Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

How To Write Great Titles And Headlines For The Web

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Writing truly effective Web titles and headlines is a difficult and challenging skill.

Photo credit: Maslov Yuri

Few are good at this, and the ones that have learned what it takes to do this job right, keep most of their tactics for themselves.

Writing great headlines for the Web has nothing to do with writing great articles in newspapers or magazines.

Writing great titles and headlines on the Web is of such enormous value to content publishers that not knowing what it takes to transform titles in perfect content labels can cost them literally thousands of dollars in lost advertising or subscription revenues.

Great titles are worth gold on the Internet but understanding how to create them is not an intuitive task or something that you can learn by emulating what print newspapers and magazines have done for decades.

We are in a completely different ball game. While in a print newspaper the reader has clearly decided to engage and browse through the publication she is holding in her hands, on the Web this is increasingly less and less the case.

People don't browse so much sites in search for articles that would interest them like they do while browsing a paper. They are sent to other places by recommendations and reviews made by people and sources they trust or they find your content by way of searches on major search engines.

So, if you are after getting the attention of those trusted reviewers, bloggers and newsmakers, or if you want to make way for your content to become more visible on the major search engines, this is what I advise you to do.

My assumptions here are that you want to:

1) Have your content easily found by potential readers searching for it via search engines,

2) Increase your visibility and exposure on the topics you write about,

3) Attract more targeted readers, truly interested in what you have written about.

If this indeed what you are after, then these are the rules you need to use to write great titles for your web articles:

a) Make an effort to keep your title short.
Three to six words is the ideal length, and at around ten the maximum limit. Major search engines give high relevance only to the first set of words you use in the title, and they display only up to 8-10 words in their search engine result pages (Google and MSN; Yahoo displays up to 16 words).

b) Do not try to make the title "smart", by using irony, word play or other "journalistic" approach.
The title to be built must be thought as of a label to your article in the unlimited virtual library that the Internet is.

Inside newspapers the reader is already captive and searching, within the page, for items of possible interest.

On the Internet, headlines are often displayed out of context. The reader is searching for your content and will only get to it, if a most appropriate, serious and well thought out label is attached to it. On the web, readers often don't get the chance of applying background understanding to the interpretation of the titles they are presented with.

Just like in a real library.

c) The title must be a "label" or summary of the content.
Does the title accurately describe the full content to be published. If the answers to these two questions are positive ones then you are doing a great job of titling your content for the Web.

d) Headlines have to stand on their own.
Think of it in this way: if somebody was to read that title without the associated would she be able to tell what the article contained? Headline text has to stand on its own and make sense when the rest of the content is not available.

e) Is the title representative of what a typical potential reader of your content would write to search for content like the one you have in your article?
If the answer is yes again, then go for it. If not, put yourself in the shoes of your reader and type the search you would write in Google, Yahoo or MSN if you were to search for an article containing the same content you are about to publish; what would you write in the Google search box?

f) Strike at the start.
Make the first two-three words in your title contain keywords highly representative of your specific content. Make sure those words are the important information-carrying units of your title. Have them focus on concept, topic, theme of your content.

f) Proper names, products, brands and services names go last.
In general, leave product names in the end of the title as people who are searching for products or services by name will often want to go to the original manufacturer web site. If on the other hand you are providing review, analysis or commentary on specific products, people, organizations, you may want to associate qualifying keywords in front of the product name (e.g.: Issues and problem with Skype; Alternative tools to Microsoft Word, etc.).

How to test and verify the quality of your title.

1) Test before writing the title.
Go to the three major search engines and type the title(s) you would like to use.
Verify the:

a) quantity

b) quality and

c) relevance of the articles that come up when searching for your new potential title. Evaluate whether your title is good by looking at the type of content it brings up. In areas where there is lack of content little or no relevant content may come up, but in areas where there is already a significant amount of publicly available content, you will be able to see if there are already articles with similar or identical titles and how you could differentiate yourself from those.

