How to Write Killer Blog Titles & Why Mine Suck

June 16, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Content Strategy

I hate blog titles. I hate blog titles more than I hate blog images. And I really hate blog images. I’m just not good at coming up with pithy headlines. In fact, I suck at it. Horribly. So I’m calling on you to help me become better.

Yes, this post really is more for my benefit than yours. I apologize for that now. However, please keep reading and maybe you can offer up some post title tips in the comments for me. You can consider it your good deed for the week and get it out of the way early.

There are a few (fine, very few) things in life that I do really well. Twitter, for instance. I Twitter awesome. However, coming up with blog titles is still a daily challenge for me. It’s just hard. But I’m improving (I hope). Below you’ll find some of the techniques I’ve tried to adopt in order to make my blog titles more interesting, more engaging and more click-worthy. First, I’ll share I’ve learned and then I hope you’ll chime in with some of your own insight and experiences.

Use descriptive titles

Is your post about how to use a 301 redirect? Does it explain how to create the perfect wedding bouquet for under $100? Do you offer 20 ways to do something? Then say that in your blog title.

Being cute and clever is loads of fun, but when it comes to tutorial-type posts, your best bet is often just to skip all that and get to the point. People looking for help in a particular subject aren’t really all that concerned with how funny you (think) are. They just want the information and they want to know that your post will give it to them. By targeting phrases like “how to” or “tutorial” or “help with X”, you also set yourself up to benefit from future search traffic when someone borks their 301 redirect in the year 2011 and it’s your descriptively-titled post that ranks for it.

Direct, descriptive titles aren’t always the most flirty, but they’re very often your best bet if you’re hoping to bring in lots of search traffic with your posts. By letting people know right off the bat that they’ll learn something or that you’re going to give them to steps to solve their problem, you’ve already stolen their attention. When in doubt, be descriptive.

Keep it short

If the title of your blog post is longer than a normal tweet, I’m not reading it. The title OR the post.  And it’s not that Twitter has ruined my attention span, it’s that if you can’t succinctly tell me what your post is about, then you probably haven’t defined it enough for yourself. Which means I’m about to jump into a wordy ramble-fest and frankly, I’d rather you just hit me with your car.

Titles, like jockeys, are meant to be short. Your title should resemble something you’d read in Cosmo. It should be succinct, snappy and, whenever possible, sexy.

Which article would you rather read?

“Quintessential Fairytale Weddings for under $1,000”

“You Don’t Have To Spend A Lot Of Money On Your Dream Wedding If You Don’t Want To. You Can Do It For Less”.

Same article, but the first title will get you to keep reading. The second will force you to zone out and check Twitter for the 87th time this minute.   And while you’re keeping it short, do try and use some descriptive keywords in your title to attract the readers and get some SEO benefit, as well.

Use trigger words

I got a lot of crap for the It’s Not The Recession, You Just Suck post I wrote awhile back. But most people didn’t disagree with the premise. They were just offended by the language, the fact that I was telling people they “sucked”. Okay. But realize that the word was used intentionally.

There are certain words that elicit people to respond emotionally. There are words that you can use as a writer that will be more likely to get someone to click on a link, to read an article, or to act in some way. Being a good writer means knowing when to use that power to achieve a certain goal. That Recession post was written to make people evaluate their own situations. It was written to get that response and to start a conversation. That’s why the tone was as harsh as it was and why the word “suck” was placed in the title. It wasn’t cheap “link bait”. I used a trigger word to make my point. When you tell someone they suck, they immediately think up reasons for why you’re wrong and why YOU suck. But quietly, they may also admit somethings to themselves. Suck is a trigger word. Use them for good, not evil.

Ask a question

I like to start blog posts off with short sentences and I like to post questions in my title. Why? Because I have this idea in my head that it draws people in. People like to be right. When you pose a question to a reader, they’re going to immediately answer it in their head and then read your post to confirm they were right. It validates their own knowledge, or, if they’re wrong, it entices them to explain to you in excruciating detail why YOU’RE wrong and are, in fact, a giant moron. That’s actually my favorite part — when readers leave comments telling me I’m totally wrong. Those posts are always the ones that spark the best debate and discussions.  By asking a question, you pull readers in as they attempt to answer it for you.

Be controversial

If you’re trying to draw attention to a certain post or subject, crafting a controversial headline may help you get those eyeballs. However, you have to use it sparingly. If you’re known for creating drama where there is none or if you create a title that is so outlandish you overshadow the entire post, you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot right from the start.

However, if you do it right (ala Michael Gray) this tactic can be very effective. Use it to make analogies that stand out, to namedrop to get someone’s attention or to trigger emotions that will aid a great debate. Just don’t come up with something so crazy that it’s distracting or that causes people to write you off as “just a blogger”.

Make a well known cultural reference

There are so many weird cult phenomenons out there, that tapping into one of them can be incredibly powerful. Nothing makes people as giddy as feeling like they have something in common with a large group of strangers. I, personally, was born in a cultural vacuum so I have no ability to do this myself (damn my parents forcing me outside as a child), but many, many others have used it quite successfully.  I actually find Rebecca Kelley to be the absolute master of these types of post titles. That girl can find an obscure Simpsons reference in just about anything.  And when she does it and makes it part of the post, they’re hugely successful, even with those of us who have never watched an episode. (Don’t judge me.) By pretending we get it, it makes us feel like we belong to.

It makes sense: If you’re looking for a way to target a certain demographic, associate the title with something they already love – Kevin Bacon, The Bangles, Zack Morris (I know, I’m a child of the 80s) — and they’ll love you for it right back.

Those are some of my favorite blog headline techniques. What are some of yours? Give ’em up!

If you’re looking for some additional ones yourself, you may enjoy the advice Brian Clark unleashed during his Top Ten Techniques For Writing Headlines That Rock session from Pubcon Austin.

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