Great Content + Bad Headline = Mediocre Results

You can spend a few hours researching, structuring, drafting and proofreading a great post, to completely miss it by choosing a really bad title. I recently submitted a carefully crafted rebuttal to the Seomoz article: Proof Google is Using Behavioral Data in Rankings. The post generated some controversy and some heated discussion as to the validity of the tests and results. I read everything. And, given my technical nature, I decided to dig deeper in myself. I ended up with slightly different conclusions about the experiments. If you want to find out please read the post at Youmoz.

Now, here's the bad news. As Kurt, wisely points out, I tragically missed the mark by poorly choosing an empty title: "Relevance feedback".

Kurt (86)

Sat (6/16/07) at 05:38 PM

Good post… well thought out and presented… gave it a thumbs up. Unfortunately, it will most likely get overlooked by most readers due to its title/headline. Look at the article you're a referencing, "Proof Google is Using Behavioral Data in Rankings". You know that headline will bring in some clicks. It was moved to the blog of SEOmoz from the Youmoz section (even with its flawed testing and logic). The mozzers aren't stupid… they know this type of headline and article will stir up some controversy and bring in some links. I'm no expert copywriter… far from it. I just hate to see a good post sit on the sidelines because of a bad headline.

The title I chose did not offer the reader any incentive to click or learn more. I guess that I operate in two modes: engineer and marketer and that I forgot to flip the switch while writing this post.

First, let me state that his remarks about the mozzers are valid for most journalists, trade publications, social media sites, etc. It is human nature to judge books by their cover. If the cover is crap, the content must be crap. That is how we normally think. Again, whether you are writing:

1. A blog post

2. A book

3. An email

4. A fax cover letter

5. An article

6. A Digg submition

7. etc.

Write title/subjects that entice users to read further.

What can you learn from my mistake?

1. Most people scan web pages. They don't have the time to follow each link. The title must be a call to action: "this is interesting, click to learn more".

2. Summary/excerpt is very important too. I chose a really bad first paragraph. If you write post as guest for other popular blogs, you want your title and first paragraph to be cliff hangers. You must get people to click further.

3. Content importance is second to title and excerpt! This is sad, but true. While crappy content won't get the word out, crappy titles won't even get the word in the first place.

Deceptive titles are not a good idea

Am I suggesting you start writing bait and switch posts? Definitely not.

While controversy draws attention, writing titles that say one thing and when you read the content you find another is the best way to brand yourself as a charlatan. Ideally, you should spend enough time carefully writing your posts (especially, if they are to be published on other websites), and spend a few minutes carefully writing the titles as well. Be creative!

Update: Rand fixed my bad title and promoted my post to the SEOmoz blog!

4 replies
  1. Pete W
    Pete W says:

    Writing titles is an art, as is all copywriting. Check out some of the work by some of the greats, like Carl Galletti, Ted Nichols and Michel Fortin. They knoweth their stuff.

    Reply
  2. Hamlet Batista
    Hamlet Batista says:

    Shane, El Culebro,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Pete W,

    I am not familiar with Carl Galletti or Ted Nichols, but if they are in the same league of Michael Fortin and James Clark, we are talking about the best of the best.

    Reply
  3. Shane
    Shane says:

    This works great in business …

    Whenever I'm writing an email to someone who's not known for their quick response time, I try and write an enticing subject line. And then I carefully leave out the key details just to throw a little mystery into the pot.

    Usually gets a pretty quick response.

    Reply
  4. El Culebro
    El Culebro says:

    There's no doubt that the headline is very important as far as getting people's attention, but what really matters to the reader(at least me) is the author and content. So far, ALL of your articles have mind blowing content, so regardless of the headline, knowing who wrote it, I knew I was in for a treat and I wasn't let down.

    It's interesting to see how you were shown the mistake, you analyzed it and had it fixed. Now you're in a position where you can not only prevent it from occurring again but also improve other aspects based on what you have learned from the original mistake. This is sheer brilliance.

    Great post!!

    Reply

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