When I studied journalism in college, one thing I learned that remains true is the power of headlines. In fact, the Internet has made headlines and titles even more important now because with social media, often people are making the decision whether or not to view your content based solely on its title.
But most comedians spend little to no time considering what they’re going to title their newest video or blog post and they certainly don’t take into account the huge impact it can have on the number of people that wind up checking it out. Here’s a few suggestions for how you should be thinking about your titles…
1. Write For Your Audience, Not For Yourself
One of the most common mistakes I see in titling – especially on blog posts – comes when people use titles that may have meaning to themselves but won’t resonate with an audience. For example, let’s say that you write a blog post about a crazy night of drunken debauchery you had and then title it, “I Should Have Known Better.” That title might work for you because you know who you are and you know what it’s referencing, but for a potential reader who may just see that headline on a Facebook or Twitter status update or on your website, it’s not that appealing because it doesn’t give them any information about the post.
As a result, your headline “undersells” your content because it’s not compelling enough to get people to want to read that amazing story that you’ve told. Instead, you could have titled it something like “This Is What Happens When You Drink 15 Margaritas” or “How To Get Thrown Out Of 5 Bars In One Night” or something like that – those titles are more descriptive and likely to interest people who have no idea even who you are. Remember, the goal of your content is to not only get people who know you to read it, but to attract new fans.
Here’s a way to think about your titles that may help: Write titles that sound like you’d find them in a magazine as opposed to titles that sound like you’d find them in a personal journal. This is because magazines write for their audience (which you should be doing), and people who write in journals are only writing for themselves.
2. Write For Google, But Don’t Only Write For Google
When you’re titling a blog post or video, you’re doing more than just telling people what your content is about – you’re also telling Google. While the world’s biggest search engine considers a lot of factors when it comes to determining whether or not your content fits what somebody else is looking for, one of the most important factors in that determination is your title and you should take that into account.
For example, if you’ve created a piece of content that’s related to golf and you want people who are interested in golf to see it, then you better include the word “golf” in the title. It won’t guarantee that people searching for golf will find it, but it will help your chances.
The flipside of this is that it can be easy to get carried away with stuffing relevant keywords into your title – often times when you see an awkward title it’s because that person is just trying to get Google’s attention. I don’t recommend this. You want to strike a balance between including relevant keywords in your title and still writing a compelling title that makes sense and will capture people’s attention.
3. Most People Will See Your Headline Out Of Context
One thing you’ll want to keep in mind is that the vast majority of people who will see your title will see it completely out of context. They won’t know it’s on your site, they won’t know what the content is, they won’t know the backstory, and they won’t see anything other than the headline appearing in a Twitter or Facebook feed, on a YouTube related videos page, or in a Google search results. Their decision of whether or not to click and view your content will solely be based on the words in your headline.
Since this is the case, you want to concentrate on headlines that work on their own. For example, headlines like “Here We Go Again” or “Another Reason What I Said On Tuesday Was Correct” are meaningless if I don’t know the backstory of what you’ve done in the past. When choosing your headline, take a moment to consider it on its own and think about whether it would be of interest to somebody who doesn’t know anything about you or your content.
4. Write Like A Tabloid
When it comes to headlines, nobody does it better than the tabloids. Think about how places like TMZ and the New York Post write headlines – they’re over the top and often slightly misleading, but they absolutely “force” you to click them to find out more. That’s what you want to do with your content.
Remember, the main goal of your headline isn’t to summarize your content – it’s to attract people to it.
5. Be Clear, Not Clever
One of the traps that comedians fall into when it comes to writing headlines is trying to be too clever. Since you’re creative and funny, your instinct will probably be to try to come up with a clever play on words or a title that will be hilarious…after somebody’s viewed the content. The problem is, clever titles rarely work until after somebody’s viewed the content and that’s not what you’re looking to do.
Instead, try to be as clear as possible about what the content is about. You’ll find that by being clear your title will be more likely to be effective in Google searches, more likely to appeal to the intended audience, and more likely to get clicks.
6. Your Headline’s The Setup, Your Content’s The Punchline
Especially when it comes to videos, your headline can have a huge impact on how people view your content. Since your title is what usually draws people to view your content, it also establishes the context for how they view it – essentially, it functions as a setup to the punchline that is your content.
For example, let’s say that you make a video in which you rant about why you think Lindsay Lohan should pose for Playboy. You could title that video “Lindsay Lohan Poses For Playboy!” and you’d probably get a lot of clicks for it. But, the people that were clicking would be expecting to see Lindsay in Playboy and will wind up hating your video because your setup doesn’t match your content. Instead, somebody who clicks a video titled “3 Reasons Why Lindsay Lohan Should Pose For Playboy” will get what they’re expecting and be MUCH more likely to enjoy and share your video.
Don’t try to trick people into viewing your content – people hate feeling misled and they’ll wind up hating your content (even if they otherwise would have enjoyed it). And even worse, they’ll stop trusting what you say about your content in the future and eventually just tune you out.
If you want some quick advice on a title of one of your videos or blog posts, feel free to leave a comment on this post and I’ll give you some feedback.