By: Hillel Fuld
It’s been around two years since I have been blogging, and over that time, I have learned a lot about myself, my writing style, and my reader’s psychology. I never conducted a scientific study about which blog posts attracted the most readers, but such studies have been done, and when it comes to my blog, there is no need for such a study. The results are obvious and blatant. Blog titles matter, in fact, some might say that they matter more than the post itself. There are many reasons that the blog post title you choose is the most important decision you will make throughout the process of blogging, but basically, the title is your first impression. Whether you are interested in attracting readers on Twitter, Facebook, a newsletter, or just people already on your home page, if your title is not catchy, no one is going to click on it.
Everything I have said so far might be obvious to some, but you would be surprised at how revolutionary these ideas are to others. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I very often ask for feedback on blog posts and titles before I publish them, and something that happened this week blew me away. I asked a few friends on Twitter for a better title to one of my posts, and with the exception of one person, who ultimately gave me the title I used, everyone sent over titles that were long, complicated, and unclear. The reason they did that is because they were trying to be witty and clever with their suggested titles, but they were all overboard in my opinion. The thing is, the title is not the place to be overly intelligent, it is the place to be simple and straight forward, save the wittiness for the blog post itself.
So, after I saw the results of my Twitter query, I decided to write a post on the subject. The very next day, one of the people I follow on Twitter posted an article she wrote about the process of how she blogs. Naturally, part of that process was choosing a title. She also has some great links from other bloggers about the topic, and after reading those articles, it was clear to me that this was a topic I needed to cover.
So, here are my thoughts on choosing an effective blog title that will attract the most readers:
- Length: This is by far the most important component of a blog post title, its length. For every title I chose on this blog, I had thought of at least five alternatives, and when I tried them and saw that they surpass the one line limit, I quickly hit the Delete button and continued to think. The title of a blog post needs to be as short as possible, and I mean that literally. If somehow you can come up with a relevant title in two words, that would be amazing, but in most cases that is not possible. One line is the maximum, and unless some of the rules below require you to exceed one line, that should be your limit. People like short. It is true on Twitter where there is a character limit, but more than that, I believe this is precisely the reason Twitter itself is so successful. People want to get to the point and fast. If your title drags on, most people will lose focus and never even consider clicking through. Make your titles short and to the point.
- Keywords: This is a tricky one. It is tricky not because there is a debate about whether your titles should have keywords, it is tricky because the reason is debatable. Whether you are an SEO fanatic who believes that keywords will help you achieve high search engine rankings, which it will, or you are more of a content person, who believes people will click through something that interests them on first glance, there is no debating that your title needs keywords. Here is the thing, you have to use common sense when deciding which keywords to use. If, for example, you know that there is one word that is very popular, but is used by everyone and therefore has high competition, and then there is another word that is also very popular, although a little less, but is used by fewer authors, I say go for the latter. OK, that might have been confusing, so here is an example. Let’s say you are writing a post about mobile technology, it is no secret that “iPhone” is a popular word that is sure to attract readers. However, if you were to check how many blog posts on the Web have the word “iPhone” in the title, you would find millions, so perhaps that is not the most effective word to choose. Now, the word “Android” is also extremely popular, and without checking, I think it is probably slightly less competitive, so that might be a better path to go down. Whatever the case may be, keywords in your title are absolutely crucial.
- Writing First or After: To be honest, I am torn on this issue. I have always been a fan of writing the title after I finish the post, since I believe that is when you know what the most relevant title should be. Let me explain. Something that happens often to writers is that they start writing on one topic and end up writing about something completely different. If that happens, and you already wrote the title, chances are the title will be irrelevant. So, I always write it at the end of the post. However, one of my blogger role models, CopyBlogger, explains here why writing the title first is crucial. He does have some valid points, and so I am torn. However, what I think is important when it comes to the chronological order in which you write and name your posts, is that you are systematic. Perhaps you want to try out both techniques and see which one works best for you. The important thing is that you then stick to it. A writer who has no set writing system, and makes it up as they go along, is a writer that will produce content accordingly. Your content needs to be clean and organized and the first step to achieving that, is ensuring that the process of your writing is organized and systematic.
- Lists, Lists, Lists: Some people hate em, some people love em, but the bottom line is, they work. Why do they work? Well I am no psychologist, but I think it is connected to the previous bullet. People want structure. If your title tells them exactly what to expect in the content they are about to read, they are more likely to actually read it. If the title is ambiguous and unclear, the reader will not know what to expect and this will lower the chances significantly of them clicking through. Lists kinda eliminate the element of surprise and while some people like to be surprised in certain areas of their lives, reading Web content is not one of them. The thing is, use lists with moderation. I am pretty sure an entire blog with hundreds of posts start with “Top 5″ or “Top 10″ will not look very professional. Do not use list titles in every blog post, but use common sense and when you think it is relevant for the content, lists should be your secret weapon.
- Be Honest: I know it might be tempting to use a title that will attract readers, but has very little to do with the topic at hand, but don’t do it. For starters, that is just annoying to your readers. They click to read about a topic that is reflected in the title, and then they quickly discover that the post is about something completely different. Yes, you achieved your short term goal, but you also just shot yourself in the leg. That person will not click on the next link you post, in fact, they will most likely never come back to your blog again, which means you have failed as a writer. Make your titles catchy, but first things first, make sure they are relevant to the content they are describing.
- Current Affairs: As I was writing this post, I turned to my Twitter community for tips they might have on writing titles, and someone sent me a link to a blog post written by one of my all time favorite bloggers. Diana Adams, who writes on BitRebels has a post about this very topic (you know what they say about great minds!), and she points out, that referencing recent events in a title, is highly effective. I think this is actually one of the primary reasons the Web’s leading blogs are so successful. These blogs have countless writers covering the latest events. It sometimes amazes me just how fast a blog post is published about an event that just took place. When Steve Jobs announced the new iPhone 4.0 OS and its new multitasking capabilites, I am not exaggerating when I say that both TechCrunch and Mashable tweeted a blog post about it just minutes after the announcement. Now, this specific event was not a big surprise to anyone, so chances are they prepared the post in advance, but that really does not matter. The point is blogging about something that was just announced or just happened, is sure to attract many readers. It is for this reason that when new companies launch their product, exclusivity is a big issue. Which blog gets to break the story? The first writer on the scene is usually the writer that also gets the most traffic. So, if there is some new big event, you should not waste any time. Jump on it and start writing. Might not be an easy task at times, but to succeed as a writer/blogger, this is the price you gotta pay.
There really are so many more great tips out there on writing titles, so if you still want more, feel free to read this great post entitled 8 Secrets to Writing Killer Post titles by Diana Adams, or this very useful series by CopyBlogger called How to Write Magnetic Headlines. Both these writers are my role models, and probably have a lot of insights that I never thought of. The important thing to understand from all of this is that your title is your gateway to traffic. If you do not choose your title wisely, you can be the best writer in the world, but you will be missing out on a lot of potential readers.
So, what are your techniques when choosing a title? Do you write it before or after you finish the post? I would love to hear your feedback in the comments.