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Great Content… Bad Titles – How to Let Your Blog Go #4

Let-Your-Blog-GoOne problem that I regularly saw in the days that I took on blog consulting work was bloggers who spent hours and hours slaving over the writing of quality posts only to take 5 seconds to slap a very ordinary title on them.

While poor titles won’t have as much of an immediate detrimental impact as some of the other ways of letting a blog go that we’re exploring this week – over the long haul it can really hold a blog back from reaching it’s full potential.

Why Blog Post Titles Are Crucial

I can not emphasize enough the importance of the titles of posts. They matter for numerous reasons:

1. Your Title Acts as an Advertisement for your Post – the handful of words that you choose for the title of your post determine whether it will be read by the vast majority of people who see it. In a time where people scan hundreds of posts quickly in RSS feeds, are presented with thousands of alternatives when they search in Google and run their eye over many new posts on social sites like Digg or Delicious people are increasingly making decisions on the worth of posts and whether they’ll engage with them based upon titles. In effect your title acts as a mini advertisement for the rest of your post.

2. Titles Are Important in SEO – the words in title of your post have more power than any other words in your post when it comes to how that post is indexed by Google and other search engines. If you’re looking to get ranked for a certain keyword you had better find a way to get it included in your title. The reason for this is that SE’s look at titles as indicators of topic of posts. They also look at ‘title tags’ and the permalink structure of pages (the URL) – both of these things are usually connected with your title.

3. Titles are a key for Viral Content - I’ve already mentioned Social sites like Digg and Delicious in my first point above. Titles are KEY for these types of sites not only because they draw people from them to read your content – but because the title itself can be the sole reason that some users of these sites vote for your posts. It’s a sad thing really, but some social bookmarking site users don’t actually visit sites before they vote for them but instead vote up (or down) posts based upon their titles. While this seems a little pointless it can actually be important as their vote might tip your post into a ‘viral’ surge of actual traffic.

Solution: The solution to the problem of good content but bad titles is fairly obvious – take more time with your titles. If people make a decision whether to read your post based upon your post titles if you are not giving them considerable thought you are almost wasting your time slaving over your actual posts.

5 Tips For Developing Great Post Titles for Your Blog

I’ve written a lot of advice previously here at ProBlogger on writing titles including:

1. Keep it Simple – Most research I’ve seen into titles seems to argue that the most effective titles are short, simple and easy to understand. While breaking these rules can help grab attention (see below) they can also confuse, frustrate and put a glazed look in the eyes of potential readers. Shorter titles are also good for Search Engines – keep it under 40 or so characters and you’ll ensure the whole title appears in search results.



2. Grab Attention
– Good titles set your posts apart from the clutter around them and then draw readers into your post. Grabbing attention might happen using tactics of ’shock’, ‘big claims’, ‘controversy’ or even ‘confusion’. While these tactics do work at getting people in – it should also be said that they can do more damage than good if the rest of your post doesn’t live up to the promises your title makes. By all means try to grab attention – just just ‘trick’ your readers into thinking you’ll provide them with something you can’t give them.



3. Meet a Need
– An effective title draws people into reading more because they feel you’ve got something to say that they NEED to hear. Indexes like del.icio.us illustrate just how effective this is. Quite often the articles that get to the top of the list are ‘how to…’ or ‘tutorial’ type articles that show readers that they will learn how to solve a problem or need that they might have.



4. Describe Your Post
– Some readers will be drawn into a post by a cryptic title that doesn’t tell them much about what they’ll be reading – but the majority of readers need to know something about what they’ll find if they read further. Titles should describe (in a word or few) what readers will get in the main post.



5. Use Key Words
- As I mentioned above – titles are a powerful part of SEO. If you want to maximize their power you need to consider using the keywords that you want your post to be found with in your title in some way. This of course is challenging when you are attempting to ‘keep it simple’ and to also ‘grab attention and intrigue’ – but it can be done. Words at the start of titles are thought to be more powerful than words at the end when it comes to SEO.

‘Bonus’ idea – Hit the News Stand:

Head to your local News Stand and spend some time looking at the titles and headlines that are used in newspapers and magazines there. You can learn a lot from this type of analysis about what types of words and what patterns work in headlines. See this technique explored further both here at ProBlogger and at CopyBlogger (the master of great titles).

Share Your Best Post Titles

Got some good blog post titles to share with us? Leave them in comments below and tell us the story behind them, the strategy that you’re using and what impact they had.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. The Zen And Art Of Coupon Clipping was pretty good… I love the feeling when I think of a good title. When I press publish, you just have that magical feeling, knowing traffic will come your way.

