The Hidden Factors in Accomplishing Your Online Marketing Goals – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

In this week's Whiteboard Friday, we go underneath the surface and bring to light some hidden factors in online marketing. These often overlooked details can have a huge impact in helping us accomplish our goals as online marketers. Please enjoy and don't forget to leave your comments below.

Please note that we shot this week's Whiteboard Friday on a brand new video camera and we still need to work out a few kinks. I apologize for the slight purple tint on the Whiteboard.

Video Transcription

Howdy, SEOmoz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to talk about the goals that we try to get people to accomplish on the Web, the things that we're trying to accomplish as online marketers, and what we're trying to optimize for, things like: click-through rate from search results; getting people to subscribe to RSS and e-mail; getting them to click links that are posted on social networks; getting them to share things on social networks, on blogs, on websites of all kinds; getting them to convert from browsing to buying; completing a free trial or downloading a white paper and giving you their information; staying a customer of a subscription product. These goals that we have are traditionally done through optimization tactics that we've talked about many, many times here. But there are hidden factors. There are things that hide beneath the surface that impact and affect all of these, all of the success rates and the conversion rates and the goal rates that you have. They can be so subtle sometimes and so hidden beneath the surface that we don't even realize what's going on. That's what I want to talk about today.

So in terms of impacting all of these items, there's traditional stuff that we know, we talk about. So things like, oh, and the click-through rate for the search results, I know that position matters. I know that getting a rich snippet matters. If I can have little stars next to mine; if I can have a picture, a photo, or a video, that usually increases click-through rate. I know that if I'm in special kinds of results, that can either increase or decrease my results. I know if I've got a listing and an indented listing below, that can help me. I know that with subscriptions to RSS and e-mail, I can test different buttons, different versions of the entry form; different calls to action. On links that I click, I can test different titles. All this kind of stuff, there are those traditional testing kinds of things, right?

So in that traditional CRO, that's been covered a ton of times. We don't need to cover this because you often know a lot of the things that are in there. You can find them. They're well-documented. The subtle stuff, the weird stuff is oftentimes around just two questions.

Number one: Does the product or service or thing that you want me to do meet my needs? It could be as simple as: Do I think when I click on this result in the search engine that it will answer the question that I originally asked? But there are so many subtleties that are involved in that, that we never think about, that doing traditional kinds of CRO testing and optimization, we'll never get there.

The second question is: Do I trust and like the brand and/or people behind the brand? This goes to fundamental marketing and branding awareness, and it is so pervasive in all the things that we do, whether it's in web marketing or in offline marketing, and yet oftentimes ignored by marketers like us, who operate in the inbound world of SEO and social media and content marketing and these kinds of things, because we're so analytics driven, that we see a lower click-through rate than we want, a lower conversion rate than we want, a lower subscription rate, a lower sharing rate than we want, and we think, hey, let's test these traditional types of CRO things. Sometimes the problem or the optimization tactics are at a much deeper level.

Let's start with the product/service meeting the needs. There's a bunch of things that go in here. Uptime and reliability is one of the biggest ones. So essentially, if I click a website and it is not speedy, delivering the things that I need, and consistent, I'm going to learn not to trust it, and I'm going to be less likely to click it. This is why you see things like speed being a factor, webpage load speed in Google's rankings, granted a very small factor, but certainly a much bigger factor when you're talking about, "Hey, I'm going to click this, and boy, it's going to take a long time."

I'll give you a good example. I personally think that a lot of the writing at Forbes is pretty darn good. Same with The Wall Street Journal, same with Bloomberg online. But they almost all have interstitial ads and very, very slow page load times. At least in my experience in the past, those websites have done that for me. Almost always have the interstitial, almost always takes a while to load, and then I have to wait through the interstitial. I hate it.

So if I see something else in the search results, a site in social media, I'm going to be less apt to share it. I'm going to be less apt to click on it. I've learned through the conditioning that those brands have given me that the uptime, reliability speed issues are problems.

