Blog Titles & An Epic Battle of Disdain


Content marketers can’t turn around without tripping over another article on the importance of blog titles. Everyone wants to tell you how to write a good one, why yours suck and then mock you about all the traffic you’re leaving on the table by not getting it. Look, I do get it. The experts say I should be spending the same amount of time writing my title as I do the rest of my post. And I give it my best. Sometimes I think I’m even improving, writing titles that do, in fact, attract and convert better. But that doesn’t mean I still don’t want to punch blog titles square in the face. Because they ruin everything.

As a writer, I resent them. I resent the fact that it doesn’t matter how perfectly worded my article is or how well I manipulate language to make my point. There will still be some readers who judge my post solely on the content of the title. If the title is purposely bold, it won’t matter how well-reasoned and articulate the rest of the post is – all they’ll see is that title.  Red.  They’ll skip straight to the comments to write me a 500 word monologue yelling that I’m baiting for traffic or who gave me the right to have an opinion different from theirs. Elitist, they’ll yell! Snob!

Sure, being able to move someone like that is great – but not when it hijacks the rest of the post and distracts from the point. If the title, instead, asks a question, readers will skip over those pesky 1,000 or so words before the comment box (otherwise known as “my post”) to quickly answer it. The title has become the meat, the content just the filler. Get a good enough hook and the line suddenly disappears.

The pressure of that gives me moderate heart palpitations. So much so you’d think I was in love. Sweaty palms? Upset tummy? An intense desire to run away? Yep, got ‘em all. There’s too much on the line when it comes to crafting that perfect blog title. Write a bad one and what follows it is irrelevant. The snap decision on what your post is about has already been made. And all that expert advice bloggers give out? All it seems to do is create more structure failure.

Create a benefit, the experts say! To catch a reader’s interest you have to whet their appetite by telling them immediately what the post is about. This gives them a reason to keep going. The trouble? Your entire post is now about only those seven words. You can never escape it. Pick the wrong word and your audience will beat you over the head with it.

Create controversy, they say! Ooh yeah! Write a controversial title and get people feeling defensive from the very start. Then sit back and look shocked when they don’t read the rest of your post and attack you solely off that small word string at the top. Ignore Robert Scoble, anyone? Yeah, that worked well.

Use Power Words! Use emotional triggers like “suck”, “fail”, or “loser” in your title to grab people and put them on their toes. Sure, it works, but you better break out your hardhat as you’re forced to deal with their unresolved daddy issues and high school-like passive aggressive tendencies. Turns out people don’t take well to you telling them they suck. Go figure. Their personal issues now takes control of your afternoon in comment moderation hell.

Maybe I have such distaste for blog titles because I’m still perfecting the skill. But I don’t think that’s the lone reason. Maybe I dislike them because they’re distracting, even when you do it well.

I want people to read my complete words. I want them to read the post from start to finish and form an opinion based on what I said, not what was implied. But that’s not what happens. Whether the title is good or bad, it’s all some people will see. Screw the rest of the post. Screw the message. Throw in lots of white space, headers and make it easy for people to scan [ie “not read”] your content.

As a content marketer, I’m still continuing my education, hoping that one day my hatred of titles will dissipate. I down my daily cocktail of Copyblogger and Cosmo like a good girl, crossing my fingers that the sexy writing and images will kick start my appreciation for them. But I leave little hope. Blog titles are the epic battle that I fight every day. And I have to. Without them my stories would have no name, no introduction. We’re friends until my title works against me. And at least they’re as vapid as blog images. Don’t even get me started on those.

Your Comments

  • Tim Staines

    Blog Title: “[Insert One Word Subject] – Read the post and call it what you want”

  • Brian Clark

    Yep. It also annoys me that Ferraris cost money. C’est la vie. ;-)

    Seriously though, on your point about question titles and people rushing down to the comments to answer… a good question title is one that can’t be answered without reading the article. Even worse is a question that can be answered without even clicking over, which defeats the purpose.

    Have a good weekend Lisa. Thanks for the great guest post this week.

  • Michael Dorausch

    I love to scan headlines at big magazine stands to see what stands out. Also great to hit up news archives from earlier decades to see what’s not currently being used.

  • Virginia

    You’ve summed up a content creator’s dilemma well. Man. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

  • Alexander Craghead

    Great post Lisa. A few quick thoughts.

    First, I don’t view a blog title any different than a headline in AP style. It should encapsulate the minimum needed to be known about the subject of the post. That seems fairly reasonable.

