Whether you are writing an online article or a publication for the Extension Catalog, the title you craft goes a long way toward helping readers find your content.

Most readers go online to find specific information, and most use some kind of search engine to help them. Your title is what they use to decide whether to read your full article. The Internet is crammed with content, of course, but your headline is a way to separate yourself from the pack.

Your title should be an accurate and concise description of your publication. A good headline is essential for social sharing and understanding. Anyone who clicks on your publication or article did so because the title compelled them to or convinced them that your article has what the reader is looking for.

Title tips

  • Your headline should never use puns or clever wordplay.
  • Your headline should focus on the most important element in your publication or article. Vague, overarching titles like “All you need to know about tomatoes” will not be as effective as a precise headline like “Growing great tomatoes in western Oregon.”
  • It’s a good idea to run a Google search for your topic before you write your title. That way, you can make sure your title is distinct from others and reaches the readers who will be searching for it.
  • Keep titles to six to eight words.
  • Ask a critical question in your headline. “How can I defeat the slugs eating my broccoli?”
  • This free Headline Analyzer measures your title’s readability, sentiment and SEO and gives you a score for each and an overall score. Try revising your headline in the tool to increase its overall score. Another great option: the free online Headline Optimizer.
  • Put your keywords at the beginning of your title and integrate as naturally as possible so your title sounds like people talk.
  • Avoid technical terms or jargon, even if you feel your audience will understand. Instead, simplify your title by using clear, unambiguous language.

For example, if you wrote an article about the best organic fertilizers to use on tomatoes, your title should accurately convey the topic of your article and use words a reader might use to search for that topic. You could title the article, “Use lots of fertilizer and water to grow big, beautiful tomatoes,” but an even better title would put the keyword ‘tomato’ closer to the beginning: “Want beautiful tomatoes? Feed and water them on schedule.”

Google will display only the first 50 or 60 characters of your title. If you go over 60 characters, your headline may not display properly on the search results. This bad situation can be made worse if you put crucial keywords toward the end of a long title. When that happens, your prospective reader won’t know for sure that your article contains the information they want, and they’ll go to a different web page.


Headings — those short titles, or subheads, that appear between sections of your story — don’t have the same direct impact on search as your title. But they offer several indirect benefits. For example, they make your text easier to read, and better text attracts readers, which then improves search results. If you’re trying to get featured on Google for a how-to process, use subheads to specify each step.

Clear, relevant headings are also vital for quickly skimming content by people who listen to what is on a webpage using screen readers or voice assistants. Good accessibility can also improve your ranking when a search engine returns results.

Good headings also reduce your bounce rate. If people can’t quickly find what they are looking for because your headings are vague or unenticing, they’ll bounce to another website. However, helpful headings ensure they will stick around longer. Search engines value that.

In the end, the proof is in the analytics. If your web article isn’t drawing the kind of traffic you think it should, consider a new title and headings. This is called “optimizing” your headline, and there’s nothing wrong with running a few tests to find what clicks with readers.

You can do the same thing with your newsletter, sending different versions of the subject line to different groups of subscribers to learn what readers respond to. If you use an e-news tool like Mailchimp, it has a way to do this called A/B testing.

We spend a lot of energy trying to inform readers. But when it comes to titles, sometimes readers inform us. It pays to listen.

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One thought on “What makes a good online title?

  1. I am super grateful to Jim for offering these fantastic tips! I couldn’t help but notice that I myself went awry on the very first tip in the list not so long ago! My headline of “Out with the old, in with the Newsletter” is the pun word play that gets me out of compliance on that one right away! I will take it to heart from now on, Jim! Thanks for settin’ me straight. 🙂

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