Same thing with pricing. So I think Radian6 is an absolutely phenomenal product. I've heard great things about it, met the CEO, know some people there. Terrific product. Way too expensive! No way that I can justify affording it. Right now, I'm using Google Alerts and some combination of Google searches that I do every day, some other brand monitoring stuff that SEOmoz is working on in beta, the Blogscape Project, which of course I get kind of alpha access to.

Pricing is wrapped in there by necessity. When you worry, "Hey, wait a minute. I'm attracting all these visitors. They're not converting or they're not taking this action." They may have heard, or they may know, or they may have seen that your pricing simply doesn't match their market, or they have fears around that. That's why I'm such a big fan of transparency here, because I think that you will weed out and save your salespeople time, and save your customer service people time, and save your website bandwidth, if you're transparent about this most of the time.

Features and perceived features. Features is: Do you do the thing that I want you to do? When I'm talking about features, I could mean in software. I could mean in a product, like I'm buying a digital camera, I'm buying a car, I'm buying a whiteboard pen, I'm buying a subscription to a software service. I'm looking purely for information. The features are: Do you do the things that I want you do to? Oftentimes, that comes through brand perception as well.

So I know that a lot of the times when I visit an eHow type of website, that it doesn't have the features that I want, which is a reliable source that I know I can trust. Wikipedia's the same way. I only semi-trust Wikipedia, and I trust it on some topics and not others, and I always want to back it up with something else from some reliable source where I know the person there or I know the brand there, because Wikipedia could be edited by anybody, and I don't necessarily know who's behind it.

So those types of brands, and this is even true sometimes at, where the writers in some categories are phenomenal. Southern food, I think is terrific. Some of the digital marketing ones are good. Some of them are mediocre. It's a trust factor around the features and the perception of features. Perception of features is often very different from actual features.

We find, for example, when we survey customers of SEOmoz that they have no idea that we actually will help track their Facebook pages, Insights data over time, and their Twitter data over time. Many people don't even know that Open Site Explorer and SEOmoz are offered in the same subscription. So this is clearly a problem that we have had on perception of features, not even on actual features.

Presentation. The way and the style in which the features and the information and the pricing and reliability and the uptime, all of that is presented is another big one. The thing about presentation is that it's a layer that impacts everything else, not just up here, but down here as well. It's often done terribly, terribly wrong on the Web.

Because it ties so much to the, "Do I like and trust these people," let's talk about those. This question, when you ask the question, "Do I like and trust the brand, and the people behind the brand," that goes to a bunch of inputs that are very, very far removed, all so far removed from traditional CRO stuff. That's things like design and UX, which we talk about many times here on Whiteboard Friday and on the site. Higher quality, more professional, more consistent with what your audience is looking for, just does a fantastically better job than, "Oh yeah, we bought some stock photography of some people in an office working, and don't they look attractive, don't they have perfect skin? And now, you know, that's our homepage, and then there's Services, and Contact, and About. Great, we have a professional website!" No, you don't. No, no, you don't!

Design UX isn't just about that. There are other inputs like domain name and brand name. One of the biggest reasons that I'm often against exact- match domains is because it is so tremendously hard to build up any sort of branding. If you name industries, you will very, very rarely hear that the generic, exact-match domain for what we call that industry is a market leader, a brand leader, and because of that and also because, to be totally fair, a lot of people in the domaining sphere and the affiliate marketing and SEO sphere noticed the power that these had in Google and abused them tremendously. So now consumers have an association, particularly savvy consumers have an association, a brand association with exact-match domains. That is, "Oh, that's probably a low-quality site. That's probably not the real brand. I don't know if I can trust it if I click on that," versus actual brand names.

