Titles are incredibly important when you’re writing for the web.
Startup Stats CEO Nick O’Neill wrote an interesting blog post discussing the importance of titling articles on the Internet in which he looks at an example of a New York Times story, which Forbes also covered with a different title, only to see more shares and traffic than the original piece.
The original title was: “How Companies Learn Your Secrets”
The Forbes title was: “How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did”
I don’t think the original was too bad, and apparently, it got a fair amount of traffic too, but the Forbes version is certainly more provocative.
I’m sure the traditional media outlets who call blogging about stories that already exist stealing will view this as an example of a publication “stealing” the work of others, and in this case, the Forbes article did borrow pretty liberally from the original source, though it did credit and link to thee NYT (Again, this is Forbes. Not just some blog.). However, there is a different point being made here, showing where the original sources can drop the ball.
I’ll say it again. Titles are incredibly important on the web. It depends on the goal you’re trying to reach with your writing, but titling can make all the difference.
Are you trying to gain traffic from search engines? You better think about what people are searching for, or what they would be searching for to get to your article. Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool is actually really good at helping you determine this.
Or maybe it’s the social traffic you’re after. You want people to share your content. There’s always the sensationalistic approach. The controversial titles. The titles that promise to give you a reason (or 10 reasons) why whatever this article is about will “absolutely change your life”. These things may seem cheesy sometimes, but people do gravitate towards these kinds of headlines, and share them.
This line by O’Neill pretty much sums it up: “The reality is that in the world of newsfeeds and streams, titles matter more than ever before. The best content in the world will fall flat without a great title.”
Consider all of the ways people are consuming content online these days. It’s not like when you just bought a newspaper and read the stories that were printed because they were the ones that were there. People are getting stories through Email, Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard, Google Reader, Google Google News, Google+, LinkedIn, Reddit, and many, many more social services, aggregators, etc.
SEO is still a factor, but it’s not the only factor. In fact, social is a factor of that factor.
The main thing to remember is that the right title can mean the difference between a little bit of traffic and your site getting slashdotted.
Keywords matter, but they’re not the only thing that matter.