Use Quotes, Focus on Keywords and Be Bold to Craft the Best Titles

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I recall a test from a couple years ago where the subscriptions marketing team at Conde Nast in London wanted to promote cross-sell subscriptions for the magazine WIRED so they tested three titles:

A: Your Exclusive Offer to WIRED
B: Get WIRED in print and on the iPad for just £9
C: Get WIRED on the iPad with your special offer

"Exclusivity beat technology." 'A' was the winner—by 35%. (Overall it got a 22% open rate.)  So titles may not always be the best place for catchiness. "Don't try to sound too smart, it can come off as robotic and distant," one consultant wrote. And people do like exclusive deals. Also, a title may be too early to be too specific. Why just market to people with an iPad unless you know they have one.

Here are some more tips on crafting titles:

Leave time to work on the title. In an article this week on Access Intelligence's Social Shake Up site, Elaine Rau, founder, LadyBossBlogger, wrote: "Your title could be a barrier to reeling in more readers. Many businesses add titles last-minute before posting, but a blog title is one of the key elements that draw in readers. It's not just an attention grabber, however; it also impacts SEO." She added that the Co-Schedule Headline Analyzer is a free tool for creating titles that drive traffic and improve search rankings. Type your headline into the search bar on their website, and get rated on your title's word balance, use of keywords and more.

Think search and keywords. Speaking about webinars, Matthew Cibellis, director of programming, live and virtual events, Education Week, told us: "It's the content that matters, and the title is the most important aspect of that content. We recommend to our advertisers to come up with a really good 5-8 word title. Think search, keywords. Then in your webinar descriptions use lots of calls to action and tell why people should attend."

Highlight a quote. I did that this week for a Q&A I found with Salesforce's Pardot Marketing VP Nate Skinner. "The biggest problem we're seeing ... is the proliferation of data — I call it a "data-palooza." he said in the interview. I thought that was a great phrase, so my headline started with "Overcoming Data-palooza..." Digiday is doing this a lot now as well. 'Marketing Equals Overhead': Why Marketing Is Still Seen as a Cost-Center. Another one this week was, 'Value Is a Proxy': Publishers Are Soliciting Feedback From Readers With One-Question Surveys.

Play off of something famous. When the city of Seattle approved a ban on plastic straws, it named the campaign Strawless in Seattle. Yes, the tie-in with the famous film is obvious. But still, give them credit for going with it. In 2017, the Harvard Business Review launched "The Big Idea," a digital series running six times per year consisting of articles and features focused around one topic.

Curiosity attracts clicks. Anchors on TV and radio constantly tell us what's coming next. So can good titles. From NiemanLab: A Senator's Bill Would Ban a Whole Lot of Stuff the Senator Doesn't Like About Social Media. From Fast Company: "A New Wave of Smart Cities Is Here, and They Look Nothing Like What You'd Expect."

Use bold claims. This would go with my story yesterday on the value of being brave in your marketing. Bold can be beautiful. Yahoo: Did Marilyn Monroe Inspire Spring's Biggest Shoe Trend? Christian Science Monitor: Republican Chairman Predicts 'Tsunami' Victory in November. As long as your content can back up the claim, over-the-top is usually okay.

Trigger an emotion. "Emotion always trumps rationale," Campaign Monitor wrote. "'Let us know what you think' will not produce an emotion unless the customer had an extreme experience with your company." The Pulitzer Center sent me an email with the tug-at-the-heart subject line beginning, "Finding Colombia's Disappeared." Fast Company wrote one this week: "Everyone hates passwords. Good news: They're about to die." That triggers an emotion.


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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…