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Without a Compelling Title (or Subject Line), Nobody Will Ever Read Your Finely Crafted Content

Presbyterian minister Frank Crane was a speaker, columnist, and author who created a series of “Four-Minute Essays” published in the early 20thcentury. He wrote about positive thinking, and much of his work has been lost over time. However, his commentary on book titles shows that even though Mr. Crane lived, wrote, and died long before today’s era of “content,” he was clearly an internet marketer at heart.

Crane said, “Next, in importance to books, are their titles.” This is the exact opposite of how most writers approach content, but the fact of the matter is that an article, ebook, or printed material that is not titled in such a way as to attract a reader’s attention and curiosity in the first place will seldom, if ever, be read. This is especially true with online content marketing.

When you write a blog post, an article, or even an email, the title or subject line is crucial to the success of that piece of content. If you do not craft a headline that is succinct, descriptive, and compelling, no one will ever read what you wrote after that headline. In today’s world of search results, which compress everything on a website into a just one or two lines of text competing with many other lines of text on the same page, the title is everything.

Most writers tend to write their titles last. They have a message to convey or a topic to discuss, so they do the easy part first and work their way through the creative process before tackling the work they should have done first. Once they have written their piece, they try to get all of the information in the piece of content smashed into the title, with the results usually being cumbersome, too long for search results, and generally uncompelling and even downright boring. The results? No one reads past that awful title, and no one ever reads what they wrote.

Instead of starting with the body of your blog post or article, consider starting with the title. Here are a few things to bear in mind:

  1. Titles should be succinct

  2. Your title should establish the “destination” of the article, or what the reader will gain by reading it

  3. A compelling title addresses something that keeps the reader “up at night”

  4. Good titles engage readers on a sensory level

A good title or headline can be difficult to achieve because writers feel they have to explain everything the reader will encounter in the article. However, the truth is that most readers only want to know how the content will relate to them. While “An analysis of suburban trends in the late 1900s and how they affected modern puppetry arts” may be an apt description of your article, it sounds highly academic and, in most cases, will only attract academics interested in learning about modern puppetry arts. If they are your audience, then it mightbe an OK title. However, if you actually wrote that article in order to demonstrate how city planning affects our entertainment preferences and, by extension, regional economies, then the odds of reaching your readership with that title are nearly zero.

Instead, you might title your article in a way that identifies your target audience and creates some curiosity in your readers. For example, “The weird economic crossover between shadow puppets and urban planning.” That is still a bit vague and academic, but you are at least now likely to attract your audience instead of puppetry-arts-focused academics. “The shocking effects of a puppetry theater on the local economy” might work even better, depending on how sensational your audience tends. (Disclaimer: these headlines are for example purposes only. To our knowledge there is no documented, direct link between theaters for puppetry arts and regional economic growth, although there certainly could be one.)

If you struggle to write compelling headlines, then the hard truth is that you are struggling with content. No matter how wonderful the words you put out there into the world, your first job when it comes to content strategy is to get people to read them. Start with the title instead of the “book,” and more people will see and read what you have to say.