How To Improve The Effectiveness Of Your WordPress Post Titles

How To Improve The Effectiveness Of Your WordPress Post Titles

Just as there isn’t one simple trick to look 20 years younger or one surprising food that will give you a flat tummy in just 3 weeks, there isn’t a sure-fire method to writing headlines that guarantee click-thrus.

The inconvenient truth, just like dieting, is that writing effective headlines takes time and effort, in this case to find out what catches your audience’s attention. And key to that process is testing. Trying out different approaches and analyzing what works.

In this Weekend WordPress Project, I’ll show you how to set up title experiments that will help you work out what grabs your visitors.

Weekdn WordPRess Project featured image
The only way to really know what titles trigger click-thrus is to experiment

So are all those articles a waste of time? Absolutely not. They are great for giving you ideas and new approaches to try but despite what some may claim, they can’t give you the answer but the author doesn’t know your audience: only you do.

The best you can do is experiment, track and analyze. And for that, we need the Title Experiments Free plugin from Jason Funk. (Jason also has a premium version, Title Experiments Pro, which comes with priority support and more detailed analytics.)

This plugin allows you write multiple titles for a post on the post edit screen and track the effectiveness of each. Every time a post list is displayed (such as the home page or a category page) it will circle through the titles to ensure an initial even distribution.

What makes this plugin worth using is that it tries to be a little smarter. For instance, it will attempt to always show the same title to a visitor. And once enough views have been recorded it will start to show the most effective title.

The effectiveness of a title is calculated using a pretty complex method but you should always view the figures as a relative measure – for this post, this title was the most effective. Of course, it’s entirely feasible that all your titles may perform the same, in which case then you’ll need to look at the absolute figures to determine whether your titles are all brilliant or all stink.

Even then you need something to compare to, a baseline, so before you even start writing multiple titles you need to calculate what your click-thru rate and to do that you’ll need to mine your analytics. If you don’t have Google Analytics running on your site then add it; it only takes 60 seconds.

Once you have enough data, you can jump in Google Analytics and get an idea for your current click-thru rate. I find the best method for this is to use the Page Analytics Chrome extension which makes it easy to see where those clicks were happening:

Screengrab showing a post excerpt on the WPMU DEV blog homepage overlayed with the click data
The Page Analytics Chrome extension embeds Google Analytics data right on the page

REMEMBER! Make sure the date range covers the first and last post on the page. If you are using the default last month range but your oldest page on the page is only a week old then you are going to under-report on those clicks.

Now that you have your baseline, you start experimenting!

Step 1 – Install And Configure The Title Experiments Free Plugin

To install the Title Experiments Free plugin you can either download the plugin from the WordPress repository and upload it into your WordPress site, or simply search for ‘title experiments’ in the search box on the Plugins > Add New screen.

Once installed, go to Settings > Title Exp Settings. There’s only 3 possible items to configure:

Screengrab of the WordPress settings page for this plugin
Just 3 options to configure for the Title Experiments Free plugin

I would suggest definitely checking Best title in feed – this will more than likely appear as a link somewhere so why wouldn’t we want the best performing title?

Step 2 – Create Multiple Titles For A Post

You can add multiple titles to any post, new or existing. Just go to the post edit screen and click on +Add New Title.

Screengrab of the title entry on the post edit screen with multiple titles
Add as many titles as you want and then track their performance

Clicking on the beaker deactivates (green to gray) or activates (gray to green) the title making it easy to remove poorly performing titles from the selection process. You can remove a title completely by clicking on the X on the far right.

Step 3 – Track The Performance

You’ll notice that to the right of each title there’s a small bar chart, a fraction and a percentage:

  • The bar chart is a small visual representation of the number of views the post has had with that title over the last 7 days. Hover over a bar to get the exact number.
  • The ratio is the number of views over the number of impressions. A view is essentially a click-thru, whilst an impression is the display of that title (on the home page, on a category listing, in a widget, etc); going directly to the page is not counted as a view. So this figures gives a rough click-thru rate that we can compare with our baseline figure.
  • The percentage is the likelihood of that title being displayed. Whilst based on impressions and views, it will initially simply be the number of titles you’ve got (e.g. 3 titles = 33%) until enough data has been collected. The plugin apparently uses Bayesian experimental design in its calculations but I’ll just take the plugin author’s (Jason Funk) word for that.

If you get any sort of reasonable traffic to your site, it won’t take long before you’ll be able to spot patterns and trigger words that appeal to your audience’s and have them clicking or tapping on a headline.

It All Starts With Titles

If you want to get even more sophisticated then you can start running multivariate tests on everything from the content itself, feature images, pop-up text and complete landing pages.

Titles, though, are the place to start as apart from being easy to manage they can appear in a myriad of places other than your site such feed readers, social media sites and email.

