The Hardest Decision: Article Titles

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 4, 2012 in Internet |

It may come as a surprise to many, but writing is not quite as easy as some imagine. It’s not just a case of pulling up a fresh sheet of paper or opening your word processor of choice, taking the cap off your pen, lining up your keyboard and away you go. There is considerably more to it than that and titles, those things which you see first in most cases, can be the hardest to create.

It’s said that everyone has a book in them, and I don’t doubt that for one moment. Our lives, if we allow them, are filled with fascinating incidents, experiences, opportunities, successes and failures. Put the words down in the right way, and you’ve got a story other people might want to read. The fact is, though, we may all have a book in us, but there are remarkably few people capable of writing that book, no matter what they may believe. The publishing world is strewn with the carcasses of those who have tried and failed; those who have been published and flopped; those who didn’t even get through the general read file on a sub-editor’s desk. Life, for some writers, is a collection of  ready formatted rejection letters.

And the title? For some this is the very last thing they decide upon, for others the first. It needs to be something which will catch the eye, which will inspire a second look, which will get an editor to read through your article, short story or book, and a customer to pick up a copy and thumb through before buying it.

A title is not just a title, it is a selling point, and I can tell you from personal experience that this selling point, as far as some are concerned is the hardest thing to get accepted. What works for one company will not work for another, whether the work you’re trying to sell has been written or not.

My own experience revolves around writing articles for sites such as EzineArticles, Helium and others. With the former I can write a title and a complete article, send it off for consideration, and know that the entire thing will be judged on its merits. If it is rejected, I can edit and retry, not a problem. And the latter? Is Helium any different?

There is a major difference. Helium, for some reason best known to themselves, is more concerned with the title than with anything else. You don’t just write a two thousand word article and upload it, not by a long chalk. If you’ve got a good idea for an article you need to submit the title first, nothing else, just the title. If they accept it you can write, and so can plenty of other people. You’ve got competition. The title, for Helium, needs to fit in with their unwritten expectations to the letter: it needs to have good SEO, be filled with just the right keywords and match what it is thought people are searching for on the Internet. In my couple of years of writing articles for other web sites I’ve never had an article rejected, only the titles. In fact, only one of my proposed titles has been accepted by Helium, and all those articles I wanted to write have been written and been published elsewhere, without a single qualm from the alternate publishers.

The title is important, yes, but the content is what keeps people on the page, makes them want to read, makes them want to react, to think and, perhaps, to click some of the more relevant advertizements lining either side of the article you have written. The title, for many readers on the Internet, is not all that important. They want to know basically what they can expect, but not all the details of what follows.

And search engines? Are the titles all that important there too? From an SEO point of view, not really. Searches these days are done on content, on the keywords you have carefully placed within the text of your article. You might have one or two keywords in the title too, but that is only a small part of the whole, as minor issue. A two thousand word article is not going to be judged, by Google or any other search engine, just on the use of one or two title-based keywords.

The title is, though, of importance, but not of so much weight that you need to tear your hair out trying to find one. I often get my inspiration from a single sentence I’ve read somewhere – my articles using Twitter extracts are an example – sometimes from a few words which seem relevant to me. The final title, though, comes when I have finished writing, when I know exactly what my article contains and in which direction my words and thoughts have wandered.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I am moving away from Helium for original or exclusive works, despite the small amount of money I can earn there. Perhaps that’s why I much prefer either sponsored posts where there is merely an idea with some background, and non-paying sites where there is almost total freedom. I dislike being restricted in my writing, I don’t think there is any writer – creative as opposed to journalistic – who enjoys total restriction, and having to wait for the approval of a title without the editor having any conception of what you really want to hand in as content, is decidedly far too restrictive.

  • Viktoria Michaelis.

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