By: Hillel Fuld (@hilzfuld)
Now that we established that everyone needs a blog, the question remains, where does one start? Well, there is the platform and topic you choose, of course, but those are topics for another time. Before writing a post, or perhaps once you finish writing the post, you are going to have to choose a title wisely. Why does the title matter? Well, the tweet below says it best.
@HilzFuld well, most people actually read the title only nowadays, so it could be interesting
— Luca Filigheddu (@filos) February 21, 2012
The title is super important because at the very least, it is the reason people will click through to read the post, and in some cases, as the tweet says, it is all they are going to read. So how do you decide on a title? What are some of the factors that make a title successful and what are some things to avoid?
Before I jump in, let me just say that the following advice is based on my personal experience from four years of blogging. I never did a scientific study on blog titles, nor have I quantified any of this. I have learned over the years what generates clicks whether you are sharing the post on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, sites like Reddit, or anywhere else.
One more thing. As important as a title may be, there are many other factors that contribute to the traffic a blog post attracts. Pictures, videos, the actual topic, and many others, but again, the title is the first impression, and we all know what they say about first impressions.
Keep it Short or Lose Me
This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone but as technology advances, people’s attention span decreases. I have spoken about this before but if you take a step back to examine the patterns of the Web and technology in general, you will see a clear path of uber-laziness. First there were sites with a lot of content. Then blogs with a little less. Then Twitter with limited characters. Now it’s about Pinterest and other visual services with close to zero text.
Generally speaking, the shorter and clearer your title, the more prone people will be to click through. I am not going to give a concrete number of words for a title, but I will say that your readers do not have patience for a long and confusing title. Think what the point of your post is, think about the audience and what will pull them in, and based on that, write your title. But please, keep it short!
Prime Real Estate for Keywords
I do not plan on going into the depths of SEO, and to be honest, my knowledge in the field is basic. Having said that, someone smart once told me that the Web is like the restaurant industry. First and foremost, your restaurant needs a sign on the front to let people who are walking by know what type of joint you are running. That is the equivalent of the title of your site. Not to be confused with the title of a post.
Then there is the menu, the actual food, or in this case, the content. The title of a post is the equivalent of the dishes that appear on a menu. Just think about your last five dining experiences. How did you decide what to order? Either someone recommended a certain dish (incoming links to your site) or you browsed the menu and based on its content, chose one dish that spoke to you. That is your blog post title right there.
As for the keywords in the title, as I said above, you have limited real estate and you need to get the point across, so choosing what words you use in the title is going to directly affect the post’s SEO on the one hand, and the number of people who “order that dish” on the other. Like I said, the guy who told me this was pretty smart…
Your Blog Post CAN Go Viral
Here is the thing with the Web, it should never be underestimated. You never know how far a post you write will reach and how many people will potentially read it. The process of writing a title should take that into account. For example, with very few exceptions, I would not use the word “I” or “Me” in a title. Why not? Because that means it is a personal opinion or something that is true for you, and you only.
In that case, when you share the post on Twitter for example, people will hesitate to reshare it, no matter how much they enjoyed reading it. The post is about you, not them. By them forwarding (retweeting) a post called “Ten reasons I love ice cream”, they are basically changing the meaning of the post because you wrote the reasons YOU love ice cream, not them. OK, this is getting confusing, but I hope you get the point.
You want to write a title that will appeal to as wide of an audience as possible and that will be able to go viral by means of the social web. That means you shouldn’t include words most people are not familiar with and you shouldn’t include anything that will prevent your reader/follower/fan from forwarding the post on. The words “I” or Me” are just two examples I would try to avoid at all costs.
Sorry, but Lists Work
OK, I am well aware that this point is going to annoy a lot of people. Why? Because so many blogs figured out long ago that lists generate clicks and have taken full advantage of this fact. People who spend a lot of time on the Web are already getting so sick of lists that the very sight of a title starting with a number will mean one thing. The only thing they are clicking is the big X in the corner of the browser.
@HilzFuld would sound more like you if it was “10 things you should think about when titling a blog post”
— David Shai Applbaum (@dsappl) February 21, 2012
Then there are the other 99% of people who do not blog and who are not spending every waking hour reading blogs. Most people like structure. They like to know that your blog post is split up into a certain number of points and they like to know it from the get-go. Let them know that the post is a list and you will see more people clicking through.
Obviously, the master of lists in the blogosphere is Mashable and many other bloggers like to joke about it. Having said that, the results are in the numbers and Mashable has more traffic than almost any other blog on the Web, definitely in the tech space (obviously, there are other factors to this success, not just liest). Like everything else, this should be taken in moderation and if every post is a list, well that won’t work either.
OH: “What top 10 story did Mashable do this morning?”"It was ‘Top 10 Mashable Stories This Morning’.”
— Carolyn Penner (@cpen) February 18, 2012
I am going to sum this up despite the fact that there are many other pointers for writing a blog post title, such as the power of asking a question, offering the reader a unique benefit (How to posts), and making the reader thing directly from the title (a contradiction of some kind).
If you take one thing away from this post, remember this. When writing a title for a blog post, put yourself in the shoes of your audience and you might even consider asking people around you if this is a title that will draw them in.
If you or the people you ask would click on such a title, then you are good to go. If they, even one of them, are confused by the title you chose or just don’t find it interesting, spend the time to write a better title.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how delicious the food is, no one will be tasting it if the description on the menu does not draw them in.