How to Write a Special Report Title, the Mequoda Way

Like the best email subject lines, report titles should be short and sweet

01-starting-a-magazine-business-plan-should-your-magazine-be-freeIn today’s multiplatform publishing world, there’s no such thing as standing still. So when data starts whispering “change” in our ear, we listen.

That’s why, right now, we’re officially revising our longstanding Best Practice on how to write a special report title. Freemiums in the form of special reports, guides, or handbooks, as many of you know, are the core of our organic audience development strategy. We give them away free in exchange for a site visitor’s email address, and until now, free report titles have been part of our SEO keyword strategy: They’re keyword rich in order to drive traffic to the Rapid Conversion Landing Page (RCLP) where they’re promoted.


Those of you who are familiar with the process know that we normally comb a publisher’s Google Visibility Report for keywords that have high search numbers and solid Keyword Competitive Index (KCI) scores. Then we take those keywords and string them together into one wordy, keyword-rich title. Mequoda clients create the report using existing content that actually delivers what the title promises.

For the past several years, we did this because it worked. We generated huge amounts of organic traffic to these pages and they had high conversion rates.

But this isn’t always easy, because sometimes current content we recycle into free reports doesn’t exist to match the report title. What’s more, some clients have existing free reports they’d like to recycle that simply don’t match up with the title.

And when we do it this way, we’ve created some very long titles indeed, for example:

  • Planning the Best Home Theater System: Choosing the Best Home Theater Projector, Best Home Theater Speakers, Best Home Theater Receiver, Best Home Theater Screens & More
  • Goat Farming: Everything You Need to Know, from Facts about Goats to Dairy Goat Breeds to Goat Milk Benefits and Making Goat Cheese
  • Erosion and Sediment Control: Navigating NPDES Regulations, SWPPP Requirements, and Techniques for Compliance
  • Supply-Chain Security: Trailer and Warehouse Theft, Investigations, and Loss Prevention Tips from the Experts
  • Best Canadian ETFs, Canadian ETFs vs. Mutual Funds, Canadian Index Funds, Canadian ETF Screener and More

What a mouthful! But our experience showed us that having keyword-rich titles would drive organic traffic, because they appeared repeatedly on the RCLP promoting that report. In theory, an RCLP would be ranked well by Google for searches on, say, best home theater system, best home theater projector, best home theater speakers, best home theater receiver and best home theater screens – delivering thousands of new website visitors who would read the RCLP and gladly hand over their email addresses to get that free report.

How to write a special report title, Plan B

01-3-quick-checkpoints-before-starting-a-magazine-business-planBut data is a compelling thing – and we get it from not only our own website, but from the publishing systems of the 23 Gold Members Mequoda currently serves, so we pay close attention to it. The numbers are now telling us, somewhat to our surprise, that RCLPs across the board are no longer getting the traffic we expect directly from Google searches. Those wordy, keyword-rich titles aren’t delivering the goods from Google.

Instead, page views for those RCLPs are coming from within the website itself. Among our Gold Members, the share of page views coming directly from Google search averages a tiny 1.23%, while the share of views coming from elsewhere on the site was almost five times that, at 4.93%. Our conclusion, then, given the low traffic being generated organically by the titles themselves, and the inherent problems those titles can create, is to abandon the rigid, GVR-driven method we’ve been using for years.

That’s not to say we’re abandoning the numbers: If a client is creating a free report, we’ll study the GVR for those powerful keywords, and advise the client to focus on that subject matter.

But the title itself will not be a string of great keywords! (Personally, the copywriter in me is grateful for this new data.) Instead, we’re now focusing more on marketing-driven, user-friendly titles that will be more creative, less wordy and more appealing. In short: Write titles the same way you would write email subject lines. That means short, sweet, compelling, and often employing lists.

Of the 13 types of email subject lines Mequoda recommends, eight are especially useful for free report titles. These are:

  • Benefit
  • Question
  • How-to
  • Fascination
  • Targeted
  • List
  • Intriguing Promise
  • Command

Among our clients, Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) Nutrition Action website has some very short, sweet and effective free report titles. You can see how these match up to the subject line types above:

  • List:
    Exercise for Health: 15 Easy Exercises to Do at Home
  • How-to:
    Dietary Supplements: How to Read a Multivitamin Label
  • Question:
    Sugar in Food: How Much Sugar Should You Eat?
  • Intriguing Promise:
    Food Safety: How to Keep Your Kitchen from Making You Sick
  • Fascination:
    Diabetes and Diet: Decoding Diabetes
  • Command:
    Diet and Weight Loss: Trim Calories per Bite to Trim Pounds

Some of CSPI’s titles manage to marry two subject line types:

  • What to Eat: 10 Best Foods (Intriguing Promise and List)
  • How to Diet: Best Menu Planning Guide for a Heart-Healthy Diet (How-to and Intriguing Promise)

These are short and sweet, all right. Are they also compelling? CSPI’s freemium conversion rate using these titles is 2.44%, above the Gold Member average of 2.25%.

To rewrite or not to rewrite

02-content-planning-nailing-down-ideal-post-timing-and-frequencyAll of this begs the question of whether you should rewrite the titles for your existing free reports if they’ve been created using Mequoda’s former Best Practice. Of course, we always recommend that free reports should be reviewed and updated, as necessary, on a regular, rolling basis, so that at any given time, you would be refreshing, tweaking or replacing one or more reports.

Keeping that in mind, note that for our Gold Members, all RCLPs use the report title as the headline, which automatically plugs it into a URL. And changing URLs can jeopardize your current Google page rank. So we don’t advise rushing into anything, especially if an existing free report is performing well. But for an underperforming report, there’s little risk and plenty of upside. So if you have an older or underperforming report whose time for replacement/refreshing is overdue, start with that one, rewrite your title (not forgetting related OFIEs, floaters and text ads!) and test it against the old report.

Here’s how a rewrite might look for an existing long, keyword-rich title:

Planning the Best Home Theater System: Choosing the Best Home Theater Projector, Best Home Theater Speakers, Best Home Theater Receiver, Best Home Theater Screens & More

can become

Get the Best Home Theater System: Choosing Components (Command)

or even

Get the Best Home Theater System: How to Choose Components (Command plus How-to)


Supply-Chain Security: Trailer and Warehouse Theft, Investigations, and Loss Prevention Tips from the Experts

can become

What’s Threatening your Supply Chain Security? (Fascination plus Question)

By leveraging email subject-line styles that we already know are highly effective, you’ll write free report titles that are compelling, easy on the eyes, and likely to convert site visitors into email subscribers by the boatload. Your editorial team will also be happier, now that it’s not necessary to shoehorn in six or seven keywords into an awkward title. In short, when it comes to how to write a special report title, the answer is as close as your nearest email subject line expert.

How do you write free report titles? Please share your ideas, and any data you have on this topic, with us in the comments below.


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