And, of course, you cannot test variants of your content, if your titles aren’t getting those click-thrus.

5 Responses

    Peter

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the article. It is important to be able to split test headlines but Im a bit weary of using such plugins especially combined with SEO plugins as they only focus on promoting one headline.

    How does this effect indexing of headlines and headlines that are already ranking well ie. If headline A is indexed and then another B is served will someone arriving from the linked A headline still find the same article even though its showing B or C? And then if headline B drives more enquiry and you delete all other lines will all the old indexed (A headline) still open the same article or will we have to run redirects?

    I have also read that similar plugins can run a lot of extra server resources but dont know about that being the case with Title Experiments?

    Hope you can help clarify these questions.

    Regards

    Peter

    tim_rolston

    Thanks for the post, good info! I have the same concerns as Peter: SEO and plugin bloat.

    Any time I’ve had problems with my site (http://www.LoveMySurface.net), my hosting company has always told me to disable the plugins first. So, naturally, I’m really cautious about them and how they affect performance.

    SEO, especially Google, is also a concern. How does the plugin present to the SE? Google can be really finicky and I wouldn’t want to be downgraded in my natural rankings by adding confusion. Any idea on how that works?
    Tim-

    Chris Knowles

    Peter / Tim,

    To be honest, I’m not sure what Google would see and I suspect there’s a chance that it might see multiple headlines if there’s no clear winner – perhaps Jason (the author) can confirm this.

    Also keep in mind that it is only the title that is changing, the URL is always the same, so the variants will always point to the same post.

    As far as bloat is concerned, I don’t think this will have too much of an impact as the functionality is pretty simple.

    I think the point is to limit your testing. Have a plan of what you want to test (what are your variants) and then pick a title, perhaps just running one test at a time.

    Not only will that make it easier to manage but you’ll also be minimizing any negative impact that your testing might have on SEO, etc.

    SooBahkDo

    Hello All,

    We have Title Experiments Pro installed and Jason has been very responsive to our inquiries.

    I too, have a lack of understanding about how Google may deal with multiple titles indexed to a single url, but I “think” Jason is considering implementing an option that may allow a user to always present the same title to Google bots if the user prefers to do so and only rotate Experimental Titles among human readers.

    I perceive the value that this plugin may bring to the table in a simple and technically undaunting manner is a means to evaluate words in titles that our readers find most intriguing and help pan the gold out of the dirt.

    What prompted me to explore this plugin was a recent post we published that generated more than 1000 times the number of click-throughs and Facebook likes than ANY post we had ever published and it was published in the same distribution channels, etc. as all our others. It was such a drastic change I thought the tracking plugin was broken and I had the company doublecheck the stats. They even doublechecked with another tracking service and confirmed the results were correct.

    Amazing!

    Somehow we stumbled across a title that resonated so profoundly with our audience that it generated 1000 times the results we had ever seen. Ever! Soooooo this REALLY got my curiosity up about title testing as a limited form of A/B testing and Jason’s plugin seems to offer an easy tool for implementing it.

    Discovering the secret ingredient that resonates with an audience can produce results like magic. Consider the phenomenon of the recent ALS Association Ice Bucket Challenge fundraiser.

    During the ALS Association’s 30 day fundraising campaign in 2013 they raised 2.8 million dollars.

    During their 2014 campaign over the same 30 day period but using the Ice Bucket Challenge (a catchy title wouldn’t you agree?) they raised over 100 million dollars and acquired over 3 million NEW donors who discovered the ALS Association and contributed to it.

    http://www.alsa.org/news/media/press-releases/ice-bucket-challenge-082914.html

    Beyond Amazing!

    So what’s in a title?

    Gold.

    Lots and lots of gold.

    So I perceive it to be worth a little plugin bloat and risking a little server load (we have not noticed any with it active for a month now) in order to discover the golden words in titles that are resonating with readers and compelling them to click through.

    There’s gold in them thar titles!

    Phil Duncan

    Peter

    Hi to all,

    I totally agree Phil, Titles are more important than ever in this world of bite size communication its only Images, video and titles that stop any viewer to take a further look.

    For me I personally struggle with managing, testing and running plugins. The ideal scenario here is to have enough traffic, quickly identify the best headlines and then get that one locked in and solidly indexed to maximise results. As long as it doesnt make a mess of what is already indexed or cause already indexed links to break then its all OK. Jason says it doesn’t and is very responsive to comment so it’s worth testing at least.

    The only better way is to find the magic ingredient that cause ideas to go viral.

    In my opinion plugins are the Strength and weakness in wordpress as far as creating bloat / strain versus usefulness. No doubt we all get better at this and have our own systems but something will come along to help no doubt.

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