2) Google test n°2. Verify if AdSense ads (those text ads displayed on the right side column of Google page results) do appear. If they do appear and are of great relevance to the topic you are covering, then you have written a good one. If Google ads don't appear it may mean that your title is OK, but it is either too specific, long, not clearly expressing a specific topic/theme. Or it simply means that you have done a bad job of it. It's hard to say. What you want rather to avoid, is the view of Google ads coming up but with content clearly not relevant to your topic/theme. That is clearly a sign not to go with the selected title, as it maybe ambiguous, badly worded or interpreted in completely other ways from what the ones you had intended to.


A few personal tips.

You can never get a great title down in one shot. Please realize this.
You need to allow time and refinement in your title writing process as the title matures with your better understanding of it.

Write it down right away, however bad it is and let it sit.

Then keep writing your article and from time to time get back to it. Edit it and improve it. Try out new solutions. Experiment with it and test the new combinations in the search engines.

At one point your title will automatically emerge from your investigation as only so very few can stand the matching with the criteria I have given you above.

Next step:
Give it a try and let me know how to make it better

Readers' Comments    
2012-02-26 16:30:28

Lin Weich

Thanks. I'm starting to understand blogging. This article is well written and makes sense.

2011-03-14 03:57:33


Great article. It helps me a lot for my daily work. Thanks.

2009-11-05 23:23:55

Paige Green

Hi there,

Agree with your thoughts an extent. Page Titles should definitely include desciptive keywords and "scientific" will always trump clever for a search engine...but that doesn't mean that you can't include your "clever" title as part of the Meta Description or as header text on the actual page. Page titles and content need to be optimised to get search engines to find you, but once the reader is's up to the website to keep them there...and that means clever journalistic headlines will count.

2008-04-30 01:13:03

Robin Good

Copywriting Service,
nothing could further from reality. This is a completely faulty assumption.

You are right when you say that a catchy title next to a "scientific" one would stand to receive more clicks by being just a mouse click away, but you are very wrong assuming that a catchy title will EVER stand a click away from a "scientific" one inside Google search engine result pages.

Google looks at the opening keywords of your title and checks whether they are re-inforced in your own content before deciding where to place your page inside search engine result pages.

If you use a catchy title, it is very likely that you will NOT have the critical keywords in the opening of your title and that by itself will throw your site well below anyone that has effectively used my approach.

Since things do change and I am not infallible, I am also very open to look at any result page you want to point at me that shows a "scientific" title next to a "catchy" one inside Google search results, confirming and supporting your own very affirmation.

2008-04-30 01:05:02

Copywriting Service

on creating a headline writers should keep in mind that if the headline don't catch the readers attention then most probably your copy will not be read. You should know that competitors are just one click away in SE so better create a headline that will sure catch peoples attention plus a copy writing that have appropriate tone and that is informative.

2007-09-14 06:57:01


this ws one of the best content written down for freshers like me,......very innovative and very informative.....concluding i suggest,better explanation comes with some example

2007-05-01 23:50:31


Really very good posting. This posting clears all the terms related to title and description, that we need to keep in mind when we optimize for a web page.

2007-04-24 01:07:04



Thanks for sharing some really great tips on Headlines. Look forward to applying it.

2005-12-14 04:00:23


Thanks for the wonderful information. You are the only person I've found who has given a guideline for product names in the title (at the end)!
Thanks again,

2005-07-05 08:18:33

Ken Savage

Another great article Robin. You always keep us on our toes and thinking.

2005-06-19 08:37:26


While I myself write on the subject, I found the article to very educational and useful

2005-06-12 13:11:42

Johnson Peter

This article is like ever: Just amazing! Great!

2005-06-09 12:37:46

David Petherick

Great article, Robin! Concise, and Pithy!

Regards from Scotland.
(I commented and linked in my blog - but was not sure if trackback is working correctly.)

posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, June 1 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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