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.

1 Comment

  1. 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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