Tantalizing Titles: Getting into the Reader’s Mind

Tantilizing titles eyeglasses fashion by Ana_J

“There are many writers and bloggers… that think titles and summaries, heavy on SEO keywords should be enough” ~ Marilyn L. Davis from Two Drops of Ink.

Every once in a while the writer has to switch places and think like their reader and ask if they’re inviting people in. Titles and headlines firstly draw in prospective readers, tempt them, show something about what you have to offer. Headlines need to be exciting, but they also have other roles. Davis believes titles should be authentic, but searchable.


Reader Desires

Titles Question

Readers, today, are looking for a quick, informative and engaging read. They may also be seeking to understand how something works. Titles are what brings them in and there is a psychology in how they work, yet there are some basic rules. Think of some of the great headlines you have seen, in newspapers, in magazines, on TV news, on Blog posts. For the reader they will:

  • Ask questions.
  • Raise their curiosity.
  • Take an opposite view.
  • Question how to…
  • Use Alliteration.
  • Use numbers or facts.
  • Provide a scoop.


The Psychology of Titles

According the The New Yorker “Psychologists have long known that first impressions really do matter” and according to Kristi Kellogg “a great headline can mean the difference between a click and an impression.” It is the headline that frames the hype, drives expectation, etc., it will cause the searcher to read your piece. This experience is primarily the first thing the searcher will see from their Google search results (along with the excerpt or summary). Both sell the work to the potential reader.

In truth some writers have forgotten the importance of both and we probably all get lazy from time to time. Some of the suggestions Kristi Kellogg makes about titles include:

  • Be driven by the keywords.
  • Use Hashtags and Emojis.
  • Short and Sweet can be good.
  • Quote from the article (I think this is appropriate for excerpts or pages summaries as well).
  • Use a compelling statistic.
  • Look at the headlines competitors use.
  • Put one word in ALL CAPS (but only one word).
  • Provide a call to action.

Hashtag and emoji in TitlesThe crucial question clearly, probably, is who will read this? The psychology of why titles and headlines interest a reader is crucial, but of course complex. What drives people to read something we write?


A few Facts about Headlines

Love” is one of the most used words of all titles used on the web. Create a page titled “The Things I do for Love” and it will probably be hard to find, given there are more than 114 million results available. You will have little chance of it being seen on the first page of search results, even when performing a search using those precise words. Concepts like weather, insurance, tax, and the most trending celebrity this week are probably hard to attain a good ranking.

Should you write about those subjects? There is no reason not to, but you may need to build readership from your social networks rather than from search results.


Use a Formula?

Press - Headline or Titles by Alexas Fotos CC0 Public Domain from PixabayIs there a formula for a great headline? I am sure we have all seen the following while browsing the web:

  • The Five Best/Worst _______
  • What you Should Know about ______
  • Why __% of Americans use

These are some of the formula headlines I have encountered over the past few weeks, and there are plenty more I didn’t include. These are effective, but being original, or unique, can be difficult.

I am always intrigued by the “% of Americans” approach, because as a Canadian I am likely to find a similar percentage of my country’s population liking the same thing. The psychology of this type of approach is to appeal to your fellow countrymen and hope they think the same way you do. It could also alienate people in other parts of the world, something to consider if you have an international audience.


Reading Titles and Nothing Else?

According to Chris Cillizza’s Blog on The Washington Post “Americans read headlines and not much else,” people have stopped paying attention to the news. In part this may be associated specifically with newspapers as people have new ways to get the news they are interested in. I used to read the London Sunday Times in about an hour, 95% of the articles had little to interest me. I read the headline plus a segment of the first paragraph and knew most of what I needed to. The 5% represented the articles I read in detail.

Sue Unerman states in Campaign “eight out of ten people only read the headline” and further, “we often accuse the young of having a short attention span, it turns out this is not confined to that generation.” I agree.

When people perform a search,they are presented with ten page titles and associated excerpts from which they may make a selection. Two important bits of information writers must provide. How we use the web is causing us to scour this minimal information for something that may interest us.


Unique Rationale

When I first talked about opening up a blog someone once told me it was good occasionally to take an opposite tack, challenge people, find a unique rationale, go against the flow. One way is by using a headline like “Man Bites Dog”. We hear “Dog bites Man/Woman/Child” all the time and in truth this type of headline is boring. We tend to ignore it. Thinking, finally, of alternative approaches is the way to get into a reader’s heart.

People are seeking a unique rationale and in doing so they need normality to be, occasionally, turned on its head. Think about making a proclamation that a particular rookie quarterback will take his team to the Super-bowl in his first season as a pro. Miracles do happen. People want them to happen. They feel inspired when this result is a possibility.

Readers need to learn reasons, principles, facts and lessons. They need the normal to be challenged occasionally.


The Headline and your Publicity

According to David Ogalvy “five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.” You will need 4 to 5 people viewing the headline in order for one person to conclude this may be something they wish to read. One reason you must drive publicity efforts. You have to spread your net wide for each reader you capture. One reason why some writers say they should celebrate each person who reads their writing.


All about getting the First Sentence read!

Neil Patel and Joseph Putnam state “the primary purpose of the headline is to get the first sentence read.” True. For a blog the sequence is:

  • The title or headline tempts them to read further.
  • Alongside the headline in search results is the excerpt, they may read this, then…
  • They click the link.

Once they are on your page it is necessary to engage the reader, provide a compelling story, offer solutions etc. Firstly you must get that opening sentence read.


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Buy Peter B. Giblett a coffee as thanks for discussing how tantalizing titles help to engage your reader. The images included here are from royalty free public domain image collections, photographs from Pixabay, or from Peter Giblett’s personal collection.

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4 Replies to “Tantalizing Titles: Getting into the Reader’s Mind”

  1. prettypoet2012 says: Reply

    I greatly enjoyed your blog. I found this article very helpful as I always struggle with titles and headlines. I will definitely be coming back to your blog again and again.

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