  2. MrCooker says:

    Thanks for the tip Darren.

    As I type this, I’m working on a post on my blog (talk about getting distracted) and this post made me think twice about the post title.

    Let’s just hope the newer title is better than the old one.

  3. Ken Y-N says:

    My best story title was:

    “7% of Japanese dog owners eat dog food”

    Which was definitely a linkbait title and only slightly economising with the truth, but just last month the Daily Telegraph found the headline and reprinted it without reading the explanation of the statistic, very nearly causing an international incident!

    Actually, my very best title features an innocent Japanese word that means something very different in English, so as it would probably trip your spam filter I won’t mention it.

    On Sundays on my blog I usually post silly entries, so I have more fun with the titles for them.

  4. Great post Darren.

    One of my best post titles was “10 of the greatest web sources for creative inspiration.”

    The title is great because it summarized exactly what the post was about (a list of the greatest websites for creative inspiration) and by using “greatest” I was able to grab the attention of a lot of people.

    And it worked, it has been my highest viewed (and most linked to) article over the past five months!

  5. Ian Romaine says:

    Some great tips there and I think that last suggestion of hitting the news stands and checking out how magazines and newspapers draw readers in is a common-sense but brilliant tip.

    I’m still trying to figure out how SEO works but I’ve already seen how good titles can draw readers in when I look at the stats for my own blog, which is only nine days old.

    I’d also never really given consideration to the number of people reading blogs through RSS etc and how every post title is battling with hundreds of others for readers’ fleeting attention.

    Plenty to think about – great post.

  6. Jason Mosley says:

    This is where I need help. I write the content than I just look at the title box and think, “What hell should I type in that”?

    I think I am going to read this post a few more times and see it that helps.

    @Ken Y-N,
    “7% of Japanese dog owners eat dog food” – Now that’s a title I would click on, haha. I have tried that fake bacon you give dogs. Sadly, It didn’t taste like bacon.

    ———————————-
    Jason Mosley
    Enjoy Bacon!

  7. I’ve found that with rare exceptions, the best titles come to me after I’ve written the post. If I’m writing in WordPress, I’ll just use a one or two word identifier as the title until I’m done (so I can recognize the post in WP’s drafts.)

    Once I’ve finished the post, I’ll reread it, find the key idea and try to give it clear expression. If the idea behind the post is surprising, the title will usually end up being surprising. Most of the time, I think that “twists” should find their way from the post into the title, not the other way around.

  8. OK, you people can’t post headline titles like that and then NOT link to the actual story. ;-)
    As you can see, they work. Post links to the story if possible, please?

  9. devjargon says:

    Writing captivating titles is probably one of the hardest parts for me. Writing content is a challenge but I always have an idea of where I want to go with it, but it isn’t until I sit down and think of the titles that my mind goes blank.

  10. meghnak says:

    Thank you, Darren, for sharing this great post about importance of post titles. I tried to use some attractive titles like:
    ‘Sleep Facing North & Improve Your Writing!’
    ‘Sherlock Holmes Was Real!’
    ‘Do Some Gambling & Become A Great Poet!’ etc.

    and I found it found to be very effective.

    So, I agree with you fully that titles are crucial in attracting traffic.

  11. Shanel Yang says:

    My most viewed title is “4 Signs that a Marriage Will End in Divorce.” It used to be “Interview with the Prostitute.”

    For Jess Stratton, here are the links:

    http://shanelyang.com/2008/03/23/4-signs-that-a-marriage-will-end-in-divorce/

    http://shanelyang.com/2008/01/06/interview-with-the-prostitute/

  12. SpaceAgeSage says:

    For title writing, you might also ask yourself — What is:
    the most unusual part of my post?
    the most interesting?
    the most helpful?
    the most life changing?
    most enticing?
    most fascinating?
    most memorable?

  13. Edward Lomax says:

    I tend to work on my blog titles first. It is the hardest and most important part of the post, so I want to do it while I’m fresh.

    Once I’ve slaved over the title, then I have to make the blog post live up to it. Can’t have a great title and a ho-hum post. So, getting the title right in the beginning forces me to work harder on my writing of the post.

    Like you said, having a great title is important when submitting to social sites. But the post also has to deliver once the traffic comes from those sites.

    Great tips.

  14. Rachel says:

    My weakness. I know it. The title is the hardest part of writing a post.

