What’s the big deal about titles? Actually, titles are a big deal, for several reasons.

It is no surprise that a great title attracts search engines, because it is SEO (optimized for search engines). A good title is much more than this, though. It encourages good articles, but doesn’t encourage poor ones.

What are the elements of a good title? The title should be clear, and specific enough that writers aren’t misconstruing the intent, yet not so specific that few writers can write to them.

An example (made up) of a title that is too general:

Why rain is good

The potential writer is left wondering in what way, where, how, and so forth. Not only could this lead to articles that are all over the board, it could lead to those that are far over the 1500 word suggested maximum word count.

One that is too specific:

Why rain in May is good at Spencer Creek, according to Seth Moss

Who knows whom Seth Moss is, where Spencer Creek is, or what May has to do with it? It is so specific that probably only a certain writer could write to it.

One that is on target:

The impact of rain in May on stream fishing

The what, when, why, where, and how are covered to the point that informative articles can be created. Also, note the use of the action word, “impact”. This is a power word that encourages writers and readers alike. Power words are good, as long as they don’t go overboard. In this case, the single word increases appeal for the articles.

Title structure: Cute or funny titles are fine for newspapers, but not for the web. A good title doesn’t try to get cute, and it is straight to the point so the reader knows what they are getting into.

Capitalizing is also held to the same standards as professional writing, meaning that the first letter is capped, the first letter of any proper noun is capped, and the first letter after a colon is capped. This is a common error. We Do Not Cap The First Letter Of Every Word. Even for a good title, an editor has to come behind and remove all the extra caps.

Avoid commas when possible. Sometimes this isn’t realistic, but try to keep the use minimal.

Don’t end a title with a period. An editor will have to remove it. Editors are fellow writers and this is extra time away from writing. You might think it is minor, but we have many titles that come in every day, and it adds up.

How about the colons? The colon tells the reader that the articles can be grouped together by what came before the colon. For instance, “Camping tips:” lets everyone know that what follows is a camping tip. There are many, but they are all tips for camping.

Along with that, notice that the last word before the colon is the plural when possible. This is better for SEO than using the singular. So “Book review:” isn’t as good as “Book reviews:” Again, writing the singular usually means that an editor has to change it.

Also, don’t use 2 colons in the same title. Search engines can have difficulties reading the title if the second colon is included.

A solid rule is USING ALL CAPS IS OUT. People think of that as yelling. Don’t yell the title to them. “If you want people to listen, whisper. If you want them to ignore you, shout.”

Clarity: This can’t be stressed enough. When you submit a title, you know exactly what you intend. Make the title clear so others do too.

Player profiles: Joe Nameth means nothing to someone who doesn’t watch football and never knew who he was. A much better title would be:

Football player profiles: Joe Nameth

Don’t assume that the editors or writers will immediately know what you mean. We haven’t passed out crystal balls. Phrase your titles in a way that people know what you are talking about. Imagine that you are crafting great titles for 7th graders.

While it is arbitrary about the use of numbers in a title, I discourage it. “The ten best…” or “The five worst…” is limiting for the writer. It can be great for SEO, but what about the writer who is struggling to find ten, or to keep it only to five? The idea is to encourage people to write to the title and to make it as easy as possible for them to do it.

Questions: Titles phrased as questions need to have a question mark at the end of the title. However, we try to avoid question titles except for in debates. If you don’t want a debate title, try rephrasing it so it isn’t a question.

“How do you write poetry?” becomes “How to write poetry”

Spelling: This is critical. Before submitting a title, make sure your spelling is correct. Everyone goofs sometimes. Check it over before submitting. Remember that the editors may not know your topic, so this helps greatly later on. Simple errors may mean very few views.

For instance: Football player profiles: Brett Farve isn’t going to be found often. Football player profiles: Brett Favre will be. The editor may not know the proper spelling, but it sure won’t help you if the title is accepted.

Keywords: This isn’t part of the titles or title submission, but it is included here because it is important. Keywords should directly relate to the title. Too often, they aren’t, and that takes time to correct. Example: “Vacationing at Disney World” can have keywords of “vacation, disney’s world, vacations”. This title should not have keywords of “fun, enjoyment, pleasure, adventure” or similar. None of that is contained in the title, and it is assumed that hopefully people will have all of these things with any vacation.

Rejected titles: If your title is rejected, is all lost? Not at all! In every case, an email is sent as to why the title was rejected. Sometimes that will be as general as, “It isn’t clear enough” and other times it will be quite specific about what needs to be changed. Make the change and resubmit. If you question how to make the change or what is wrong, contact a senior steward or content@helium.com. We are here to assist you.

Read through the titles on Helium, and you will see a pattern. This can be a great help when it comes to fashioning good new titles. Still, there is help available for the asking.

Rex Trulove

Today’s guest blog is another by the affable Kat Apf, our Creative Writing channel Steward.  If you would like to read more by Kat check out her articles on Helium.

Titles & The Creative Writing Channel

New members are often confused by the titles in the Creative Writing channel on Helium. Here’s help!

The titles are largely broad. And that’s for a reason. The nature of Helium is for pieces we post to compete with other people’s work. So, if the titles are narrow, others’ can’t add to them and then, there isn’t any competition. Narrow titles in this channel would lead to a lot of single articles in a title.

For example, Poetry: Missing a loved one works. Anyone can add a poem to that title. But, Poetry: Great Aunt Annie’s death, doesn’t work. Not all of us have a great Aunt Annie who died, so we can’t add a poem to that title. Poetry: Death of an aunt would work, though.

Before you suggest a title, use the Title Finder. There might already be a title that you can post your work to.

Here’s how to use the Title Finder:

  1. Go to My Helium.
  2. On the left-hand side there’s a column of red words.
  3. Click on Title Finder.
  4. Three prompt boxes come up: “with all these words”, “exact phrase” and “with one of these words”.
    1. The first box, With all these words, is best to use when you don’t have an exact title and are browsing to find something that might work. So, for your nature poem, you’d type in poetry nature. When I did this search, I came up with 22 titles that had the word nature, nature’s, natural or naturally in them. And I found another 24 that related to nature. That’s a total of 46 titles that could potentially work for you.
    2. If you have an exact title you want to look for, use the second prompt box on that page. When I typed in poetry nature, I came up with nine titles that had the word nature in them.
    3. The third prompt box works best when you don’t have a certain subchannel in mind, but a subject.

It’s best to do a thorough search before you suggest a new title. If after searching, you still can’t find something that works, then, use the Suggest a Title button.

Also, a good thing to note is the way Helium titles are set up in terms of capital letters and lowercase. Helium uses AP (Associated Press) style. So, instead of this:

Short Stories: End of The World

Helium uses AP style like this:

Short stories: End of the world

Note the caps on Short and End and the lowercase on the rest. It takes some getting used to for those of us who were taught how to title work in high school.

If you type your titles out using this formatting style, it’s much easier for the title editors on Helium to process your titles.

A good thing to do, too, is to browse the channel you are want to suggest a title to and make note of how the titles are set up.

Titles seem sort of mysterious when you first join Helium but it’s not all that complicated. Just remember to search before you suggest and to use the proper formatting. That will make it easier for everyone!