Titles are arguably the most important part of the content you write. Sure, the body of your article may be impeccably crafted, but no one will read it if they aren’t tempted to click on the title first.
So, how can you write intriguing titles that drive traffic without verging into clickbait territory? Let’s find out.
Choose a Catchy Opener and Closer
To discover the most popular types of title openers, we turned to the folks at BuzzSumo. They analyzed 100 million headlines, and identified the 20 starting phrases with the most Facebook engagement:
As you can see, people love to learn, whether it’s in the form of instructional guides or handy explanations.
More specifically, the top five headlines are about numbered lists or educational information.
Similarly, the most shared closing phrases in a headline are as follows:
When it comes to numbered lists, multiples of five are a safe bet:
With this in mind, try to form a basic template for your title that revolves around learning. Here are a few examples:
- 5 Reasons Why Dogs Love Tennis Balls
- This is What Your Cat is Doing Right Now
- 10 Things You Can Do to Help Stray Cats
- This is the Cutest Puppy in the World
Of course, your titles won’t necessarily be about animals (and if they are, I’m very jealous), but you get the idea. Essentially, if your audience feels like they’ll learn something new from reading your article, you’re likely to get a boost in shares and traffic.
And, if you’re trying to attract a local audience specifically, try pairing an educational-sounding opening phrase with a location-based closing phrase.
- 10 Things to Do in Downtown Los Angeles
- These are the Best Coffee Shops in Columbus
- 5 Reasons Why You Should Check Out the Art Scene in Denver
- This is What You Can See This Weekend in Newark
Tweak the Length
Now that you’ve written the first version of your title, it’s time to play with the length.
Contrary to what some guides might tell you, there is no hard and fast rule about whether shorter or longer headlines do better. Rather, it’s about hitting a sweet spot in the middle.
CoSchedule published some handy charts based on data collected by Outbrain that can help us visualize this idea.
Titles with the highest engagement rates tend to have between 61 and 100 characters:
In simpler terms, titles with 16 to 18 words perform the best, although those with eight words saw excellent engagement as well:
The findings of HubSpot’s analysis tell a similar story:
To put this into practice, let’s rework the word count of a couple titles, so that this:
5 Cute Puppies
5 of the Cutest Puppies in the Whole Entire World, According to the Clever Canine Connoisseurs That Follow Us on Twitter
5 of the Cutest Puppies in the World
5 of the Cutest Puppies in the World, According to Twitter
Don’t Become Clickbait
We all know that clickbait is a bad thing. But do we know what it actually means? Let’s check with Merriam-Webster:
The key word here in “dubious,” because if you provide your reader with everything the title promised, you’re not “baiting” them. If, however, your content fails to deliver, then it is clickbait.
So, when you’re writing your headlines, don’t worry about whether using emotionally charged words or numbered lists make your content clickbait. Instead, make sure that your content lives up to its title (if you promise a gallery of 15 adorable rescue dogs and only provide five, your readers will not be happy).
That being said, I personally believe you should use your own best judgment when evaluating whether your titles are catchy or manipulative. One of the biggest indicators of a manipulative title is fear-based language.
Plus, besides being ethically questionable, fearmongering simply doesn’t fly on the internet like it does on television. A study found that happy news stories spread far faster and wider than sad or concerning news stories on social media.
Another study from Fractl revealed that social media stories that create a sense of surprise, anticipation, joy and trust (represented in this graph by yellow and orange dots) fare far better than those which promote anger, fear, disgust and sadness:
The bottom line is that it’s easy to avoid becoming clickbait—just don’t make empty promises and don’t try to capitalize on the fears your readers may or may not have. You’ll be a lot more popular for it, too!
And, if you need help creating click-worthy content, check out our content creation services.
What are your tricks for writing a catchy title? Let me know in the comments!