  15. broalex says:

    One thing that I like most about Darren , is that he writes his posts on everybody`s power of understanding. They are clear , written carefully so that everyone gets the point. I have also noticed that titles are crucial. The post`s title decides if you will have either 10 visitors or 1000 visitors.

  16. When I first started blogging a couple months ago, a friend told me to work on my blog titles. I think it’s helped a bit in SEO and hopefully as viewers read my posts. Another thing my friend told me to pay special attention to is your landing page. The pictures on my posts used to be rather large, and I’ve since made them smaller, so people can read more of what I have to say as well as look at the picture, to drag them into my blog and retain attention.

  17. Jess Gordon says:

    My most viewed posts/pages are always the ones containing the words “Tutorial” “How To” and especially “______ 101″. If you are writing a page or post about the basics of something, I recommend using “101″ in the title, it’s pretty boring, but it sure seems to work :).

  18. I remember writing a guest post for pick the brain about meditation. I think my title was something like ‘meditation’

    John changed it to “4 Reasons to meditate and how to get started.” I think it ended up with over 2000 diggs.

    That taught me the power of a good title.

  19. H.E.Eigler says:

    My most successful post (had the most comments) didn’t have the best title. it was

    **How my creative life will never be the same post baby**

    But, it’s a poop story and Moms are drawn to reading about poop so the content of the post overcame the ho hum title I guess

    http://maternalspark.blogspot.com/2008/04/how-my-creative-life-will-never-be-same.html

  20. Carla says:

    Sometimes I update my titles after I write and publish the post. Sometimes my titles can be a bit dull – I need work on that!

  21. Pachecus says:

    great tips Darren..

    yesterday I wrote

    “How to remove awesome bar on firefox 3″ with success. I’ve received +100 uniques from google

    :)

  22. Reginald says:

    I wanted to comment on the keyword portion of this post. I think it is worth mentioning that although keyword use is important for search engine optimization, too much keywords used in a post can appear not only redundant but annoying.

  23. blogversary says:

    I started trying to use one word titles. Not as easy, but it helps my blog stand out among other long titled blogs.

  24. Muscle Post says:

    Very true! I normally spend a while thinking of a good title for my post after I write it. “Good” doesn’t necessarily mean clever or catchy. It normally means simple and inclusive of certain words or phrases for which I am trying to target. In the end, I want the title to be indexed in Google so that people searching for certain words are sent to my website. This will increase the number of pageviews I get, and increase my CTR over the long run.

  25. 11 (Mostly) Painless Ways to Flatter a Martial Artist

    The content was easy enough to write–just a survey question and answers. I used your and Brain Clark’s blogs as inspiration for a compelling post title.

  26. So true! I like the 3rd point you make. I’ve often come up with great content, only to find my title is severely lacking. Overall, better titles lead to more interactive readers.

  27. Good title really can bring more traffic, i know i click in my rss reader only interesting threads!

  28. Jill Harness says:

    I’ve found Glamorati is a useful way to practice writing headlines. Their focus may be snarky and obnoxious headlines, but it still helps you learn what works and what doesn’t

  29. Sire says:

    I always try to spend a little time on the title, but there are occasions when I have slacked off and just whipped one up that wasn’t up to scratch. Unfortunately when you have 7 odd blogs, a job and a family it just lend enough time for the niceties of blogging.

    Probably my most successful title was It’s Bullshit The Way Women Treat Men. Definitely not much there in the way of SEO tactics but it was enough to get a few people to participate in the post.

  30. Slevi says:

    So true, but it’s really one of the hardest things for me even while knowing how essential they are. Coming up with catchy titles really is a skill which not many people posses, sometimes I wish I was part of them :P.

  31. Great post. It is difficult to create great titles.

  32. Lin says:

    Lousy post titles is the number 1 reason why I unsubscribe from blogs, or don’t subscribe in the first place.

    My recent post was titled: Tim Russert Funeral Closed to the Public, and that post was immediately picked up by several news/media sites which provided over 5000 referrals to my blog in a very short time.

    Not only does proper post titles have an immense effect on search engine traffic and serp rankings, but it also provides subscribed readers the exact information of what the post itself contains.

    For example: On my RSS reader at this very moment is a blog I’m about to unsubscribe from has a post title “That Particular Thing“. The post title tells me absolutely nothing about what the post itself is about, nor does it pull me into reading the article. For the sake of this comment I did pull up the article and the darn thing is about her passion for photography! The post title should have contained specific keywords that explain what the post is about.

  33. It’s not always easy to keep the balance between SEO, user experience and usability. Most of the time I prefer a short title with a few keywords. That’s not always possible though.

