To Click or Not to Click

The Art of a Good Title

In the age of “AMAZING,” “MIND-BLOWING,” “TOP 10" headlines, how can you make your title stand out? If you’re working for a pop-culture website whose target audience includes procrastinating students and distracted office personnel, titling your piece “24 INSANE PHOTOS” probably helps generate page views. But online trends are constantly evolving, and click bait can make your work appear dated and hurt your credibility. If you’re a professional whose goal is to draw the attention of a specific audience— in my case, public health colleagues, donors, policy makers, and service providers—to a pressing issue and inspire action, you need a different approach.

© 2009 chetan soni, Courtesy of Photoshare

Looking at K4Health’s blog recently, my colleague noted that while some posts had meaningful titles, others did nothing to tell readers whether clicking on the link would be worth their time. She cited an example of each case — coincidentally, both were posts I’d written:

Title A: U.S. Recognizes Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives as a Key Solution to Teen Pregnancy — Where Do Other Countries Stand?

Title B: Getting to the Heart of Family Planning

Title A tells the reader exactly what information they’ll find if they click. Title B might have more emotional pull, but it does very little to help readers decide whether the post is relevant to their interests.

Title A is likely to show up near the top of a list of search results (in this case, 6th of 4,920 results of a Google search for “LARCs [long-acting reversible contraceptives] and teen pregnancy”). Title B is a needle in a haystack (16.9 million results of a Google search for “family planning,” to be exact).

While it did not have a flashy title, Post A had more than twice as many visitors as Post B.

Whether you’re writing a blog post, a newsletter item, a brief, or even an email, your title will influence how widely your message is read.

Your title should answer three questions.

1. What is your piece about in a nutshell?

Post A is about the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent recommendation that doctors offer LARCs such as implants and IUDs as first-line options for preventing pregnancy among adolescents. Does the title reflect that? I think so.

Post B is about a girls’ academy in Uganda that educates and empowers girls formerly enslaved and abused by the Lord’s Resistance Army, many of whom became young mothers as a result of rape. Would you have guessed that by looking at the title? Me neither.

2. What’s your “hidden gem”?

What sets your piece apart from others on this subject? As Title A indicates, the post on LARCs looks at policy developments in the U.S. and also examines the stance of other countries with alarming rates of adolescent pregnancy and related complications and death. In the post on Uganda, I thought my hidden gem was an impassioned illustration of the connection between education and family planning. But how would anyone know that from Title B?

3. Why does it matter?

Let your potential audience know why they should read. Title A tells those with an interest in teen pregnancy, long-acting reversible contraception, or global health that the post is worth their time.

Title B might flag the interest of those concerned with family planning. But with so much content available on that broad topic, what would compel even the most impassioned family planning advocates to click on the post? Nothing about the title would draw those with an interest in Uganda, gender-based violence, girls’ education, or livelihood development to the post. More basic than that, the title lacks key words or phrases that would even land it in their search results — a huge missed opportunity.

A final tip

Write your title last. It’s easier to come up with an engaging and informative title once you can actually see the content!


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