Whether it’s a title, a subject line or an opening sentence in a social media post, they all share something in common.
They’re often the bit that’s get written first, and never looked at again.
Big mistake. Huge.
In an age of limited attention spans and people just scan reading content, that first line is critical in stopping the scroll.
So why do we forget to optimise it?
We get into the writing
Sometimes when you’re writing a blog post or an email, you get into the body of the content and forget what you titled it.
Sometimes it can even head in a slightly different direction to what you had in mind when you first typed in the title. While the title might have worked well with the idea in your head, it might not be where you’ve ended up.
Let’s face it, stuff happens. We know we need to remember, and then we don’t. Not a lot we can do, other than start making it a habit.
We’re not sure where to start
Sometimes we don’t even know it’s not as good as it could be. Or we know it’s just okay, and think “that’ll do”. We get busy.
Bring on your inner tabloid headline writer
I’m not talking about creating click bait headlines that have no relevance to what you’re doing. But if you look at the red top headline writers then they know how to:
- Condense a story into five or six words
- Find a touch of humour, or anger
The first one makes sense. It’s quick to read and make a decision on. The second one is about finding an emotional connection.
For most of us, we can employ a wider range of emotions than your average tabloid wants/needs. The outcome is similar: it motivates action. Emotions release hormones, and that has an effect on what we do (see more here if you’re intrigued by the role of hormones in writing).
Write some different title options
I’ve had two different versions of this post’s title. I tweaked it just a little, from “Remember to…” to “Don’t forget…”
It’s a silly title really. Some people will have opened it because they thought “what kind of idiot doesn’t change the title?” Some people won’t have opened it for a similar reason.
But there’s a little element of both intrigue and schadenfreude to this. I’ll let you know if it works.
If you’re reading this, then it must have.
Test your title options
You might just decide for yourself which one sounds better, sounds more appealing.
I do still do that. I also use a headline analyser. It’s built into the blogging platform. It gives you a score, some guidance on what would be considered good or better.
This headline scored 54, which is in the 40 to 60 “good” range. The best is anything over 70.
If you don’t have this built in, then you can always use an online headline analyser. My favourite option was always the Advanced Marketing Institute version, which gives an Emotional Marketing Value. This title apparently has a predominant emotional classification of “Spiritual”.
Test in the real world
You might choose to do a test between two titles if you’re sending out an email to your mailing list. Most of the providers give you this option.
I think this depends on the size of your list, as ideally you would test two smaller segments, look at the results and then send the winning subject line to the rest of your list. If you’ve only got 100 people on your list, then it may not be as feasible, or relevant, to do.
Look at what’s worked before
If you’ve been putting out content for some time, then you’ll know you’ve had a range of results. It’s worth going back and looking at the best and worst performers.
See if you can work out the common threads between different titles and apply that to your content going forward.
Obvious, but we often forget to take some time to go back and look, particularly for those running small businesses. When you have to do every job, something has to give.
It’s not just about click bait or shock
In case you’re worried that you have to make it seem like you’re moonlighting for the Sun, that’s not the only route with titles and subject lines. If your brand is more Guardian than Daily Star, that’s fine.
It’s just to think about that art of fewer words and bringing in the emotion.
Do not press publish!
Not till you’ve gone back and looked at that title. Even if you stick with it, just give it a second look. It might be one line but it deserves some attention.
What’s the best title or headline you’ve come across?