Reading Hemingway on writing the other day I was intrigued to learn a trick of writers in the last century was to look through the Bible for title ideas. Inspiration was best found in Ecclesiastics, apparently. Hemingway mentioned in his letters to other writers more than once that all the good titles are already taken. That might be true but the good news is, you can’t copyright a title. This is why you can find ‘Fall Of Giants’ by Ken Follet (a superb saga about Europe during the Great War) and ‘Fall Of Giants’ by Michael Panzner, all about the Global Financial Crises of recent years.
What spurred me to write this piece was how someone mentioned that the sidewalks of Paris are far from romantic places to stroll as dog owners take their mutts for afternoon walks and don’t clean up the mess. I suppose they don’t kerb the dog, either so in popular spots one can understand the hazards inherent in negotiating such a toxic minefield. Perhaps that poster could write about it and call it ‘Le Chemin de Chien Merde’. Grab a translation from Babblefish if your French is rather rusty. Of course if you set the story in India, perhaps you could title it ‘A Short Walk In The Hindu Tush’, or then again, perhaps not.
Book titles, and web sites and blogs for that matter, can all benefit from some selective titling, in inverse proportion to how damaging rubbish titles can be. A title should tell the reader everything, without telling them anything. By that I mean it needs to grab their attention and create the desire to read on, even spur them to take action and buy the book or click on the link and surf on in to the blog. It must not be so obvious that they can figure out the plot without going any further and yet it has to engage, and generate sufficient interest to hold their attention despite the many other titles and headings vying for their 15 to 45 seconds of focus. Studies show that is about all the time you have to grab hold of the reader when it comes to online writing for a web page or blog. So if the title doesn’t do it for you, the odds are they won’t be bothering to read any further.
Jakob Nielsen has done an enormous amount of valuable research on this topic and he has some very specific things to say about titles and headings, sub-headings and so on. The way people view web pages, a kind of ’F’ pattern, means that they scan more than actually read. If it catches their eye then they will read on, but only until it starts to bore them, then they just as quickly go elsewhere.
Good, engaging titles and headings inform the reader of the contents of the piece or the paragraph and often dictate whether the reader reads on or continues scanning down the left edge of the page. If the reader decides to skip the paragraph, a good heading will pass on just enough information to keep them in context and pass on the gist of the paragraph. The title and the headings can also be major SEO factors, as well. Clever use of keywords that are popular search terms, woven into a catchy title can make a lot of difference to how highly your page gets ranked. Everything comes down to being found and read, which is why solid search engine optimization, the White Hat kind, is vital. Rather than waste time, money and energy chasing the latest Black Hat methods that actually died months before the dot com gurus just had to share them with you, focus on writing good quality content that is clear, easy to read, engaging and adds to the body of knowledge on the topic. That will help your ranking far more than a hundred spin program written posts spread all over the web for the dubious backlink value. Coupled with bullet points and other good eWriting tactics, titles and headings can really work hard for the modern web page. How hard are yours working?