I'll give you some very good examples. In the world of office supplies I've heard of Staples, right? I've heard of OfficeMax. I've heard of Office Depot. But if it's, I'm sure someone owns that domain. It could even be someone awesome. Maybe it's a great site, but if I see it in the search results, I'm going to be mighty suspicious. That suspicion just naturally creeps in. That's why domain name and brand name are so tied together in the perception of trust and can substantially impact things like click-through rate and conversion rate and subscription rate, etc.

Accessibility of contact information. It's funny, I was just on an e-mail thread yesterday night, and some folks in the SEO sphere said, hey, have you ever heard of this particular – it was an enterprise SEO software provider. I went, "No, I haven't heard of them. This is the first time. Let me go check out their site." I see they try and say a few futures, but there's literally nothing, no one mentioned on the site; no people who are using it, no people who are associated with the brand. The contact information is "Fill out a contact form" or "Here's our office." I think it was somewhere in the United States; I can't remember exactly where. But other than a mailing address and a phone number, there was no human being listed, which made me very suspicious, because why would you not show off the team? Like, here's the exec team behind it. Here are our engineers. That kind of transparency is natural in the software world. Something's weird if it doesn't exist there.

Being able to find that information – a phone number, e-mail, contact forms, here's our Twitter and our Facebook, and these kinds of things – you just expect those from web companies. When they don't exist, you become highly suspicious.

The authenticity of the content. One of my favorite examples is there's a brand that's been doing a ton of fantastic infographics. I think it's MBAonline or, one of the online education providers with a very generic name. They really do great infographics. They sponsor some awesome stuff. Sometimes they'll get featured on a Mashable or even a TechCrunch, or something like that. Tremendous work, excellent work getting that brand out there.

But I always look at them and think this doesn't have a relationship with what the services that you're trying to sell, which is you're an affiliate for a bunch of online education providers, which can be a little bit of a nasty, sort of spammy, aggressive field. The challenge here is, hey, yes, you've got the infographic, you've got the link. But when you're trying to tie back into consumers and earn their business, those of us who are savvy and sophisticated, we sort of get a funny feeling, like something doesn't match up. The content is not authentic to the brand. Why is it being produced?

I think a great example of this is OkTrends, which is OkCupid's blog. They essentially have dating content that matches up with what people are looking for from their site. So, here's how to optimize your dating profile, and by the way, we're a dating website. Great, makes perfect sense.

Hey, here's an infographic about the rise of Twitter or Twitter click- through rates or something – and by the way, we're an MBA online education provider. Why is that? It seems like it's just for the links and attention and awareness and has nothing to do with the actual brand. Highly suspicious, particularly in spheres that are very aggressive.

Industry reputation, word of mouth. I'll give you another example. So, there was another provider that was mentioned on this string in the SEO enterprise space. No, I'm sorry. It was another enterprise software provider, but not in SEO. There were some comments of, "Oh, hey, should we use this? Should we use this other one?" Someone remarked on an e-mail thread, "You know, the CEO of this particular company has treated women employees very badly."

You would never find that on the Web, right? That's not information that you're going to see. If you start searching for reviews, you won't find it on their website. It's something that's word-of-mouth only, but it's made its way to enough influencers that now that is an influential thing in the perception of, "Do I like the brand and the people?" Very frankly, I trust this source, and I know the source knows the CEO there, and I don't. I'm probably not going to buy from this particular enterprise software provider, even if they meet my needs up here. This is the type of stuff that influences conversion rate, that is so subtle and so hidden, that you're never going to realize it from a traditional CRO-type of perspective. And yet, it pays huge dividends to go and investigate this stuff and understand that perception.

The final one that I'll mention here is familiarity with the brand and social proof of the brand. A great example here, go to SurveyMonkey's website. If you're not logged in, the homepage is a woman from Facebook, her picture, she's a statistical analyst there, and she's giving an endorsement to SurveyMonkey. Now, Facebook is a phenomenal brand; they're very well-known. Their business practices are respected. People know that they're a great data-driven company, and so the fact that they trust SurveyMonkey strongly suggests SurveyMonkey must be a great provider. So, they've created that social proof, and they're using a brand that you're familiar with.

