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Reading this article could kill you.

Not really. But it did get you to at least read the first line, didn’t it? And did I detect a sigh of relief as you did so? Some people’s curiosity exceeds even their fear of death.

This illustrates the importance of a title when writing a book, article or promotion piece.

Even a weekly blog article deserves a well thought out title. Many of us, myself included, will tack on anything that even hints at the topic – assuming people will read it anyway. After all, once they start reading they’ll realize the value that’s awaiting them.

Not so. Unless you’re some famous expert on the topic closest to their hearts, which you and I probably aren’t, they won’t give it a second glance. There are too many articles out there and too little time available. And if you spend an hour or more writing an article or a day or more writing and e-zine or a month or more writing an e-book, why would you not spend at least a fraction of that time ensuring that your product at least gets read?

The heading or title should do more than simply grab their attention. It should identify the contents to convince the readers to keep reading. Ideally it will be concise, informative, and convey the essential message of the text that follows.

As Karel Rakusan of the University of Ottawa suggests in an editorial on the importance of titles, carefully weigh every word as though it were a $5 million, 30-second commercial during a Super Bowl, costing $167,000 per second.

In the case of a blog post, your title is the most important marketing tool you have. It is what will appear in search engine results, links, and social media sites.

In books, a title is also a marketing tool. It could grab the attention of the publisher and ensure your book is read and ultimately accepted for publication. In the case of self-published books, the fate of the book could be determined in large part by its title. It’s the first thing potential buyer sees upon spotting the book in the bookstore or on your website.

If you do work with a publisher, don’t pressure too much to have your own working title accepted. Publishers have more experience than the rest of us on what would generate sales. “Gone with the wind” might not have been as successful as the original title, “Tomorrow is another day,” and “The great Gatsby” might have bombed as “Trimalchio in west egg.” I had my original 1981 book titled “Managing yourself with respect to time“ since it more accurately defined the essence of time management. But with the publishers changing it to “Making time work for you,” it became a Canadian bestseller.

If your title can be read and understood quickly, contains a benefit or promise to the reader in an area of obvious interest, and is composed in such a way that it is unique or at least “catchy,” you have a great title.

If you can trigger emotion as well, it is a winner.

Techniques available to you include posing a question, being controversial, and using power words. To do all of the above and still keep your title brief is a challenge. But don’t forget, you still have the use of a subtitle as a backup.

But never forget that your article or book has to deliver whatever the title promises. So this article just didn’t make the cut.