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The Five Worst Ways to Title a Blog Post

Post titling seems to be something of sacred territory for many bloggers. We feel that the title contains the essence of our post, and therefore, it’s the essence of ourselves—our personalities, our messages, our brands.

On the other hand, we see a lot of post titles on the Web, and there appears to be endless variation available to us. Many factors play into a title: the post’s topic, the angle we’ve taken, SEO and keywords, and so on. Even if you’re a my-titles-are-my-brand type of blogger, it’s not impossible to be stumped when it comes to titling a blog post.

A lot has been said about how to address titling from different perspectives, and each of us needs to find our own titling “groove.” Here I thought I’d give you five no-nos for post titling, and explain why they’re less than ideal.

1. Always follow a formula

Many writers use formulae to come up with post titles—Aman Basanti explained one such approach here at ProBlogger.

These titling formulae can be fun and give you extra impact if they’re used astutely, but you probably don’t want to fall back on formulae every time you write a title. If you do, your titles may all end up sounding similar. Readers may well get bored.

A better approach is to look to the content of your post to indicate a few suitable titling approaches. Start there, and you’ll soon have some strong starting points for developing a title.

2. Make a title that follows a fad

Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of writers finishing titles with the words “Oh My.” Usually, the titles contain a list of items and the “Oh My” is used to imply that the author, and perhaps the reader, will be overwhelmed by this plethora of options.

The problem is that by hitching your wagon to a titling fad like this, your title just sounds like every other fad title on the Web at the same time. If you title sounds like everyone else’s, what does that say about your content? And how will it ever stand out from the crowd?

Instead, why not say something specific and relevant about your post, formulating a unique title that communicates the problem your article solves, or the help it provides? The article’s title is, after all, its hook or selling point. Make it unique—don’t take a me-too approach.

3. Write a really long title

We tend to stray into really-long-title territory when we’re trying to apply humor, or colloquial speech, to an article title. Neither of these reasons justifies a title that goes on forever.

Your title is a bit like your article’s USP or elevator pitch: it needs to speak plainly, clearly, and quickly. Make readers struggle through your title, and you’ll likely lose them. Even if you don’t, long titles tend to lack punch, direction, and focus, so readers are more likely to wind up confused or underwhelmed at the title’s end. And they’re a nightmare for mobile-device users.

Try to keep titles to the point, out of respect for your time-poor, weary-eyed readers.

4. Create a title that’s misleading

In an effort to hook readers, some bloggers create titles that mislead. Often, this happens unintentionally. Look very closely at the title you’ve given your post and consider whether the post delivers on the promise that title makes.

Look very closely.

Delivering on your titles’ promises is critical for your credibility, and for reader satisfaction. If you’re even remotely concerned that a title might be a bit over the top, rethink it. Try other ideas and approaches. Run it past a friend. Ask your Twitter followers what they’d expect to get from an article with that title—you’ll soon know if your title overpromises.

5. Focus on the cool, not the content

A couple of the points I’ve already mentioned reflect this approach, but it deserves separate treatment. Don’t become so wrapped up in writing a title that’s retweetable, link-baity, or trendy that you lose the sense of your article, or—worse still—damage your brand.

This is often how controversial or slightly offensive titles come into being. The author thinks, “I have a great post here—a post that could go viral! I need a viral-ish title to get it there!” And suddenly, stars in their eyes, they’re pulling out all stops to make that “viral” title.

Don’t apply a whatever-it-takes attitude to titling. It’s true that a title can make or break a post’s success. But it can also make or break your reputation, your brand consistency, and your readership. Don’t try to be cool with your titles—just be yourself, connecting with your readers.

The ideal title

There is no “ideal” title. But there are good and bad titles. To me, as both a reader and a blogger, a good title is one that communicates clearly and succinctly what the article delivers in a way that compels the reader.

Can you suggest any titles that you think are excellent—or terrible? I’d love to hear how you title your posts in the comments.

