Why Blog Titles Are Like Your In-laws


BoyBlog titles are like in-laws – you have to act like you give a shit. Even if you don’t.

There’s a skill to writing blog titles and headline because Titles Change Everything. Your headline determines whether people make it to the first line of content. It determines how many links you’ll get. It determines whether the post gets 5 comments or 50. It determines your retweets and if it goes viral or just collects dust and crickets. If you’re not spending time crafting your blog titles, it’s like spitting in your in-laws face. Good luck with that. Let me know how much the divorce costs.

Some people (like Andy), enjoy headline writing. Truthfully, I don’t. I’m just no good at writing blog titles. I do, however, recognize their importance. And you need to do the same.

Why are blog titles important?

They get people to that first sentence

This point cannot be stressed enough: Your headline is what gets people to read your first sentence. If you see a post in your feed reader, tweeted or mentioned on another blog, if that title sucks, you pay it zero attention. You’re onto something else. Good titles get people to the first line of content, that’s their job. After that, it’s up to you to knock it out of the park, but a good title at least gets you to the plate. Bring people in by using trigger words that grab attention – “you suck”, “brandjacker”, “profiling”. Words that make people uncomfortable, that challenge them or that play on their own vanity or love for buzzwords.

Even if this was the only thing blog titles accomplished, it would make them worth the time investment. But it’s not.

They grab traffic

All the pretty, pretty SEOs will tell you how important it is to run your blog titles through a keyword tool before hitting publish. And they’re right, you should. But not so you can play the keyword stuffing game. You want to do it simply to ensure you’re using the same language as searchers and using the terms and concepts they’re interested in. Talking the talk makes you sound “like them” and helps them pick out your article in their RSS stream. If someone is fanatical this morning about Google Wave, seeing it in the headline of your post is going to make them click. You should be using terms and phrases that will help you benefit from future search traffic.

They get you links

Your blog title gets you links and will often be using as the anchor text coming to your site. Whether you’re being controversial or using the magic words “How To”, your title is what people share. Honestly, sometimes it doesn’t matter how much your posts sucks, if the title is good or warrants a chuckle, people will still pass it around. Titles that dramatize a situation, promise to solve a problem, or shock people can help get you links and fill your bucket of attention. Make your title engaging enough that if you saw it stuffed as a link in a piece of content, you’d click it.

They’re social media gold

The title you give you post is typically the title your readers will use when submitting it for social media purposes. Don’t make them think and change your title for you. Because they won’t. And then you’re SOL with your linkbait attempt. Offer a good title from the start and you’ll always fare much better. It also gives you a chance to control your destiny the next time you’re Stumbled, Dugg, and passed around. Never underestimate the power of a socially-conscious title. And I’m not talking healthcare.

They state your promise

Your title tells people what to expect. You’re establishing that there is a benefit to continuing with the article. They want to know the 11 ways of being more efficient at work. They want to know how to score a Google Wave invite. And they definitely want to know the 20 signs that someone borked their WordPress install. The greater you make the benefit, the higher the chances you’re going to get them investing their time in you. It’s all in the promise and the promise is all in the wrists.

If you’re the type of blogger that spends three hours crafting a post and 10 minutes on a title, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Your title is just as important as the main content, perhaps even more so. Without a good title, the post is invisible.

Here are some other good resources for blog titles:

Your Comments

  • Michael D

    Don’t remember if I heard it from Michael Gray or someone else, but I’ve found standing in front of huge magazine news stands is a great exercise to see what titles “pop out” at you. May not be practical but great blog title exercise if you have time in an airport.

  • Evan Morris


    If you’re reading this sentence then Lisa is right and I just hooked you with an amazing title! I don’t write a blog, nor do I have In-Laws so I will just have to blindly follow everything you just said. I do think you write pretty good titles though. I keep coming back for some reason!

  • Joe Hall

    I freakin love title writing! Although some times you can attract the wrong type of readers. For example, I have noticed that when I write an agitating blog title/post I get a lot of agitating comments.

