Using titles for your articles and other content should be immediately descriptive. You work hard on your subject matter and your desire is that people read it and take something away from the information. What you don’t want is a title that is vague and will cause your readers to skip the entire piece.

Here are some recent titles I’ve reviewed in various places:

“Do you understand your business?”
“Avoid blah blah”
“Keep on keeping on”
“Reducing complexity”
“The new ROI report”
“Keep your people informed”
“Empowering and engaging employees”

Do you understand from the above titles what the articles are about? Probably not. The above headings are puzzling and tell us nothing. What about your business should you understand? What about the ROI report should we consider? Keep your people informed about what? And are you addressing management or sales people? Not one item in the above titles is descriptive.

Online, clichés and misspellings

If you post information online, such as in a blog or newsletter, then the title has to be SEO friendly and easily found. Think about the information you’re offering and what people will type into the search engines. They aren’t in your head and likely won’t type the title in the way you’ve arranged it. However, adding clear, detailed words will help your information to be found.

Clichés such as: “You only have one chance to make a first impression,” do nothing to save the content. A first impression about what? And clichés are unimaginative. You want titles specific to your content, not something someone has used in the past.

And do I need to mention anything about misspellings? If I do, it’s along the lines of spam, amateur and lazy. Proofread your titles as you would your article.

Titles in internal communications

Often what is overlooked is the title in internal communications. We assume that our audience – employees of the company – will understand us no matter what we say in that title. Follow that with a heading that uses large words and is long means that your information might not be read, even by your colleagues.

I recently wrote about this with regard to email subject lines in your communications. The idea is the same: choose a title that will capture your audience’s attention and make them want to read more.

Even in internal communications, you want titles that are descriptive, catchy and short. You want something in that title that will intrigue your audience so that the piece will sound more as a story rather than an informational report.

You also want to make sure your title is not misleading. Have you ever read an article with a title such as: “Keys to making employee reviews positive and exciting and how to avoid alienating your workers,” only to read through the 2,000-word piece and discover nothing about those keys? This title is long, focuses on two major elements, and doesn’t answer what it promises. What are the chances employees will read your next piece?

With all of that said, here are three things to consider when choosing a title:

1. Make it short and catchy

Your first thought should be to grab your audience’s attention. A long title is not only counterintuitive and turns people away, but it can harm your SEO. Use specific but simple words and phrases that give enough punch so your audience can’t wait to read more. And make sure you use active words in the present tense to lure in their attention such as: Why, What, How, Where and When.

“Why core values help your business”
“Why the new ROI report is important for marketing”
“Recognize talent to increase productivity”
“How to empower your employees to be better workers”
“How to keep employees informed with newsletters”

If you cannot engage your audience in the title, they won’t read the article. They need to see themselves in that subject and know instantly if the information will benefit them.

Think about the heading to this article. What in that title caused you to continue reading?

2. Focus on one main point

Avoid overwhelming your audience with too much information at once. If you focus on one point in the title, answer it right away. There may be more to the content and you can cover it further in the article, but don’t try to capture more than one audience in the title. We have a challenge already with information overload, so don’t contribute to that.

If you stick to the theme with a few tidbits, the subject will be easily remembered.

Another idea is that if you have more than one point to cover and you have enough information, you might break it up into two separate articles. Whether you decide to run multiple articles or not is up to you, but make sure your title is aimed at making one strong point.

3. Be clear and descriptive

When titles are ambiguous and deceptive, the reader will be angry. Make sure your heading is clear about what the article is about. Don’t think that your audience will read anyway just to find out what the title means. They won’t. They’ll see a title that doesn’t make sense, doesn’t apply to them, and pushes them to move on.

Look at the titles again in point one. “Why core values help your business.” The key words in this title are “core values” and “business.” For someone interested in how the core values of his company will help him, he’ll be interested in reading the article.

The next one: “Why the new ROI report is important for marketing.” For anyone involved in the marketing aspect of the business, “ROI report” and “marketing” will grab his/her attention.

Remember to make sure the brief title describes exactly what the article or information is about and why it applies specifically to your audience. The article is likely exciting to you and you’ve spent a lot of time crafting it a certain way. Now you want it read and you want the same enthusiasm you have to trickle toward your audience. Don’t lose them with the wrong title.

The takeway: Think about the subject of your article and the audience who will benefit the most from it. Then pull out some key words that describe the article. Play around with those words and add in active words (verbs) that force the reader to take action. When in doubt, ask a colleague not involved with the subject matter which title he finds impressive and definitive.

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