About Georgina Laidlaw

Georgina Laidlaw is a freelance content developer, and Content manager for problogger.net. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Jacob says:

    There is no ideal title, but there are bad titles. A bad title in my eyes is a deceptive title. Don’t say your title is about Justin Bieber and then write about President Obama. Just because Justin Bieber gets more traffic than Obama doesn’t mean you should be deceptive.

    The problem is, so many people read bad SEO information, so they think that they need to keyword stuff their titles or whatever and unfortunately, that’s so false. A good SEO will tell you to either write about that keyword or don’t stuff it. Great article!

    • The length of the title may sometimes be long, but writing a too long title undermines the very purpose of having a title. It becomes a short description of what the blog post contains. But what is more important is that you can never go with a formula while writing the title of any blog post.

      The concept that a title containing all the possible keywords related to an SEO efforts will lead into better Search engine rankings, seems to be an ill gotten theory. The content without quality can never help retain readers, although it may sometimes help in the short term. This is one of the Top 10 Blogging Myths that bloggers fall for.

  2. I’m personally annoyed when a title is clearly written more for SEO purposes than for drawing an actual human into your story. I feel like a title should get people’s attention and make them want to keep reading. That’s why I personally keep reading most of the time.

  3. Is the Wizard of Oz really a fad? If so, I guess it’s a really, really, really long fad.

    In 140 posts, I am guilty of doing this once…but I think that’s OK.

  4. I really need to change my product review titles to something more interesting… so far they’ve always been “Product X Review” ….so boring :(

    Should have used that on the SEO plug-in (appear on search engines) but use a catchier title to be displayed

  5. Richie says:

    As a blog reader, I tend to avoid reading articles that begin with “Why”, or “How”– from experience I find the content in articles titled this way to be patronizing and often fail to answer the question implied in the headline. In other words: titles with a question in it generally link to wishy-washy content, not something worth spending time on.

    • Heidi Angell says:

      I agree Richie! I write my titles based on something a little more catchy. Sometimes they are not completely clear of the content until you read the blog post! But, I think that is part of the draw. They are NEVER misleading! I never have understood SEO and so have just ignored the stupid thing, preferring home-growm marketing techniques.

  6. Great read.

    A popular fad these days is the “what you can learn from…..” kind of title. While some bloggers write fabulous posts following that sort of title and remain relevant, where we can actually connect the learning with the personality/whatever, others use the title just like the “Oh, My” add-on you mentioned. The most irritating thing, though, is a title with a spelling mistake, not because the blogger didn’t know, but didn’t care.

    • Whew, yes. Misspelling in titles is so annoying–as is bad grammar, choppy capitalization, and things of that sort. In fact, it’s not just annoying, it turns me off!

  7. Nice post.

    As a new blogger, finding titles for a post can sometime be a challenge. As long as it is tailored for readers and not just for SEO purposes I don’t think one can lose.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

  8. Tim says:

    Nice article, thanks! I’ve been guilty of more than one of these errors, so I appreciate the reminder. Just one point about the “Oh My” at the end of many post titles. It’s often a reference to the Wizard of Oz. “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” :)

  9. Linda says:

    Thanks Georgina. I’d give an example of a really crappy title ( guilty of # 3), but then I’d create more anxiety for myself, when I really prefer to enjoy my weekend:).

    I think the ‘Oh, My’ thing is way overdone, too. I appreciate your expertise and will be more mindful of not following the trends.

    I don’t know if it’s SEO advisable to change a published post, and would appreciate anyone’s input on that matter…:).

  10. This is a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing…

  11. According to respectable SEO experts I’ve spoken with, usability is the new SEO. If a keyword works naturally in your title, go for it. If not, skip it and use something that creates a good user experience.

    Other than that, thanks for the tips. I’ve been struggling a bit with post titles as I get back to blogging myself. I think the idea title tip will be my biggest takeaway.

  12. Alex says:

    I love my titles, they are my bread and butter, well at least I like to think so lol.
    My method is based around making sure I use humor, a play on words, or proverbs/expressions etc and keeping them totally in context.(attempt to anyway)

    Imcurrently writing a post about how we as bloggers tend to do things because it’s ‘what bloggers are supposed to do’ even if it’s not necessarily bringing any results. The post title is going to be ’7 signs your blogging a dead horse’

    No stealing! ;)

    Thanks Shiela Atwood for tweeting me this post.