  34. squawkfox says:

    10 Reasons the Diva Cup can Change Your Life

    Apparently, an otherwise private matter can be fun with an interesting title. I can’t get over the comments.

  35. Put The Title On Top

    Cast doubt aside; the title of your post is the most important group of words that you will type.

    After the title, the first sentence of the post is of extreme importance.

    The rest of your post is just being skimmed…not read.

    It is extremly important that you get the title and first sentence perfect or as close to perfect as possible. It makes all of the difference.

    The Masked Millionaire

  36. @LIn…you say that you got over 5,000 referrals from your post with the great “title.”

    5,000 referrals and only 21 comments? And if I counted correctly 7 of those comments were you responding to other people.

    That doesn’t seem right.

  37. Sire says:

    @ The Masked Millionaire re Lin; I noticed that too, but I wasn’t going to say anything. Still the comment did manage to get us to check out his post.

  38. Sergey Rusak says:

    Titles can not only show great content, but also improve bad content by making it sound better.
    I was browsing Boston networks and found some crime logs. Huge titles, scary words, eye catching phrases…. content like 10 words. Something like “Police investigating shooting at Dorchester which happened around 10pm on Friday.” and that’s it!
    Even mimi blog could be awesome if you use great titles.
    Also, if you can’t find great title you can try and Google it. Pick similar title you like, change some words, place keyword (s) you need. Done!

  39. PaulR says:

    Booze! Someone’s Got To Do It

    Probably risky from an ‘authority’ perspective, but it’s a new blog, so trying all sorts of stuff for now.

  40. Jess says:

    Thanks for the post…I’m still having a bit of a struggle with the titles…
    I recently wrote a post about travel which I titled

    “the mannequins in Chile have big butts”

    My actual blog is about beading and jewellery, and this post refers to my travels in Chile and the unusual things I discovered while I was there, as well as the beads and jewellery I bought.

    I thought the title was catchy (I was quite chuffed with myself)…But after seeing that most people are coming to my sight through looking up “big butts” I’m starting to think I may have made the wrong decision….

    lol

    jess

  41. Travelinoma says:

    I love to use a wordplay on my content as a title. Your post has helped me realize that’s not the best way to attract readers. Thanks for the guidance.

  42. Kristen says:

    This is a great article and definitely something I was in need of. I will have to work on my titles…

  43. Christian says:

    I really enjoyed this post. Made me want to go through my entire blog and fix and make every title better. :-)

  44. Vidyut Kale says:

    Heh, what good title to leave? My posts hardly get any comments EVER. What little comments they do get are mostly of the query type. Obviously there is something I am doing or not doing that encourages people to not share the impact of the post on them.

    Currently brainstorming for ideas to put into action. Will definitely post titles that worked when they work :D

  45. Definitely, choosing an appealing title is very important not only to search engines but also to first time visitors. I am fond of starting my posts with How to, Top 10 or Great List of…

    Asking an interesting or intriguing question is also a good attraction to readers. We must remember that for readers, the first 10 seconds on your blog is very crucial.

    When I made this post – Is my English Good-looking Over There?, I did not expect this will be included to my most commented posts.

    Thanks.

  46. Jay Ramirez says:

    Wow, popular topic! It’s interesting that as much as everyone knows to use numbers and a “how to” theme (3 steps to increase your subscribers or 8 ways to make new friends), you still see a lot of posts without it. While it may seem old school, but it’s a proven technique.

  47. Besides, Problogger, I am a big fan of Copyblogger.

    He said a few months ago to get a copy of Cosmo magazine and see how they present a story.

    Changed my titles accordingly

    Best ones -

    When Your Husband Wants Out

    Nuns and the Bad Rap

    Let the Cat Come to You

    When Your Husband Dies – A Survival Guide.

  48. I use Dan Kennedy’s headline suggestions from his book The Ultimate Sales Letter. He has some great information for all you info-preneurs.

    One of my posts recently was, “Warning: Real Estate Investor Almost Loses $30,000 Because of Short Sales.”

  49. Gingsir says:

    With my blog being about Bali because I live there most of the time and want to promote my activities there, I feel as if I could go on for year without notice.

    So I decided to use namedropping as a tool. Does it work? I don’ t really know. Here’s one on Barrack Obama – Obama and his wife used Bali as their retreat too.

    I don’t know if this is a good idea as I am a beginner here. have learnt a lot from this site. Thanks for your help.

  50. Matthew says:

    These are some great tips. This series is actually a pretty good one. I’ll be sure to try and employ some of these tactics when I name my posts. I often have trouble deciding.