When you combine those things, it's absolutely excellent and incredibly powerful. When I go to websites and I see a lot of social proof from either people that are anonymous or people that provide only their fist name or people that I don't know, it's less powerful. When I have seen a brand, six, seven, eight times on the Web, at a conference, in various types of ways – I've heard from someone over e-mail, I know someone who's used them, I've had an experience with someone from that company – those types of things strongly influence these. Building up all of this builds up your conversion rates and builds up all of these metrics that you think about as an online marketer, and yet, we often have so little control or so little even ability to judge and record these things.

What I want to suggest is that, to those of you who are doing web marketing, when you're thinking about these metrics, remember that these are all inputs. Don't necessarily use them as excuses, but make sure that you're taking some action on them. Make sure that you're finding ways to measure them. Make sure that these aren't the reasons why your rates over here are low, rather than the stuff that you focus on, because it can be incredibly frustrating to find that, hey, the reason that we're not making good sales is because no one is familiar with our brand, and we don't have the right social proof, rather than, oh, it's because I didn't write the title tags correctly, and I don't have a compelling description for the content, and the page isn't optimized well. It doesn't have a good flow and conversion process and funnel. Sometimes these two things are mixed up together, and I worry about those hidden factors.

So, I hope you've enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday, and I hope we'll see you again next week. Take care.

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Are Your Titles Irresistibly Click Worthy & Viral?!

Posted by evolvingSEO

The 80/20 Value of Titles

Recently, Rand did one of the best Whiteboard Fridays I've seen in a while (I do watch all of them) about increasing the likelihood of your content going viral. He touches briefly upon the importance of your title for click through rate and sharability, but in this post I'd like to take a more in depth look at titles and how they help spread your content. (By the way, this is my first YouMoz – woohoo!)

In my opinion, the elements of writing click worthy titles deserve more attention. In the wonderful marketing book "Made To Stick", the Heath brothers note that any good news or editorial writer may spend 80% of their time crafting the title (or "lead") and then whatever time they have left on the body of the content.

For those familiar with 80/20, what this means is, the size of the title compared to the actual content (and time spent crafting it) disproportionately affects the success of that content. It's one small piece of text with a lot power!

Note: to clarify, I am not necessarily referring to the title tag exclusively. I'm referring to simply the title of a page, post, article… which as you will see below can be the same as your title tag, but doesn't have to be.

A Quick Analogy: The Internet As a Highway

If your webpage was a store on the side of a busy highway, the title's job would be to capture attention and get people in the door. As many of the right people as possible. If you've ever driven on Route 1 heading into Boston, MA, you know what I mean (see photo).

Lots of people may pass by your links, tweets and shares, but few may actually stop to come in and check things out.

I hope this little analogy illustrates the extreme importance of crafting a clickable title – and that you will join me as I suggest some ideas for making your titles more clickable. Let's go!!!

7 Ingredients of a Click Worthy Title

Assuming all other factors neutral for the moment, let's look at what I think are 7 most important ingredients of your titles;

  1. Curiosity
  2. Benefit
  3. Emotion
  4. Tangible
  5. Appearance
  6. Sound
  7. Expectation

Ingredient 1: Curiosity

Your title should be clear enough that people know what they're going to get when they click, but also leave an element of curiosity – so you almost can't help but to click. You just have to find out what's on the other side. Some examples of elements that can entice curiosity;

Curiosity A: Unexpected

How do you make something unexpected? Combine two things that usually do not go together, like this;

"Diet Coke" is not something you usually expect to see in a post about SEO. 77 thumbs up.

Curiosity B: Incomplete Thought or Question

Pete's title here makes me curious, because he asks an open question, which I wonder how/if it will be answered within the post.

