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.