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The Importance of Choosing a Title: How Internet Search Algorithms Affect Content Traffic

Ms. Carroll is a researcher and freelance writer who writes on a myriad of topics with which she has curiosity, experience, or knowledge.

Harper Lee picked an ingenious title for her famous book To Kill a Mockingbird. Though the book was written long before the Web's search engines knew the tragedy that befell Scout, it is the title of the book that even today's inquiring minds type into the internet search box when looking for related content. Even why the title included a mockingbird is relevant to the search.

BUT WHAT IF Harper Lee had named her famous book A Tragic Sex Crime instead? AND WHAT IF her book hadn't become famous at all? OR WHAT IF her book was part of a trilogy, all bearing similar titles? WHAT IF another author had written a separate book about killing mockingbirds?

All these factors affect search results on the Internet. What you name your article or blog directly impacts how people searching the Internet either find or don't find your content. Titles need to reasonably reflect content and peak interest, of course, but titles are much more. They are literally a biomarker for those who see and remember your content and those who don't. This is important information for starving freelancers who are striving to drive traffic to their content. After all, most of us don't have time to write for free! Even if and when we can write for free, we still write to be discovered.


In this article, we will see examples of how a simple search on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Dogpile render totally different results to the Web's end user. Bear in mind, there is a difference between a search engine like Google or Bing versus a search directory like BOTW or Yahoo. Search engines use complex algorithms as well as ads known as paid placement to list content. Search directories store content by predefined categories which they use to store your content, often searchable. We will also learn how search engine algorithms work for and against you so that you can choose a title that gives you the best edge against your competition.

Understanding Search Algorithms

Internet search algorithms are not a singular or precise art. By definition, they are a process or set of rules followed by a computer. Can you depend on them to be formulaic or fixed? No chance! Not only are algorithm rules subject to constant changes, they are relative to each particular search engine and further open to interpretation! Many factors play into algorithms ranging from relevance and quality, to key words and context. There are task-specific algorithms, organizing algorithms, data collection algorithms, and content structure algorithms just to name a few. HubPages gives you some pretty big hints about how Google's algorithms like to see content structured.

What does this have to do with your content's title, you ask? The answer is ‘always everything' and ‘sometimes nothing'. I say that because you can name an article something designed to mimic or predict a reader's online search phrase and get entirely different hierarchal results across various search engines, but you will eventually snag a rung on the algorithm's ladder. Alternatively, you may name an article something clever that is designed to peak the interest of a curious mind. This tactic works great for search directories that categorize your content or when your content is marketed in some manner. To explain, let's look at a few live examples with one caveat: What you see today, you may not see tomorrow! Content is constantly being added to the Web; therefore, algorithms are constantly changing content placement in the Internet's active hierarchy.

Title Searches Via Search Engine or Search Directory

Google and Bing remind me of Pacman and Ms. Pacman. They are part of the same family (search engines) and yet they compete. Search directories, on the other hand, are far more objective relying on human intervention and content relevance rather than everchanging and unexplained competitive algorithms. Without the use of search engine optimization or other marketing techniques (translated: left to the wiles of the Internet), your article or blog may show up in one or more search engines, one or more search directories, both, or one and not the other.

You can search Google for subject matter and get one result; you can search Bing and get an entirely different result. For example, at the present time you can type "orbs real or hoax" and Bing, Yahoo and Dogpile will all reveal the same article as their number one result. The keyword here is "hoax." However, Google's algorithm will rank that same article as number six. Now remove the magic word 'hoax.' If you type "are orbs real" instead, that same article is lost among pages of search results. How many end users are going to use the word 'hoax' in their search? If you use the word 'fake' in place of 'hoax,' then the article will reappear as a top contender for Bing, Yahoo and Dogpile, but it is still lost in Google's algorithm quagmire.

If a writer can think of a title as a search phrase, it can prove both productive and counterproductive. It's up to the author to decide how to spin the roulette wheel of algorithms. Black is tangible search results for as long as the topic remains current and uncontended. Red is using obscurity as an advantage assuming human memory prevails. When deciding a title for your content, it is always wise to consider the following:

  1. Uniqueness - Is your title unique (like To Kill a Mockingbird) enough that it can be remembered by impacted readers?
  2. Durability - Does your work's content risk becoming obsolete due to popularity, i.e., competition, or everchanging algorithms?
  3. Content and Context - Where does your work more naturally belong for the long-term? In a search directory with searchable and like material, on a search engine where it's contending for a spot among thousands or even millions of like articles or blogs, or both.
  4. Audience - Search engines and search directories think differently than humans do the majority of the time. Who is your intended audience and how do they think? Draft your title accordingly.
  5. Marketing - How your content is pushed out to the public is important. Targeted marketing, search engine optimization, newsletters, etc. all have an enormous impact on who sees what you write. Unfortunately for the unsavvy freelancer, it's easy to be or quickly become obscure despite obvious talent. At the very least, good titles can help boost traffic.