Curiosity C: Present A Conflict (Plot)

Rand does a great job here of introducing curiosity because there is an inherent conflict; a choice requiring resolution. Which one will he choose and why? Which do I choose and can I offer an alternative opinion? Will I agree with him?

Curiosity D: State What Something Isn't

I'm left thinking; It isn't? What Is? Do I know them? What's John going to say?

Ingredient 2: Highlight The Benefit

Benefit is congruent to differentiation. On the whole, people will visit a page because there is some sort of benefit to them. Useful content, entertainment, or even content that will make them look good if they share it. Why should someone click and visit your page? What are they going to get out of it? Some examples that imply benefit;

  • How to…
  • 7 Ways…
  • Find Out How…
  • Introducing…. (implies newness)

These are all common elements of a title that hint at benefit. Like this;

Providing a clear benefit is also a way to differentiate your content from others, in that you're implying it holds unique value that can't be found elsewhere. I also like "face-off" – there's a lot of meaning (visual, emotion, tension, etc) packed into those two words.

Ingredient 3: Elicit Excitement/Emotion

People also act on emotion – excitement, fear, hope. Your title should conjure the right emotion in viewers. I don't think people always click purely on emotion, but emotion can certainly support the other ingredients. Things like;

Thanks for the tweet Tom :-) I think the emotional aspect (as in this case) can apply more to social media – the title you might craft in a tweet of something, such as Tom's "ridiculously awesome" text here. Some other emotional words are;

  • killer
  • amazingly
  • fantastic
  • FREE
  • mistakes
  • mind-blowing
  • surprising
  • staggering
  • surprisingly
  • uncommonly
  • unusually
  • myths
  • irresistibly
  • seductively
  • tempting
  • uncontrollably
  • unexpected
  • unbelievably
  • astonishing
  • astoundingly
  • remarkably
  • insanely
  • stupidly
  • wicked
  • viral
  • epic

You get the idea :-)

Note that adverbs (ending in "ly") are quite popular. Honestly, I'm just using the thesaurus for a lot of those :-) But if you're fine with describing your own work in such glamorous words, go for it! I typically reserve this for something I'm really confident about, or if I'm referring to something else, like a product review.


  • Exclamation points!!!!!!
  • ALL CAPS – You MUST Read This NOW
  • ——–>Arrows. The Best Post Ever —> Read Now
  • *Asterisks* – I Just *Love* The Ideas in blah blah blah….

Just remember that not all special type characters work well across different platforms (social, blog themes etc) so use carefully. And they can also get annoying quickly, so use sparingly.

Ingredient 4: Make It Tangible

The Health Brother's book "Made To Stick" talks a lot about making your ideas concrete or tangible. I highly recommend going to this page of resources and downloading the free PDF "Made To Stick Success Model" (and read their book!)

Great example here though by Mike King;

I'm sure we all get an instant clear picture in mind of the "Cat In The Hat", as it's a familiar tangible graphic. Also keep in mind that, in Mike's case especially, a great post can naturally lend its self to a great title.

Ingredient 5: Appearance & Length

Although, in my opinion, not as important as 1-4, but if you can get your titles to look aesthetically pleasing, even better. Like this;

I like what Neil has done here, however intentional or not. The title fits on one line. It looks pleasing graphically, and its seven words long (which is supposedly the recommended length of a title or headline).

Ingredient 6: Sound

I don't know about you, but I "hear" myself saying the titles in my head. Just like appearance, this is of secondary importance, but if you can put an artistic touch to your titles, it makes them that much better.

I'm going to use Neil's title (noted just above) again as an example here. It sounds nice. It has a poetic ring to it.

  • The alliteration "Lessons Learned".
  • The "esss" sound in "Lessons" and "SEO" fit nicely
  • as well as the "sea" sound in agency.

Can you tell I am a musician?