    “Show Us Yer Titles!” ;)

  13. Fred Brill says:

    I’ve always tried to keep my titles short and catchy and completely relevent to my post – with the relevance to the post not unveiled until the last paragraph of the post – but then my posts are more stories or opinions. SEO techniques often backfire – which is one of the reasons I think term blog is often looked down upon by those who write for a living.

    This was a good post – but I would really have liked to have seen some good examples – and even some bad ones. You kept this at the 50,000 foot level, I guess for a broader appeal.

  14. Fred Brill says:

    I’ve always tried to keep my titles short and catchy and completely relevent to my post – with the relevance to the post not unveiled until the last paragraph of the post – but then my posts are more stories or opinions. SEO techniques often backfire – which is one of the reasons I think term blog is often looked down upon by those who write for a living.

    This was a good post – but I would really have liked to have seen some good examples – and even some bad ones. You kept this at the 50,000 foot level, I guess for a broader appeal.

  15. Carrie Smith says:

    This is great advice, and things that I want to steer clear of. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Excellent points, Georgina — thanks for the insight and help!

    It’s always a shame to see titles over-optimized, including the target keyword two or three times … we can do better than that, fellow web publishers!

    With the intro of Google+ and the lean toward popular vote over keyword density, hopefully we can move away from over-optimization and focus on creating solid content.

  17. LAjuice says:

    Fun Topic!!! and super intuitive. There is one blog that a lot of my friends love, but because every post is a formula entitled something very similar to “wherein x happens to y”, it drives me nuts and I can’t get past it. Naming a “friends” episode “the one where x happens to y”- is one thing, but it KILLS BLOGS!

    That said, sometimes when I am stumped on a title I wish I had a “hook”. Because my tagline is: “LA Juice- the one who says Bad Mothra Faulkner.” I struggle with the Friends issue, but I never cave. Of course I have only been blogging since February, so there is always time.

    In the end I just to try to be funny or pull something from the point of my blog for my titles without any regard to optimization. But sometimes I just pick a complete non-sequitur. Of course half the point of my blog is that I am supposed to be quirky, odd and a little outrageous, so I have room for creativity.

  18. Good stuff. I named my entire blog wrong. I called it 101 Quick and Easy Secrets and it is about photography.

    Even though I have a book series of the same name, the name doesn’t work well for a photography search.

    http://101quickandeasysecrets.wordpress.com

  19. I agree with everything you said.

    I cannot easily find good titles. From my experience writing online I realized that a title cannot be too original because most people ask simple questions when they type in the search box what they want to find. Thus, boring titles are ideal when we think about search engine optimization.

    However, if a title is not interesting enough it won’t entice curiosity. We have to combine keywords and simple sentences used by most internet users with our intention to cause curiosity.

    On the other hand, a title must describe the article. I usually change my articles’ title after writing them when I see that the title doesn’t really correspond to the content. I saw into practice (many times) that if a title doesn’t really reflect the article’s content, the article will simply disappoint all readers, even if it is a good one. Our readers must feel that they really found the answers they were looking for.

    Sometimes I simply use boring titles that are search engine optimized because I cannot spend more time with the title. However, I feel that I’m wrong when I don’t spend enough time looking for the ideal title. The title is basic. If it won’t be interesting enough, it won’t attract many readers.

    I’m going to change my attitude. I’m going to pay more attention to my titles and stop feeling guilty because I don’t spend enough time looking for the ideal title, even though I know how important it is. Thank you for this lesson!

  20. Nice post! It’s important to nail a great title from a user perspective as well as an SEO perspective. We can, however, over do it from time to time.

    I have to agree with Fred Brill that it would have been great to see some examples, but the overall view of the topic of Titles was good.

    Most of the titles I have come up with are a combination of keyword research and looking at my page content after it has been written. I typically don’t write the title until I have written the post.

    Thanks for sharing this info! I enjoyed it and was reminded of a few good best practices.

