Angling for Titles That Are More Than Just The Topic

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If the most interesting thing about your podcast episode is the name of your guest… it’s probably not a very interesting episode. Here’s why you need to think more about your angle and your title for your episodes.

I know that it’s not easy to come up with an awesome title for your episode. I’ve worked in digital media long enough to know that titles are a challenge to write for almost everyone. But the internet doesn’t care how hard they are. Every piece of web content — and the episodes of your podcast are web content — needs a title. And not just “fill in the blank” stuff. But a title that is descriptive and interesting enough to get someone to want more.

Yes, that’s a lot of work for only a handful of words. Hence the need for this article and episode.

Most of the clients I work with don’t have the time (or inclination) to become expert podcasters. That’s why they turn to us. Rather than teach them everything necessary to become working podcasters, my firm simplifies the process by removing all the technical, behind-the-scenes stuff, as well as making sure they follow best practices by reducing “analysis paralysis”.

But it’s not a perfect model. For most clients, our writers don’t get involved until the episode is produced. Which, in a lot of ways, mirrors how a lot of indie podcasters go about it. They record their interview, do all the engineering to make it sound great, and then come up with a title.

That’s… not great. It’s often a reality. And because of this, not many podcasters really understand the art of titling an episode. All too often, they’re getting bad advice or copying what popular podcasters, all with shows who don’t have to worry about making really good titles, are doing. That’s also… not great.

Again: if the most interesting thing about any given episode of your show is the guest’s name… it’s probably not a very interesting episode.

You might think that a Big Name guest is just the sort of thing to make someone listen. I’ll push back on that, if only because interviews with Big Name guests aren’t all that hard to find. In fact, that Big Name guest might be on a dozen different podcast episodes this month! Their name alone isn’t enough to get someone to click.

I will grant you that a Big Name guest might be interesting to your regular listeners. That could be very true, because they’re interested not just in the Big Name guest, but also your interaction with them. But those are your regular listeners. They’re likely going to listen to your episode regardless of what you put in the title!

There is an exception to this: If the Big Name guest you have landed is recluse who doesn’t give interviews and you really do have an exclusive, then, by all means, trumpet that fact loudly!

This problem is even worse if your guest isn’t a Big Name and you put their name as your episode title. I’m all for elevating the voices of the underrepresented and giving exposure to smart people who aren’t a household name. But the fact that they aren’t a household name means that no one is going to be seeking out an interview given by a name they don’t recognize. You might as well call the episode First Last.

If the name of your guest is the most interesting thing about your episode… then your episode isn’t very interesting.

But not all podcasts are interview-based. By way of example, uh… hi! Shows that don’t feature guest voices also often suck at making quality titles.

The problem goes back to the process. If you fully assemble your episode and then start to think up a clever title in the hopes of getting the maximum number of people checking it out, especially those who aren’t currently fans of your show, you’re probably going to miss.

Yes, a clever title can help your episode rank better in Google. Yes, a clickbait-y title may be just the thing to get curious people to click. This is how SEO has been done for years. Titles after the fact. This is how bloggers and even journalists often work. Titles after the fact. This is why really clever titles get high scores on Headline Analyzer and similar tools but disappoint those who clicked through because the actual contents failed to meet the expectation established in the title.

Boo, bad experiences.

To do this the right way, you need to think about three things — and make three decisions — before you ever sit down behind a microphone:

  • Your topic (or your guest, if it’s an interview-based show)
  • Your title (I write my title before I record this show)
  • Your angle

These aren’t in order. In fact, it’s that last one that’s the most critical and often informs the other two.

For me, it starts with a topic. “Episode titles”, in this case. That’s the easy part. I keep a running list of topics, and I add to it frequently.

After that, I try to figure out my angle. I’ve worked with a lot of editors, and most of them lament the fact that new content creators confuse topic and angle. They are not the same, I assure you.

To me, I think of angle as a short-hand way of saying angle of approach. How will I address this topic? Head on, where I tell a story in a linear fashion? Or am I coming in from behind, getting to the important bits first and spelling out the nuances later? Or will I come at it sideways, from an unexpected position that has a big reveal that ties it all together at the end?

Your angle is your unique take on the topic. It’s the verb. The topic is the noun. You need both to make a compelling story.

For me, I can’t even get started — writing or recording — until I’ve figured out my angle. In the rare occurrence today when I interview a guest (no, never on Podcast Pontification, so stop asking), I know my angle and have an outline of some questions that will help me stay on that angle of attack.

Fair warning: You can’t always control an interview, so the angle you thought you were taken might need to change when you discover something even more interesting about your guest. Now you’re on a new angle. Roll with it!

But please have an angle before you sit down with the guests. Every time I hear an episode start with the host saying “Please introduce yourself, guest!” or “Tell me where you grew up”, I know the host has no angle, and that a long, rambling conversation, much of which I won’t care anything about, is coming up. And I’m weighing if the promise made in the title of the episode is worth the pain of waiting for it to resolve in the episode… if it ever does.

But interviews with an angle typically start with an interesting bit that’s on that angle, not with the “getting to know you” small talk. Those I’m much more likely to listen because I’m fairly confident the host is going to deliver on the promise established in the title.

Yes, the title of your episode is super important. But your angle is vastly more important. And to completely beat this dead horse into the ground, your title should reflect the angle of your episode.

That’s the message for today: rework how you come up with your titles by spending a little (or a lot) more time on your angles before you sit down to record.

Since you got this far, how about mashing that 👏 button a few dozen times to let me know you dig the written-word version of my thoughts on these podcasting topics? I’d sure appreciate it!

This article started life as a podcast episode. The 229th episode of my four-times-a-week short-form podcast called, oddly enough, Podcast Pontifications. It’s a podcast for working podcasters that’s focused on trends in our growing industry and ideas on ways to make podcasting not just easier, but better. Yes, you should listen. Here’s an easy way: 👇

Evo Terra (hey, that’s me!) has been podcasting since 2004, is the author of Podcasting For Dummies and Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies, and is the CEO and founder of Simpler Media Productions, a strategic podcast consultancy working with businesses, brands, and professional service providers all around the world.

Podcast philosopher. Professional contrarian. On a mission to make podcasting better. Hip he/him. คุณ | http://PodcastPontifications.com | http://Simpler.Media

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