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How to Write the Perfect Title That Ranks High on Searches and Generates Lots of Traffic
Optimize Your Choice of Words and Keywords to Rank High on Searches, Increase Traffic, and Reach More Conversions
See what I just did with my title and sub-title? If you want your story to be discovered on Google, make sure the title is aligned with those querying it. Your title needs to be close or very close to what your readers would type in the search bar. Yes, you read that right and I know its sad, but that’s a small price to pay to ensure they find you. By optimizing your choice of words, you will rank higher on searches, increase traffic, and maybe even collect some conversions — but none of that will happen if you have a lame title.
What’s your goal?
If you are writing for the sheer joy of it, if you just don’t care, or if you have a big advertising budget, then I envy you tremendously and best of luck! For the rest of us relying on organic searches, here are some harsh realities we have to abide by. If you relish the classics or spent all your school time in writing class, sorry, it’s time to let that go. When I started writing on Medium, I wrote mysterious, open-ended, and contorted or confused titles. Yep, I killed it then, and I mean it in the actual sense of the word.
For whatever reason, I didn’t know better in my early Medium days (in my defense that was 3 months ago — does that make me a fast learner?), but today, I can’t miss the signs, they’re so obvious. Great titles bring traffic, lame ones, well, they do nothing. I’ve seen that in my blog posts and in my YouTube videos (see ViralML Episode #4). If a reader can’t understand what your content is about, its too late, hasta luego, they’ve moved on and ain’t coming back…
And that is why you should be clear on what your goal is. If you’re promoting anything, even if you’re promoting good writing, then you have to emulate the search queries, that’s how organic searches work.
Writing for the Lowest Common Denominator
And I am not talking about dumbing things down, on the contrary, if your content sucks it won’t generate traffic either. We have to write to those that have no time. Yes, we’re competing with that ever-shrinking bandwidth of available attention. The words have to pop-out of the title, they can’t meander, they have to be full of confidence. They need to scream at the reader — ‘Yes, this concise, simple, and you will learn a ton — this is everything you ever wanted — CLICK ME!!!’
I Present You, Professor Google
We’ll use search results, the title, meta and SEO tags of top related material to help us craft the perfect title and attract that elusive viewership you desire.
This is easy to do, simply drop into a Google Search bar your title and few important keywords. The results, at least the first couple of pages, is your blueprint of what Google thinks your query means.
From this invaluable information, you can glean two important things, either the result is related to your query, and what you see, or more like what you see but isn’t included in your own writing are the missing nuggets ready to float you to the top. Or, if it has nothing to do with your content, then you may be misinterpreting the connection between your title and your content, either way, you’re screwed and will have to start from the top and rewrite the whole thing. This is from the mouth of the Professor herself, so its law and its final.
Now, its time to blend your own creative unique terms and keywords with catchy and industry-loved known to resonate with the community (i.e. anything from the first page of a Google’s search).
This is what I dropped into Google Search: “How to Write the Perfect Title That Ranks High and Generates Lots of Traffic”, and this is what I got out:
The words are sorted into two dimensions. The x-axis represents the frequency of the word and the y-axis, the distance from your seed words (more distance equals less synonymous). The idea is to pick the words from the top and right quadrants and weave them back into your original content. And that’s exactly what I did hear, I worked some of that stuff back into this article and meta tags. I’ll give it a few weeks and report back!
The 8-word Title
The 8-word title is the Golden Mean of digital writing. Turns out, after taking a 10,000 sample of top-ranking titles and averaging the number of words, we get 8.53 words. When we do the same with the bottom ones, we get 6.07 words. Thus, a title between 8 and 9 words is the perfect length for success.
Using Cosine Distances to Understand a Title’s Signature
Now here comes the interesting part. If you average the cosine distance between each embedded-word vector (a lot more about what that means below), you get a higher distance on top titles than on bottom ones.
- 4.1 average cosine distance for top titles
- 3.9 average cosine distance for bottom titles
In simple terms, it means that titles made up of words that are less synonymous with each other tend to do better. And when you consider that the top titles have an average of two extra words in them, you start seeing the pattern that people prefer titles that convey more meaning (really?).
Top and Bottom Ranked Amazon Book Titles
Take a look at the “Title” column in the following two tables. The first table shows eight-word titles that sold well on Amazon books and the second table shows those that didn’t. See any patterns?
The Smiling Title Skew
In the digital world, a title is the equivalent of a traditional book cover; it has to work a lot harder to convey meaning. This is even a bigger deal in the era of stock-art images; they don’t necessarily yield clues about a book’s content so the title has to work that much harder.
And that’s the differing pattern you may have noticed in both tables above. The first table is sorted by word-vector distances in descending order, so it will show the titles with the richest, most complex meanings, where each word isn’t very synonymous with its surrounding words. The second table is sorted by word-vector distances in ascending order, thus the ones made up of close synonyms. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the words are much longer in the first table than in the second one.
This does make intuitive sense, if your title is made up of close synonyms and is too short, it may not have the necessary information to attract potential readers. The key takeaway here is if a title is too short and uses too many synonymous words, it will be harder to know what the heck the book is about…
And if you want to see how your own titles and content stack up against the pros, test it out on the experimental Multi-Point Writing Analyzer on ViralML.com.
When I averaged the word distances from successful titles and plotted them, I was struck by the smiling shape. I am using 8-word titles here as it is a common word count for high-ranked Amazon books.
Consider this high ranking title, “Happy Hippo, Angry Duck: A Book of Moods”. We see that the distance between “Hippo” and “Angry” is very large, so is the distance between “of” and “Moods”, and they sit at the extremities of the title.
Top Bi-Grams Disproportionately Seen in Bestselling Titles and those Disproportionately Seen in Sleepers
A bi-gram is a set of two adjacent words pulled from a sentence. Bi-grams are typically collected around a topic of study, such as learning the style of a famous author or to model a technical dialect.
Let’s take a look at some of the top bi-grams disproportionally seen in winning titles. The tables show the bi-gram along with how many times it has been counted in a high-ranking Amazon book versus a low-ranking one (you can see that the Top_Count column is a lot larger than the Bottom_Count):
And Bottom bi-grams are disproportionally seen in poorly selling titles and not in winning ones (you can see that the Bottom_Count column is a lot larger than the Top_Count):
We need to dig deeper to go beyond obvious popular pairs like ‘for+dummies’ or ‘national+geographic’ to find interesting nuggets. We can start with two obvious ones, ‘wall+calendars’ or ‘for+windows’, not big sellers apparently.
More interestingly, the word ‘short’ appears twice in the top list and never in the bottom one — we all like our information given in concise chunks. The word ‘of’ is used in over a quarter of the sleepers and only once in the winning list. The word ‘in’ and ‘by’ are also only seen on the losing side.
And the Not so Great
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