    However, I sympathize with your gripe, and share your peevishness about blog writing advice. I can’t back this up with more than my gut feeling, but I think that many who advise about writing for the web are giving out bad advice, taking their followers down a blind alley. Everyone is caught up in technicalities, SEO, form, etcetera. Write what you write using this bag of tricks, they imply, and you’ll be popular and sucessful and maybe even rich!

    Having new tools, playing with SEO, writing great post titles: those are all great things, it’s true. But what about… content? What about story, narrative, style? What makes a good hamburger, quality ingredients put together well, or plastic cheese and cardboard meat with *really* great marketing support?

    Of course, I’m doing it wrong. I post infrequently, I don’t give a rip about blog SEO, and I have small traffic. Or is that wrong? If I only measured sucess by Internet traffic, I’d be a failure. However, my blog serves as a rolling clips system for editors to read, and I get work from paying media outlets because of it, so as far as I’m concerned, my approach works for me.

    Blogging isn’t a contest to come out on top of the Internet pile.

  • CJ Roberts

    It isn’t just for bloggers. Script writers, novelists, scientific journals. Anything, anywhere that involves a title and more than 20 words of content. People read the title and do the amateur version of speed reading. Mainly to get the gist of why they do or don’t like it, supporting their original opinion from reading the title in the first place. I am Feeling your pain for the last 10 years. After having been a print journalist I have a tendency to read the people I like and not the titles. Keep up the good work.

  • Suzanne Vara


    So much weight is given to the title. One wrong move and ut a post that could have been brilliant has been sent to the insinkerator. I sometimes change the title so many times that I end up like you wanting to run (however I prefer to dig the big hole and jump in; so maybe no-one can see me?) and I get that the title is what pulls people in but the content is what they should be after. However I am not foolish enough to think that people are going to appreciate and even share a post that does not have the title that they feel they could not do better with. Maybe that is more what it comes down to?

    I actually find that the titles you write are really good. I guess maybe I know the content will be top notch so the titles are just a preamble to what is to come?

  • Kristin

    Great post lisa! You’re not alone in a hatred for titles! I always struggle in writing them catchy enough to get someones attention but informative enough to explain the post but then i get stuck once I get past that!

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who hates them!!!!

  • Bo Vejgaard

    Hi Lisa,

    Yet another great post. Please put all your posts in a book, i like rereading most of them every now and then.

    This post got me thinking of Convoy, a movie where the single word title encapsulates the entire movie. And if you’ve heard the song as well there is definately no reason to see the movie.

  • Graywolf

    Figure out what the goal of the post is and adjust your title accordingly:

    1) writing for conversions, products, lead gen or some other SEO factor – focus on keywords

    2) writing for links, controversy, or attention – then punch it up with power words that kick readers in the teeth

    3) writing evergreen or how to content – ask the question that has the keywords but require you read

    The words are all the same it how you use them that matters and leaves a different taste in the readers mouths. Scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, and eggs Benedict all use the same primary ingredient, but it’s how you use it that makes the end result taste completely different.

  • Rufus Dogg

    Titles are to blog posts what reality TV is to real life.

    If it means anything, I read your blog post when it hits my email inbox, regardless of the title. Sometimes, I even read the title last. Sometimes, not at all.

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    It’s one of those things you learn to live with, I guess.
    It’s somewhat instinctive for me, if a good title hits me, I go with it, otherwise, I don’t lose sleep over it.
    Perhaps I am being too light on this, but I am not going to spend a hour over crafting the perfect title for a post, I think I’ll keep going with the flow.

  • Scott Golembiewski

    I’ve always thought that titles were the bottleneck in my system so I try to create them outside of writing the actual post.

    Titles can represent a lot about what the blog has to offer, and can lead visitors into a deeper exploration of your blog.

    I often blog about processes because without them I would dislike my job. I also appreciate when other blogs provide a detailed process for solving a problem or implementing a new way to analyze data and prepare it for clients.

    One way to think about titles is consider the categories you have on your blog, and whether they have gaps in the content leading someone to a dead end. Review search queries in Analytics for title ideas. Follow the paths visitors take on the site and create content “bridges” to learn new ideas for expanding the site based on what the users are looking for.

    Lastly, look at the comments where people have asked questions, they make for great titles.

  • Unmana

    Umm, did you mean “at least they’re NOT as vapid as blog images”?

    And I second Bo Vejgaard: I want that book!

    I completely agree with you about the title. I personally, would prefer post titles that are less bold and merely state what’s to come. But they’re probably not good SEO strategy, eh?

  • Nona Mills

    Hi Lisa, Yet another great post. Please put all your posts in a book, i like rereading most of them every now and then. This post got me thinking of Convoy, a movie where the single word title encapsulates the entire movie. And if you’ve heard the song as well there is definately no reason to see the movie.