  21. Georgina,
    I like your #3 point and valid. Thanks – Manickam

  22. Agreed!
    A really good blogger should be a really good writer indeed. Just taken out the main point from the article to make sure there are nothing left missing to give a clue to the reader on what the article is all really about.

  23. Ray says:

    I don’t have a problem with catchy or a little exaggerated titles that draw attention. It is a little annoying if the title suggests that you will be told something and you are not that bug me. Or, the ones that want you to signup or register for something to finish reading that I really don’t like.

  24. The real take home for me was “focus on the cool not the content”. There are time when writing a post when I struggle to come up with a title that I think is cool enough for my masterpiece ( cheeky grin). I don’t want to go down the sensationalist route where anything your readers receives after clicking your link will be an anti climax, but many bloggers do..with titles like:

    The ultimate list of………….
    Read this and never need………………….

    blah blah blah. On the rare occasion that this list or resource really is ‘all tha;t, I think for the most part it would have been just as successful without what is in my opinion – a lame title. Though don’t quote me on this, I may have to try a month of sensationalist overrated titles..for research purposes. I got a lot of wisdom from this. Thanks

  25. After reading only half of this
    I went back to my posts and re-titled some. I think they are so much better. Instead of keeping the recent title of my post “Friendship” I changed it to “Trying to Find Words for Friendship.”

    That’s much more descriptive and much more interesting. Also, by being more specific, the title is “friendlier” to search engines. (Very lame joke intended.)

    Then I came back and finished reading. This site has so much to offer!

  26. Ken Muise says:

    I hate titles. They’re always the worst part. I write in MS word, come back to WP and past it in. Once I’m done with the linking, iimages, SEO, tags….blah blah…I type, delete, type, delete, type, delete, publish….go back…delete, type title after title. I just got stressed out!

    Good post though!

  27. Nick says:

    Headline writing truly is an artform, something I’ve been slowly learning over time.

    I agree that titles should be written as clear as possible to express the meaning straightforward. I don’t think that there’s “bad titles” but there are definitely titles that are better than others. The only bad title I can think of is a deceiving one.

  28. Wendy says:

    Oh my! I have never heard that one in a title. Definitely would not be one I would go read either. Thanks for a great article and great reminders for me to focus on the content, not the “fluff”.

  29. pochp says:

    I think composing titles is my leading writing asset. My priority is that a title must be unique and as short as possible. Usually, I compose 2 titles then choose the better.

  30. This was a great article, and very helpful too!

    I happen to be another person who thinks there are bad titles. However, I have never read a title and thought “Wow! That’s great!” For me, the title is a setup for what comes next. Yes, if the title is misleading or runs on, that’s bad too.

    You do not have to be Charles Dickens (whom I love), to have a good blog. -Of course it will help! But, if your blog shows integrity, visitors will appreciate it!

    http://www.DrinkYourGreensandMinerals.com

    Twitter: DYGandM

  31. I like to dig deep and write 5 or 6 different concepts for the title after I write the post itself. Then I narrow down to one or two and work on some creative revisions until I nail the one I like. My favorite of my own so far, “What Do You Change For A Living?”. I like questions, and I like to grab attention through a different twist on a common question.

  32. Kisha says:

    Well as a new blogger, I have never given too much thought on my post titles, and I’m sure that even my BLOG title is pretty bad. Is it too late to go back and change it? Thanks for getting me to think about this.

  33. Carolyn says:

    Almost all of my content is evergreen, and I try to write titles by how they’ll work in lists of articles . . . whether on “category” pages, on sidebars, or whatever.

    For example, today’s is “Keeping Band-Aids On” — pretty straightforward, it says exactly what it is: one simple trick to keeping Band-Aids from falling off from sweat, dishwashing, whatever an active life throws at it. For a while, many started as “How to . . .” and then I realized how repetitive it looked in lists.

    Not creative, but it helps my readers find what they want . . . and the titles do well with people who Google for the information I provide.

  34. Lance Sonka says:

    Thanks Georgina, great title on this post by the way! Do you find that following up with a few relevant subtitles or headlines also help to keep an audience reading your content?