Again, the appearance and sound of your title is secondary, I believe, to the first four ingredients, but in my mind if you can get all 7 elements into a title, you're a freakin' genius. :-)

Ingredient 7: Expectations

Don't advertise "the best burger in town" and then have it be a veggie burger. It could be the best veggie burger that ever existed, but you set the wrong expectation. This is where you need to have some serious alignment and harmony between what you promise in the title and deliver with the content.

For this, I'd like to cite an example where the wrong expectation may have been set;

While honestly, I've only skimmed this post, the 17 thumbs down and people's comments (some about the title directly) illustrate the point that you don't want misrepresent the content of your post. Whether intentional or not, this post unfortunately seemed to do that. But conversely it did get quite a bit of attention (101 thumbs up and promotion to main blog) so it was a well-written title, just may not have been best aligned with the content.

So some questions to ask yourself to double check this;

  • Does the title match the content? – What would YOU expect to see on the other side if you read the title? Does it match in what you imply the benefits will be?
  • Does it imply content type? – Do you use the words "photo, video, graphic, interview, read, slideshow" etc implying what the core content type is going to be? Does that in fact match what's in the post?
  • How long will it take to consume? – Do you call something a "complete guide", implying extensive length, when it is just a short overview? Do you call something a "quick recap" when in fact it's an in-depth look? Or say "7 steps" when in fact that's only a piece of the whole content?

Finally, note that you don't have to have all of these ingredients all of the time. Certain content may be more inherently exciting, or other content more controversial and thus evokes more curiosity.

Breaking The Rules

There are, of course plenty of exceptions to these ingredients in the real world:

Exception 1: Created By Influential Person/Business

If Rand or Danny Sullivan or Avinash posts a new article, there is an inherent trust and reputation built in. I think the concept of authority is explained well in Rand's post about thought leadership. Along those lines, when Roger (@SEOmoz) tweets out the newest blog post, since this is coming from a popular SEO company, Roger's reputation can boost up click worthiness and thus, the title is not quite as important.

Exception 2: Extremely Noteworthy or Newsworthy Content

During the time of SOPA or the Google (Not Provided) dilemma or now SPYW, if you were to post something with a decent title that was timely, this would be more likely to get clicks, just by nature of it being a hot topic.

Exception 3: Rebellion / Pure Artistic Liberty / Don't Care

Obviously there are sectors of the web or moments where you just want to throw your hair down and crank out an over the top, creative, artistic, rebellious title. Of course, as I'm now typing this, those sound like they'd get some good clicks as well! They just won't follow the "formula".

I shamelessly use my own example;

When I was first getting my SEO blog going, I didn't care so much about getting tons of traffic, because I knew I was just starting to blog about SEO, and thus it wouldn't be my best content. It was more for practice, and to have some content there to build upon. So why not have some fun right?

And as I imply, the "ingredients" as described above do not always have to follow this formula, depending upon your audience and industry and even goals.

Where / How The Title Appears Around the Web

When you come up with a great title, where do you put it? Should it always go in your title tag? Header?

Most often, some version of your title is going to be in three places;

  1. Title Tag
  2. Header (which should be the H1)
  3. URL (in a "clean" format, with hyphens etc).

But there are exceptions and considerations. A balance needs to be found between what will appear on-site, in the SERPs in social media or even bookmarking. Some things to keep in mind about each;

1. The SERPs

1.The title tag IS the anchor text in the SERPs (unless Google decides to change it).

I know this is basic, but SO important to remember when we're composing the title tag not only for rankings but CTR. Doesn't help if it ranks but no one clicks!

2. (In My Opinion) The Title Tag Should Be 50% for SEO and 50% for clicks

What do I mean by this? Good practice technical SEO (for ranking) says to put your most important keyword/keyphrase in the title tag, and as close to the front as possible. I'm speaking more about blog posts in this case, but I feel that if the keyword needs to be towards the end, or split up/modified in some way, to create a click worthy title, this is essential. Obviously if you're trying to rank a page for an extremely competitive keyword in the e-commerce space for example, this is going to differ, but that case may be extreme.

