The Innovative Marketer's Blog

What We Blog About When We Blog About Blog Titles

Posted by Matthew Cook

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Why are content marketers so obsessed with titles? Everywhere you turn, you’ll find a new article on how to write a catchy title for a blog article. I’m sorry, not catchy, kick-ass.

Titles matter, for reasons I’ll get into in a minute, but it seems to me that the number of articles written about writing effective titles is disproportionate to the number of articles written about writing an effective article.

I think this is for two reasons:

1. Titles are important

A title is more than the name you give a blog article. It’s a 70-character-or-less advertisement for a blog article. It’s a first impression. It is the only power you have over the make-or-break moment of decision when a web visitor decides whether to click through to your article or not.

2. Titles are easy to analyze

Blog titles are to content marketers what opening moves are to chess enthusiasts. While a chess game can unfold in a nearly (though not actually) infinite number of ways, the number of opening moves available is much more manageable (there are 20). Chess theorists, therefore, tend to focus their attention on the first few moves of the game rather than play later on, when the positions of the pieces are much more unique to the particular game being played.

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In other words (and this is an oversimplification from someone who routinely forgets whether it’s white or black that goes first) chess analysts analyze openings because openings are analyzable. So too are blog titles.

There’s only so much you can do with 70 characters. Using marketing analytics tools, it’s easy to compare the performance of a long title versus a short one, a title that asks a question versus a title that answers one, a title that swears versus one that plays it safe. Easier, anyway, than wading into the deeper waters of the blog content itself.

Is there a formula for great content?

Blog articles about titles often promise fool-proof formulas and scientifically-proven methods for creating the perfect blog title. Less common are articles offering a fool-proof, scientific approach to writing informative, entertaining, and readable blog content (although, they are out there).

Can you boil a piece of writing down to its constituent elements and say anything meaningful about what works and what doesn’t? Sure, especially when you know what the goal of the piece is, what specific action you want the reader to take after reading it. I have written, and will continue to write, about many of these issues in this blog.

But, just because we can say some things about the difference between a good and bad blog article doesn’t mean we are anywhere near a formula to writing well every time. Questions of tone and word choice, for example, are hard to break down into analyzable form.

As I wrote in my last blog article, there are some writing skills you can only develop through practice, honing your instinct and developing an innate feel for language. Chess grandmasters, after all, don’t just memorize the playbook of opening moves; they learn, through practice, to react on the fly to developments later in the game and stump their opponents with unexpected moves.

The science of titles, the art of content, the importance of both

Getting someone to click on an article and getting someone to actually read an article from start to finish are two different things, and as content marketers, we want both to happen. Clicks alone aren’t going to cut it. If readers aren’t compelled enough by a piece of content to even read it, there’s no way they’ll take the next step—which is a step towards learning more about, and ultimately buying, whatever it is you’re selling.

Great titles and poorly written content don’t go together well. In her great new article for HubSpot, Ginny Soskey writes about “the over-promised and under-delivered headline”:

We must be careful about calling a piece of content "ultimate" or "comprehensive" guides unless they really are ultimate or comprehensive. Ask yourself: Have you covered almost every question your target reader could ask about the topic?

Great titles draw in readers for a reason: They promise something in the article the reader wants. If the article doesn’t fulfill that promise, the great title was for naught. Over-promised titles do more harm than good. They set up readers for disappointment and annoyance at you and your business for taking advantage of their natural curiosity in an obvious ploy for clicks.

So my advice is this: continue obsessing about the titles of your blog articles, but don’t neglect the content itself. You may be venturing into uncharted, un-analyzable territory, but it’s worth the uncertainty. Put in the time to learn, practice, and improve your content writing and you will be rewarded with more satisfied readers happy they clicked on your kick-ass title.

"On Content" is an ongoing blog series by IMR content manager Matthew Cook that confronts the difficulties and celebrates the pleasures of writing online content.

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Topics: Blogging, Content Marketing