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September 4, 2012 (Updated: February 3, 2023)
Killer titles don’t give the reader time to be resuscitated: they create an instantaneous click reaction. As insidious as zombie bites, these titles infect the reader’s mind, forcing him or her to investigate the article in full.
The goal of any title is to be clicked. For that reason, you have to evoke a strong enough response in the reader to merit a click that costs the reader precious time. How do you do that? Here are keys to keep in mind, in spite of title keywords, formula, or other considerations:
Do whatever it takes—short of a stripper pole—to get people to pay attention. This could include controversy, action words, or statistics that are shocking; what this should never include is boredom. If you’re bored writing the title, the reader won’t notice it.
Example: FCC Considers Tax on Internet Service via Digg – Controversial
While we love to believe we are all original snowflakes, the truth is that everyone thought bacon was cool, narwhals were neat, and ‘like a boss’ was funny at the exact same time. If you can become a human trend-o-meter by studying social sites, then you’ll innately know what’s going to work for your audience.
Example: Aaaand He’s Gone via Reddit – Popular Phrase/Cultural Reference
If your title does nothing on the Richter clickability scale, then don’t bother using it. A person should feel compelled to click a title with keen anticipation of something.
Example: Robber Gets Shown-Up by the Moron’s Natural Enemy via Fark – Anticipation = Payoff
Anticipate your reader’s immediate negative reactions to your title and counter-strike before they arrive at an objection. The Lemmings called it smiting: for sharebait writers it might be called ‘appeasing.’
Example: If the title claims Lose 13 Pounds in 13 Days the reader will wonder how it’s possible, if anyone has succeeded, and what’s being sold: a good counter-strike is adjusting the title into subjective terms (which makes it believable but still hopeful). Lose 13 Pounds in 13 Days Like Josie Did sounds like a true story, which is engaging and a less high-stake claim than suggesting everyone could do it.
For most articles, a formulaic title will work wonders; they are referred to as formulas because they have been proven to produce results. Here are some of the most popular (read: successful) title formulas:
1. LISTS ARE ALLURING
14 Best Fast Food Meals Under 500 Caloriesvia Fark
5 Simple Ways to Open Up Your Blog Post With a Bangvia Copyblogger
10 Reasons Why Your Content Doesn’t Attract Links
2. “HOW TO” TITLES
How to Tell Stories Your Audience Wants to Hearvia Copyblogger
How to Get Readers to Subconsciously Share Content
3. QUESTION? ANSWER!
Having Post-Foreclosure Issues? Here Are 6 Credit Remedies
Do Your Soufflés Fall? Try These 3 Surefire Solutions
4. LITTLE KNOWN WAYS TO X
8 Little Known Ways to Show Confidence Without Being Cocky via Google+
3 Little Known Ways to Prevent Hangovers
5. IF, THEN
If You Plan to Buy a New Car Soon, You Need to Be Aware of These Dealer Tricks!
If You Want to Be a Sharebait Ninja, Then You Need These 6 Content Tips
6. THE SECRET OF X
The Secret History of Social Networking via BBC
The Secret Science of Color and Social Media Sales via Google+
7. METAPHOR MAGIC
Resolving a Problem Like a Bossvia New York Times
How to Negotiate Like a Pro via Times
8. WARNING: X
Reminder: Taxpayers Are Funding These Conventions via Digg
Warning: Use These 5 Public Speaking Tips at Your Own Risk
9. SUGGESTING REWARDS FOR READING
Top 12 Snacks for Super Hair via StumbleUpon
How Brain Training Can Make You Significantly Smarter via StumbleUpon
10. WHAT’S X? HINT: [NOT] Y!
What’s the Worst Bone to Break? Hint: It’s Not Your Skull!
Worst Traffic in America? Hint: It’s not Los Angeles!
11. BOOKMARK BAITING
75 Ways to Show Love in a Relationship via Pinterest
Coupon Resources for the Non-Extremists via Pinterest
12. OPEN QUESTION TARGET
Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story Than a Human? via Digg
What Causes Brain Freeze? via Digg
Purple adjectives might have gotten you into trouble in grammar school, but they’re working hard for their money online. As long as you limit titles to just one or two fancy 50-cent adjectives, then it should work. However, keep in mind that readers are much less likely to search for ‘adept’ rather than ‘smart.’ Also, consider the reading level of your audience: alienating people who haven’t studied for the GRE isn’t a good idea.
Ornate titles are a lot of fun to ponder and write, but the writer must be mindful of submission character counts. That means that your title must be short enough to tweet and retweet, or at least short enough to submit to Reddit. While sites like Fark enjoy paragraph-long titles, most readers like a title shorter than ten words (so it’s easily digestible).
When a title writer has a few months of experience under their belt, it’s time to review the stats. Ask the article promoters (or check your own analytics) to find out which titles worked best and where. Keep a spreadsheet of this data, and use it to create your own title consortium with colleagues.
Most people write earnest titles that are so boring a reader has no choice but to yawn and move on. Create killer titles so that articles get the attention they deserve and the clients get the return on investments expected.
Do you have a great title formula for sharebait success? Share it with us in the comments!
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