3. URLs – This is where you can win for rankings!!

Look at the URL in Avinash's post;

His TITLE (with "change or perish" is click worthy) but his URL does not need "change or perish". Keep your URLs as clean, focused and optimized as possible. This again is simply my opinion and experience and what I would recommend to clients in most cases. I even recommend switching the order of your words in the URL to get the keywords in the front of the URL, if this was not possible in the title tag.

The header will likely NOT appear in the SERPs, unless it ends up in the description.

2. Twitter

What I find unique about Twitter is, the link anchor text is not the title, which differs from most other places on the web. Thus why I like Twitter as a tool for experimentation, because you can change the headline easily just by writing a new tweet, but it is important to know where the title can come from.

Via The Tweet Button

Normally, what will auto-fill by default is the title tag;

Yet another reason to optimize your title tag for CTR!!!

You can of course control to an extent what text auto-fills via the tweet button, and I recommend starting with the Twitter documentation for this.

What The User Inputs

Often it's the case that people will create their own text to tweet a link, but in many cases they will just copy your page header (this is what I do anyway if just sharing quickly) because it's the easiest thing to do. In many cases, your CMS (WordPress for example) will make your title tag and header the same thing by default (and also add the website name at the end of the title tag).

Twitter and URLs

This is an interesting and outlying example that Rand pointed out, where the URL can potentially help CTR. That is, when you hover over most URLs in Twitter, you can see the full URL as you hover;

Very useful, and this for me will make or break a click 100% of the time. I always hover before clicking. Obviously this is limited to desktop/laptop devices :-)

But here you can see that is not always the case, and in this case I am much less likely to click;

3. Facebook

Ahh… Facebook and the Open Graph. This is where things get interesting for sure. I remember when I first was learning about the Facebook like/share/recommend buttons, I was confused how it all worked. In short though – you have to properly add the Facebook open graph meta tags to your site to control what appears when people use Facebook share buttons, and even to an extent, when people simply cut and paste a link into Facebook.

And I would highly recommend reading this post and especially —> this post by Aaron Friedman on Search Engine Land for more details on controlling your Facebook titles around the web.

4. Google Plus

As expected, Goolge Plus uses your title tag for the title of a link when sharing;

It's OK to share stuff about Facebook on Google Plus right?

So to conclude for implementation, in general:

  • Write Title Tags for CTR with enough SEO to help rankings.
  • Write URLs mainly for SEO but descriptive enough for clicks. Keep them clean looking.
  • Write Headers that closely match your title but also look and feel great on-page.
  • While all three elements should contain your core keyword, the three elements do not have to be exactly the same.

Analyzing The Effectiveness Of Your Titles

While an in depth technique for measuring CTR is out of the scope of this post (it still seems CTR is one of those Holy Grail metrics for SEO – deceptively hard to calculate average CTR and even actual CTR for specific sites. Not just in SERPs, but everywhere around the web. If SEOmoz developed a way to truly and accurately measure this, I would use it! Do you agree?) .. I can however point you to a few resources, which can help you get a basic feel for how your CTR is going; Data

There are many options for URL shorteners, but I personally use and like, so we'll focus on that here.

First, I recommend reading's documentation on how they capture data and display metrics.

Secondly, Rand mentions how if you add the + (plus) sign to the end of any URL, you can see the stats for that link. This is awesome!!

For instance, take someone like Tim Ferriss, who has a relatively high amount of followers on Twitter. I can take a link he's shared on Twitter and see how many clicks its received. Not only that, I can look through his entire list of publically shortened URLs.

That said, I'm sure there are technical geniuses who can figure out a more robust method to measuring and using publically available data like this, but just eyeballing it is worthwhile, to study what titles have been effective.

External Resources

Click Through Rate For Twitter – Rand wrote a great post, which attempts to measure Twitter CTR in conjunction with some other interesting metrics.

