that this post is going to focus on one element of effective content – the title. That’s good enough for me at this moment.
One more thought about topics: it’s okay to go small. When audiences search for help online, they tend to search for something specific and focused. If they wanted to read an entire book about SEO strategies, they’d buy the book. But, if they just want to read about the title, they will appreciate the focus of the article and the time they are not wasting on ancillary information.
- Title/Genre Match: What kind of blog post is the best delivery vehicle for the information you are giving your readers? Is it a list post, a how-to, a what, a why, a video? Whatever genre (type/format) you choose, be sure that your title reflects just that. Also, remember that you want your title to promise the takeaway for your readers. That’s why number titles are often so effective: they tell the reader exactly how many benefits, tips, clues, answers, reasons, etc. that he or she will get after clicking the link.
Thinking about it: As I am writing this article, I’m thinking that I will probably have five items to give to my readers. Also, the post is morphing into a list post with longer paragraphs, so I might think about this as more of a tutorial with a list included. That was a much easier decision once I started writing, and I wasted a lot less time thinking about the title genre at the beginning the process. But do I want my title to start with the number, or with a “How to…”? Hmmm.
- Incorporating Key Words: You’ve all heard about key words: that’s how search engines and people find articles. A keyword is like a breadcrumb trail that you leave for others, the path toward the perfect article.
Make sure that your title has at least one or two key words, or a keyword phrase, in it. Then, of course, use that those words a few times in your post (closer to the beginning is best). If you struggle finding good keywords, there are several great websites that offer a keyword research service. I like to use Jaaxy because it’s user-friendly and insightful. It does cost a few dollars every month, however.
Thinking about it: At this point, I know that my title is going to have the words, “How to” and “write” “title(s); however, there are an infinite number of combinations that I can use to maximize their power as key words. Remember, “key words” are exactly that, the primary words that exemplify the main idea of your post. So as I write my title and research keywords, I need to consider different combinations and play around with the title.
- How to write great blog titles in 5 easy steps
- 5 ways to write great blog titles
- You can learn how to write great blog titles in 5 easy steps
As I write these titles, none of them are speaking to me. I don’t think they are the best out there. But why? The first one seems ordinary, like I’ve read it a thousand times before. So does the second. The third is better but is too wordy. So let me think again. What do we want titles to DO? We want them to DRIVE Traffic! To blow readers away. To grab their attention.
- Create Traffic Generating Titles in 5 easy steps
- How to Drive traffic to your site with these 5 steps (no, that doesn’t mention titles, does it?)
- The Wordsmithing: According to com, titles are made up of four categories of words: common, uncommon, emotional, and powerful. When you write a title, you need to think about your words and what types they are. So let’s look at the title, “You can learn how to write great blog titles in 5 easy steps.”
Thinking about it: Let’s analyze my types of words (See my thoughts in purple below):
Common: can how to in you
Uncommon: None. (OH!!!)
Emotional: how to
Power: easy great
Okay. I really need some uncommon words. I am going to go to my MS Word thesaurus and play around. How can I find some uncommon words to replace what I’ve already got?
Learn: Study, Absorb, Discover, Ascertain
You: bloggers, anyone
Can: I can’t really find an uncommon word that replaces “can” but WILL sounds more definitive.
So far let’s see what I have.
Discover how to create extraordinary blog titles with 5 researched steps –no…this doesn’t feel right. It’s too wordy, I don’t like “create” here, and “researched” sounds stuffy for this article. I want to go back to the word “easy” because everyone wants something like this to be easy. I think it will appeal to a wider audience. I like “craft” better than “create” for this article, and maybe I will just say “title” instead of blog titles, since you can use this article for more than just blog titles.
How to craft powerful titles in just 5 easy steps – So far, I like this title. It still doesn’t have uncommon words in it, but I may have to stick with this one.
The bottom line is that your content is going to drive your title, and so you want to be careful with too many words, or with forcing uncommon words where simplicity will do. I am going to stick with “How to Craft Powerful Titles in 5 Easy Steps” because I like that one the best. I can also post it knowing that I worked with my titles and gave it thought before publishing.
*I will say that I spent about 10 minutes trying to find an uncommon word to fill in the gaps in my title, but none worked for me.
5. Clarity, Wordiness, “Je ne sais quoi”: When you get ready to publish your blog post, make sure that your title is clear, that there aren’t too many words (generally, you want to use 5-10 words in a headline) and then ascertain what “clicks” for you. What do you like?
What kind of titles “grab” your attention? I’d love your opinion about my title examples in this post. Which one stuck out to you the most? Why?