    Same goes for funny feel good titles, I get funny feel good comments. And the titles that are blah, I don’t get any comments at all.

  • Lisa Barone

    Michael: Brian Clark talks a lot about the Cosmo approach to magnetic blog title writing. It’s actually kind of fun to go check out a newsstand and then change the title of gossip or trashy magazines to fit the SEO space. I mean…not that I do that. For fun. I have other hobbies. REALLY INTERESTING HOBBIES.

    Evan: You, are ridiculous. :) And pfft, you come back here for sparkling personality. And probably because you’re bored at work. :)

    Joe: Hmm, that’s interesting. I haven’t noticed a correlation between title tone and comment tone. That’s definitely one to watch. I’m just no good at writing titles. Never have been but I make an attempt. One day I’ll rival Andy. One day! [shakes fist] (okay, fine, probably not)

  • john andrews

    I hate it when Michael gives Michael credit for my comments. I recall the discussion, but can’t find it because, well, it probably had a quirky, off-topic title, while some SEO’s commentary on it had a title like “Cosmo Knows Sexy Titles” or some such. Woe is me.

    Anyway I disagree with one part — you ignored intent. Your declarations that everyone should or everyone should want or “Your headline is what gets people to read your first sentence” is not absolute. Sometimes, you specifically want to reach only those who want to read the post despite the title. In reverse, you may want to deter those who would read only if there was a sexy title. It depends on your intent.

    I think the title is part of the content, and needs to be crafted in context, as part of the overall mission. I think this is why so many headline writers get flack — and deserve criticism. They operate under a different mission than the writer of the article, and can ruin a well crafted (written) piece. Nothing like setting the wrong tone or demeanor at the start of an otherwise crafted article, or priming the wrong expectations, setting the writer up for a fall.

  • Lisa Barone

    John: I said Brian Clark because I remembered this post from a few years ago:


    In regards to intent: If you’re attracting people who want to read the post “despite” the title, isn’t it still the title that attracts them? Chicken, egg.

  • Evan Morris


    See, I got you again! The truth is I really don’t know which came first, but I wanted to keep my joke about titles going for as long as I could. Ok I think I’m done.

    Lisa, don’t sell yourself short. Obviously it’s the sparkling personality that keeps bringing me back. To be honest I can barely read! I judge a post mostly on the pictures. For instance, Rhea’s post yesterday had a picture of cats fighting with lightsabers and using Force lightning. As a result…it is one of the greatest posts I have ever read, and I don’t understand keyword research at all!

  • Lisa Barone

    Ethan: I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with you but…I want whatever you’re having. :)

  • Ari Herzog

    Nine times out of ten, I write the headline before the content and never change it, else the content changes. I rarely write the headline after. If anything, I’ll change words around, but never a complete rework.

    My headline guides what I write.

    Post script: On a side note, since you don’t offer me a way to receive follow-up comments, I’ll never know if you reply, will I? May I suggest installing the Subscribe to Comments plugin for WordPress?

  • Lisa Barone

    Ari: I usually start with a headline…but it’s long gone by the time the article is done. My mind wanders so sometimes posts take completely different turns than I intended them. :)

    A valid point on the WP plugin suggestion. I’ll see what I can do about that. :)

  • Nathan Hangen

    All great points…I’m not sure why I thought I could scrape by with less than thoughtful titles until now, but you are right…buzzworthy content on Twitter usually has a recipe, and that recipe includes a good title.

  • Alex Lim

    This comment is just a reminder. I bump in a blog few days ago. To be honest I was magnetized by its catchy title but unfortunately the expectation imposed by the title did not exceed the value of the content, result, I was disappointed together with a number of readers. The author basically did not give justice to its great title so it ended up with comments expressing frustrations and disappointments. Lesson, the title of the post creates a level of expectation to readers so don’t exaggerate, be careful with how you choose your words.ss