SERP Turkey – The new tool by Tom Anthony, which allows you to test CTR in the SERPs. Admittedly I have not tried it yet, but would also like to say it deserves more attention! Richard Baxter wrote about it here in a fantastic post about how search intention may influence CTR.

Practice Writing Titles!

A/B Test Titles

Again, using, you can;

  1. Create two (or more if you want to go nuts) short links to the same article.
  2. Tweet them both using two versions of the title in your tweet – try to keep other variables as similar as possible.
  3. Look at your stats and see which one got more clicks and shares.

This isn't to be scientific, as much as to practice and have fun!!

Re-Write Other People's Titles

I love this one. I regularly will compose tweets to other people's content and write my own title, use and measure the clicks. Again, we're just having fun and practicing here, not necessarily being super scientific.

Write Ten Titles in 60 Seconds

Sometime you just have to get those ideas moving. Try setting a timer and jot down ten titles as fast as you can!! Just do it!! The creative moment can be a powerful thing.

Study Non-Web Sources

As Gianluca pointed out in his comments to Rand's post, look at how newspapers and editorial print publications compose titles. This is not a new concept, in fact as you'll learn in Made To Stick, the idea of crafting a lead has been around a long time!! You can gain a lot of inspiration from non-web sources.

Try Identifying the "Ingredients" Of Any Given Title;

  • Curiosity
  • Benefit
  • Emotion
  • Tangible
  • Appearance
  • Sound
  • Expectation

Inspiration & Resources

The Class I'd Like to Teach – 37Signals – Love this little piece by co-founder Jason Fried. He talks about writing a "one sentence paper" but the spirit of it certainly applies to titles.

6 Tips for Improving Twitter CTR – Get Elastic – Fantastic article with a wide variety of suggestions for improving CTR in Twitter (not just Titles), but things like link placement, length, word types etc.

Irresistible Headlines – Jonathan Fields – I confess, a few of my "ingredient" ideas for titles came from this post, and although Jonathan's SEO tips are pretty basic, there's some fantastic idea in this post. One interesting suggestion he makes is that the use of numbers, specifically the number '7' has shown highest success.

Anything You Want – Derek Sivers – Founder of CDBaby, Derek Sivers (I think) is brilliant at tangible little headlines. His work in general is of inspiration. But specifically, in his book "Anything You Want" he tells an interesting story about the value of user feedback when sending out huge bulk emails to their mailing list. If one sentence was slightly unclear, they'd get thousands of confused replies back, that would take $5,000 of man-hours to respond to. Many of us do not get this type of feedback loop from our webpages and titles. If something is unclear or uninspiring, all we get is silence. He makes the point – imagine you were to email thousands of people your webpage/article – would you get lots of confused replies back? To that I'd add – imagine your title was the subject of the email. Would it get opened?

Made To Stick Resources – The Heath Brothers – Previously mentioned a few times in this post, I probably learned the most about crafting a good title and making your words and ideas stick from their book. Highly recommend you check it out!

The Thesaurus – One of my favorite SEO tools!! Helps you find that perfect word.

Final Thought: Titles Are Timeless

Perhaps what I love most is the skill of crafting a click worthy title is timeless. While so many things in SEO change so fast, this is at least one facet that is deeply rooted in the past, and will thus endure for a long time.

To me, it's worthwhile and inspiring to step back and identify these timeless elements in a field that changes so rapidly. And it helps me remember that, despite the strong technical aspects to SEO, there is plenty of room for art and humanity. That, and we'll still all have jobs in 20 years :-)

What Did You Think?

As mentioned, this was my first YouMoz. *Wild Applause!!* Perhaps a bit overdue by my standards (I'd drafted and scrapped two posts prior to settling on this one). I would LOVE to hear your comments, suggestions and questions below: I will respond to all, promise :-)

You can also hit me up on Twitter.

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