You’ve written an amazing, helpful post for your church blog.
The post is solid, and isn’t making any rookie mistakes.
You’re just about ready to hit “Go.”
All you need is a title.
And that’s important. When it comes to reading your church blog, 6 out of 10 people will only read the headline, and the headline will actually influence what people get out of the article if they do read it.
If blog post titles are so important, you need a strategy for writing winning titles every time. Your blog post titles are going to play a big role in how your church ministers online, whether you’re just updating people on the latest church picnic or giving them a list of places to find Sunday school lessons online.
Here’s a list of guidelines to keep in mind as you’re writing blog post titles for your church.
1. Blog post titles should be 69 characters or less (including spaces).
You can probably think of a few reasons you would want to keep your headlines short. You want to get your point across quickly. You want to give people a quick, punchy first impression of your blog post.
But another reason to keep your headlines short has more to do with the technology that people use to find your blog than it has to do with the people reading the headline. Here’s why:
Google is only going to show the first 69 characters of your blog post title in search results.
If you want your blog posts to show up in the search engines (and who doesn’t?), you need to pay attention to how long your titles are.
A title with the right length shows up just fine in the search results. But once your title crosses that 69-character limit, the tail end gets cut off to make the title fit.
That can be a huge bummer, especially if some of the most important information in your title is toward the end of it (see rule #3 for more on that).
2. Blog post titles should be descriptive, not cryptic.
Remember when it was 2013 and your Facebook feed was chock-full of headlines like these?
- This Woman did Something No Man would EVER do!
- If This makes You Uncomfortable, good
- You won’t believe what this man found under his back porch!
- If you’re not crying like a baby by 1:07, you’re a monster
Me, too. It was a golden year for the viral clickbait blogs. But unless you’re trying to turn your church blog into the next Christian UpWorthy, you probably shouldn’t use this tactic for your own posts.
Clickbait-style headlines often intentionally leave out information regarding what the blog post is actually about. But both people and search engines like to know what they’re reading.
Your blog post title is usually the first thing people will see when they encounter your blog post:
- If someone’s subscribed to your RSS feed, they will probably see your blog title in the email they get when you publish a new post.
- If someone’s following your church on Twitter, they will see the title of the post there (and certainly not much else)
- If someone Googles a topic your church wrote about (and if your article ranks), they will see the blog post title as the result.
- If you don’t set up a social-specific title for your post (which you can do with certain plugins), the blog post title is what people will see when they share a link to your post on Facebook.
Your blog post title is often your first and only chance to get someone’s attention to your post. Wouldn’t you like to tell them why they should pay attention to it?
But beyond that: search engines and clickbait don’t mix all that well. When Google looks at your blog post, it assumes you’ve used the title to describe what that post is about.
So, when you write a blog post title, make sure it reflects what the blog post is actually about. Include key words from your blog post in the title (you’ll notice this post has “church” and “blog post title” in the headline). Have your title set an expectation that your post will deliver on.
Here’s an example: suppose you wrote a fantastic post on tithing in the Bible, and you’re weighing two titles in your mind:
- Tithing: what does the Bible say?
- The one thing that makes churchgoers most uncomfortable is . . .
The second one may be more provocative. But you’ll have a better chance of ranking for “tithing” (and catching the attention of people who want to know about tithing) if you go with the first option.
It goes beyond just ranking in search engines, though. Your subscribers want to know what you’re giving them to read. You want to be descriptive with every blog post—not just the ones you want to show up in search engines.
For example, if your church publishes a weekly roundup of announcements from the church community, you might be tempted to title the post, “Weekly roundup, [DATE].”
But you can be more descriptive than that! Tell your blog readers what they’ll find in the roundup. Try something like: “Roundup: Food Pantry, Work Days, Baptism BBQ!”
Just to sum up: clear, descriptive blog titles win in the long run.
3. Treat the first two words as prime real estate.
You already know your title should be 69 characters or less in length. But where should your most important information go?
As close to the beginning as possible.
Due to the way people read online, you can only count on readers understanding the first 11 characters of your headline. (You can read up on why this happens here.)
Only the first 11 characters!
Obviously, your church can’t cram every single blog post title into 11 characters, but you can work to push the most important information up front.
So before you publish your church’s next blog post, look at the first two words and ask yourself: Am I using this space well? Is there a way for me to put more meaningful, descriptive, interest-generating information up front?
This is what we did with Disciplr’s World Map of Christian Apps post. We were ranking at about #4 in search engine results for “Christian apps” with the title, “The World Map of Christian Apps: 48 apps you should know.” But then we changed the title to read: “Christian Apps: 48 apps you should know [infographic]”
At the time I write this article, we’re #2 in the search engines:
This is a practice we use for any SEO-oriented blog post we write at Disciplr. When we want to rank for “Sunday school lessons,” we write posts that put “Sunday school lessons” at the front of the title.
Your church can do this, too. If you’re writing a piece that you think will have long-term value in the search engines, do what you can to put those keywords toward the front of the title.
4. Come up with at least five options, then choose the best.
It’s my tendency to want to lay out a formula for a killer blog post title and then just write a winning title on my first try. But that barely ever happens.
One of the most helpful habits for me has been getting in front of a whiteboard (or a pen and paper) and just writing down lots of title ideas for a given blog post. There’s something about coming up with idea after idea that makes it easier to throw out the bad ones and merge the good ones into better ones.
As a rule of thumb, it’s good to come up with at least five blog post titles for your blog (more wouldn’t hurt!), and then narrow it down to one winner. You could make this call yourself, or you could pull some of the church staff together to see which one resonates best. Either way, you’ll come up with more winning blog titles than you would if you just wrote the title once and moved on.
These are some of the guidelines your church should keep in mind when writing blog post titles. What other tricks have worked for you in writing headlines?