A well-crafted title makes it easier to find content on the Internet and furthermore, it deserves the respect of a reader's memory.

Back to Our Infamous Mockingbird

WHAT IF Harper Lee had named her famous book A Tragic Sex Crime instead of To Kill a Mockingbird?

If you search "a tragic sex crime" on Google or Bing, results are going to be all over the place with respectively and wildly different results. Why? Because nearly every sex crime is 'tragic' and every journalist or writer that writes about it regards is as such. Had Harper Lee named her book something as generic as "a tragic sex crime," no matter how ultimately famous or rich it made her, the title would likely be buried in pages and pages of a search engine's algorithms. Even a search directory may place the content based on date of publication or author and therefore; the end user searching for it may regret to find it buried among a litany of sex crime related books.

WHAT IF Harper Lee's book hadn't become famous at all?

Search engine algorithms don't care about the personal wealth of any author, but they do care how many times something is searched for. One of my own articles was ranked number three on Google for months on end. Until what? Until some other author wrote an article on the same topic with an identical or similar title. And unfortunately, there are now dozens if not hundreds of them. Since most folks searching the Internet find something that suites their needs and/or lose interest after sifting about 15 pages of search results, I was left in the algorithm dust. My article was about trust in relationships and the traffic it generated got me off to a great start with HubPages, but now, in order to find that article, you better know something the article references or my name. Had my title contained something so unique as a mockingbird, it would certainly be easier to find today.

WHAT IF Harper Lee's book was part of a trilogy, all bearing similar titles?

I love a good series and Collen McCollough's historical romances rate high on the list. But if I 'google' one of her book titles, I don't necessarily see the remaining books in the series. A search engine can't predict whether a title is a whole or a part. But if I add the word 'trilogy' or 'series' to my search, my eyes are opened to her other works. The lesson here is that writers are at the mercy of algorithms and titles play an important role in searches, particularly when end-users aren't well schooled in perfecting searches designed to manipulate algorithms into returning results without the use of specific key words. Moreover, end-users frequently remember some but not all of what is needed to drill down to a particular content. I recall reading a poem on HubPages a decade ago. It moved me to tears. I've never found it since despite knowing several key words. Sadly, I don't recall the title. HubPages author Bill Holland has cleverly named his works, "The Writer's Mailbag," and then assigns each piece an installment number. Go to Bing or Google and search for "the writer's mailbag" and you'll get your Bill Holland fix. You'd better be good at remembering numbers though!

WHAT IF another author had written a separate book about killing mockingbirds?

Generic terminology brings with it the risk of competition. And while mockingbirds are less frequently written about, should Harper Lee have encountered any competition with her title, for instance, a book called "How to Kill a Mockingbird," search engine algorithms would have shown them in the results. As a further example, it is still debated today whether Marilyn Monroe killed herself or whether she was the victim of a homicide. So much has been written about both topics, suicide and homicide, that Internet search results render a reader inundated with potential content. This is precisely the reason why choosing a clever title is synonymous with building a title that lasts. If you Google, "Marilyn Monroe Kills Self," then your top results on every search engine will be or contain the article by that name. It's a fail proof way to stay in the algorithm accolades. For the freelance writer, it isn't a matter of life or death, but it is a matter of traffic —and traffic, which is the business of algorithms — can be the difference between a paycheck and no paycheck.



JEREMIAH MWANIKI KILUNDA from Nairobi on August 17, 2020:

Very informative article. Nice job

Vicki Carroll (author) from Birmingham, AL on August 16, 2020:

Thank you both. Glad you found it helpful

MG Singh emge from Singapore on August 15, 2020:

Thus is an interesting article with excellent suggestions.

Liz Westwood from UK on August 15, 2020:

As crafting a good title is a tough task for me, I have read your thoughts on this subject with great interest. I was initially concerned that it might be too technical, but you have done an excellent job in explaining your points in an easy to understand way.