This column is written by Kimberly Turner from Regator (a great tool that gathers and organizes the world’s best blog posts). – Darren
Every week, we’re using the trending topics from Regator to show you what bloggers are writing about most during the previous seven days. Click any trend to see posts about that story. So far, we’ve used the trends to illustrate how you can break out of the echo chamber and solve problems for your readers.
This week, we’ll focus on crafting effective post titles/headlines. You can delve into the ProBlogger archives to find some great posts by Darren on this topic: “How to Craft Post Titles That Draw Readers Into Your Blog” is a must read for every blogger and “15 Ways to Rework Your Next Blog Title” is a useful follow-up. For this post, we’ll focus solely on the effectiveness the headlines, but as you blog, remember to deliver on what you promise–some of the posts behind these headlines do that better than others. Let’s see how a few bloggers handled the headlines for this week’s top stories:
- Twitter – Between buying Tweetie, archiving tweets in the Library of Congress, holding its developer conference, and unveiling promoted tweets, the service could not be ignored. The title of Gizmodo‘s “Inside America’s Secret Historical Tweet Vault” is almost as tough to ignore. As Darren points out, there are “power words” that, when used with care, can make your titles nearly irresistible. He lists words like: secret (used here) free, stunning, discover, and easy. There are plenty of others: exclusive, shocking, new, etc.
- Goldman Sachs – “How to” titles are effective because they follow Darren’s #1 headline rule: Communicate a benefit. The Money Game‘s “How to Trade the Goldman Panic Right Now” does this well. My most widely read post ever was a “how to” post: “Seven Ways Social Media Is Ruining Your Life–And How to Fix It.” In large part, I credit the headline for that post’s popularity.
- Supreme Court – Personalizing titles by using “you” helps readers feel connected to the story. Queerty‘s “The 3 Supreme Court Cases Obama’s New Pick Will Decide for You” takes a larger story and makes the reader feel that it’s relevant to him or her.
- President Obama – Creating a keyword-heavy headline not only gives your readers a clear indication of what to expect, it also makes it easy for them to find your content in search engines or aggregators. Sometimes a straightforward, keyword-heavy headline is your best bet. i09’s “Obama’s Plans for NASA: Mars by 2030, $6 Billion Budget Increase Today” is long but will be easy to find in a search. CMT Blog’s “Garth Brooks Is Just Like Barack Obama” is even more effective. It has keywords but also draws on reader curiosity.
- Pulitzer Prize – Asking a question in your post’s title draws both readers who want to see how others answer and readers who are interested in sharing their own viewpoints. You might find that using this technique also helps you get more comments. “Sure, Online Journalism Nets Its First Pulitzer But Will a Blog Ever Win?” from Techdirt is a great example of a headline that provokes strong opinions and encourages discussion.
- Tea Party – Creating controversy with your headlines is one way to attract readers if you’re prepared for the consequences. Many bloggers enjoy igniting heated discussions. If you don’t mind disagreement, try stating a strong, polarizing opinion in your headline like AlterNet has in its post “The Tea Party Crowd Needs to Wake Up to Who the Real Villains Are.”
- Conan O’Brien – You’ve heard it before but I can’t do a post about titles without mentioning that people adore lists. Absolutely love ‘em. Lists quantify benefits and let readers know they’ll take away seven, 10 or even 99 new facts, tips, or tidbits. Take, for example, Vulture‘s “Seven Things Conan Can Do on Cable That He Couldn’t on NBC.”
- Record Store Day – If you’re covering something you have a very deep knowledge of, consider creating a “guide” style post. These posts are making a big promise to your reader–”guide” implies that you’ll be telling them all they need to know–so be sure to deliver. “Pitchfork Guide to Record Store Day” and “Flavorpill’s Guide to Record Store Day 2010“ both went that route.
- Pope – WSJ’s Law Blog chose to ask a hot-button question that would incite reader participation with its post “The Pope Can’t Be Sued Abroad…Is That a Good Thing?” and managed to elicit some comments nearly as detailed and lengthy as the original post.
- Iceland – Using humor in headlines is a tricky thing but, when done well, can result in clicks aplenty. City Room’s “Iceland Volcano Spews Consonants and Vowels” and HuffPo’s “Volcanic Ash Cloud Turns Out to Be Finale of Lost” both managed to make me smile…and get me to click to read the full post.
One last non-trend-related tip I’ll give from my own experience. Magazine editors labor for longer than you may think to craft the perfect cover line that’ll make you drop your hard-earned cash on their products. As a whole, they’re pretty good at it and the same principles apply to blog post titles. I’ve found that spending half an hour at a bookstore reading cover lines can be a great way to get inspired.
What makes you want to read a story? Please tell us about “power words” that have worked for you, humorous headlines you’ve crafted, question headlines that have elicited huge reader responses, or other techniques you’ve found to be effective. What works for your blog?