Title Tags That Work For New Posts…
Tyler Bishop of Ezoic and I were talking about the critical importance of researching and writing great title tags for your online publishing endeavors and sharing our strategies when it became obvious that we’re not quite on the same page.
Tyler is very focused on data and analytics while my approach is more middle of the road, trying to find a balance between the analytics and something with verve. We decided our conversation warranted a deeper public discussion, so low and behold, our collective advice, tips, and more are all below for your enjoyment.
How Much Do Title Tags Matter?
Dave: Let’s start out with some agreement; people who publish articles online with bad titles are just shooting themselves in the proverbial foot.
While it’s nice to think that you can use all your creative prowess to produce wonderful content that’s fun, engaging and shows off your storytelling ability, the reality of the situation is that we’re all working in a Google universe and ignoring keywords and how search works is just foolish.
Tyler: Completely agree. If you’re going to put in the work to write good content, why wouldn’t you want to do the research to ensure that your title tags are going to help you deliver the visitors you’re seeking to reach? Any smart publisher is a keyword researcher already.
I have a very intelligent approach to keyword research that I wrote about once before that I encourage people to read about. You can also read about my approach to using data to find what to write about here.
Writing Headlines: Data vs. Insight
Dave: Hold on, hold on. Knowing your keyword space is definitely a critical element for any online publisher, but there’s more to the picture. Part of that is because smart publishers are writing about topics of interest to their marketplace not just specifically about things they can sell or services they can promote.
So right off the bat, you need to know what they care about and I am a big promoter of being passionate about your topic too. It comes out in your writing.
You can start with the title or topic and then write your article, tracking word count, ensuring that you have your primary keyword or key phrase in the first paragraph (or is it first 150 characters?) and do all those geeky analytic things, but first and foremost you need to have an interesting topic that’s relevant to your audience in the first place.
Tyler: Okay. But what’s better? Writing a great article no-one ever reads, or writing an article that’s the product of some smart analysis and research that gets a ton of reads and shares? The answer is always to start with research.
In fact, I like to research keywords, then look at existing results to see how what I am proposing to write compares. I want it to be a high volume keyword that I have a chance to rank for. If I can write something better than the top 5 results, then I write it, if not, I don’t.
Do you let data determine everything?
Dave: I understand your perspective, but what if those top five ranking articles aren’t very good, very informative or very helpful to your market segment or community? Would you write something even if you know it might rank #6? Or #16? Or even – gasp – #36?
Tyler: Okay, so now you’re talking about a public service, a philanthropic publishing venture. That’s fine if that’s what you want to do, but I’m tightly focused on the business of online publishing, of making sure that ever hour I spend is going to yield maximal results. To me, that’s what being a business is all about, whether you’re publishing, building skyscrapers or planting wheat for the autumn harvest.
You can still provide the world with great content, but it’s the law of supply and demand. If you make wooden shelves for a living, you need to figure out what kinds of wooden shelves people actually want to buy, otherwise, your house is going to be filled with worthless shelves (shelves on shelves, if you will).
I’m sure there are better examples than that, but my perspective on this comes from the fact that a lot of digital publishers are accidentally successful. This means that they have followed a passion and it turned out to be something people loved. This is great. Your gut got you here, but this industry is growing more and more competitive. I really just want to see passionate people stay ahead of the game.
Dave: Let’s step through a practical example. Let’s say we want to write an article about how to write great headlines for your articles. You’re suggesting that the place to start is to do the research to ascertain whether an article about article headlines is even necessary and if people do search for that sort of topic, to ask whether an article we wrote would rank on the home page. If that’s a good possibility — and I hope it is! — then and only then can the actual wording of the headline be approached. Accurate?
If that’s a good possibility — and I hope it is! — then and only then can the actual wording of the headline be approached. Accurate?
Tyler: That’s about my philosophy, yes. Once you decide it’s worth writing (which might be where we disagree), look keyword rich title tags that might make since. Then start writing…
Balance between compelling titles and click bait
Dave: Ah, now we’re on the same page. Yes, I think it’s important to recognize that more than any other element of your article, a headline is the advert, it’s the thing that will hopefully draw people to click and show up on your site to read your piece. So study headlines, look at your direct competitors, make them interesting and don’t forget some of the research-based tricks. Enumerated lists — 10 techniques for crafting the perfect headline — are quite popular with readers, as are the BuzzFeed-esque addition of “and you won’t believe…” or similar teases.
Tyler: I actually love these headlines, Dave, even though most people hate them. Actually, that’s not true. If you write a headline like that and deliver me great content, we can be friends. Otherwise, you are on my blacklist.
Dave: I’m not a fan of clickbait, but it does work. Remember your comment about being a pragmatic business? Sometimes it’s worth trying out techniques and approaches that aren’t part of your regular playbook. Your readers might hate it, and tell you, but it might drive a significant increase in traffic to your site. How would you know if you don’t test?
Tyler: Good point. So if we were to summarize, it might be all quantitative after all: research to find fruitful topic areas, then test variant headlines to see what draws the greatest traffic to your site. Sounds like where I started out, Dave. Data, data, data.
Dave: Not exactly, but yes, we have a similar approach in the end. I’ll just add that I try to make my headlines fun or engaging too. Just having keywords, or even enumerated lists with keywords is likely insufficient to get that precious click from the reader, so spend some time pushing words around, trying synonyms and using (or omitting!) jargon and acronyms. Then we can talk about how to write compelling content, right?
Tyler: I think that’s fair. I think most content creators are creative by nature, and I certainly don’t want us to remove that from the equation. However, I think these types of folks can benefit a lot from more sophisticated data-driven methods.
Keep the conversation going…
This has been a fun conversation back and forth. If you’d like to ask us some questions below, we’ll keep our conversation on this topic flowing.