Let’s discuss blog goals and how to obtain them. I’m against pretty much anything that tries to convert writing from a creative process to a clinical analysis. But, with the overwhelming amount of data that’s available for a given post or subject anymore, it’s ignorant to try to dismiss it and keep doing what I’m doing. After all, I’m writing with the hope that my posts will be read, and every time I try to turn a blind eye to a metric, I’m failing to take advantage of a tool that could help lure some more readers my way.
What I try to do now is observe and digest as much as I can, then clear much of it from my thoughts during the act of writing, and, during edits, try to tweak a couple of key areas that could likely have a significant impact on my search results. Admittedly, I’m not doing nearly as much as I should be. But, so much of this feels like trial and error to me. The right combination of optimization devices could yield a lot of attention. Or an awkward-reading post. My approach lets me feel like I’m still driving the car and nets me a modest audience.
There is one area, however, that I was open to scrutinizing from the start: titles and headlines. They’ve long been my Achilles heel. Write a 2,000-word feature about a groundbreaking study of knee osteoarthritis for a mainstream audience? On it. It’ll take me almost as long, though, to write the headline as the article. Sitting there, I feel the weight of the chore increase each time the cursor blinks.
It doesn’t matter how moving an article or a post, the title is what sells it. Consider how many of them you scroll through during the course of a given day, between emails and searches, and how few posts you end up reading. And that’s the stuff you’re already interested in.
Here’s a way to start working towards your blog goals
So, a somewhat formulaic approach to writing a headline or title actually buys me a little breathing room. Instead of starting from square one, it’s more like square one-A now. This is what I’m doing.
Just get something down
It’s a practice I started following a couple years ago to disarm daunting articles. Don’t worry about word counts. Don’t worry, even, about staying particularly true to your outline. Just try to hold the momentum and get it all onscreen. You were always going to go back and tighten it up anyway.
Turns out, it works for headlines, too. Even if it reads like total nonsense, type it as soon as you think it. A half-dozen miserable, working titles is a step up from a blinking cursor. Maybe not a sizable one, but you’re on your way, at least.
Stay true to the post
When we’re stuck to the point of desperation, the instinct is to go for broke. In this case, that means hyperbole. A title that oversells its post will come at the cost of readers’ trust. And without that, you’re essentially dead in the water.
Understand, that doesn’t mean that you can’t dress your headline up with a sexy adjective and some bold, call-to-action phrasing. (In fact, both are triple word scores.) Rather, it means that you can’t forsake accuracy in the name of appeal. If you lose perspective, which is easy to do when you spend too much time with so few words, ask a friend or a coworker for help. A fresh pair of eyes always breathes new life into a title.
Get to the point already
Keeping your headline under 70 characters will ensure that it won’t get cut off in search engine results. That’s critical, obviously. Now, if you can say what you want to say in a concise, compelling way, and do so in 70 characters or less, try optimizing your title. Often, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. First, because the keyword needs to be in the beginning of the title to be effective. And, two, because that keyword can undermine everything you’ve worked toward to this point. Keywords, like hipsters, are almost always awkward.
Again, remember the reader experience, and make that your top priority. Write an honest, inviting headline. That’s hard enough. If you manage to make it SEO-friendly, too, all the better.