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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