This post is based on Episode 156 of the ProBlogger podcast.
The title of your blog post can completely change its destiny.
People often decide whether to read your post – and ultimately take action – based on the title alone.
It may also determine whether or not they share your post.
So it’s crucial that you spend time crafting your title and getting it right.
Why Your Blog Post Title Matters So Much
You might be wondering why your title is so very important, especially if you think it’s nothing more than a few larger-than-normal words at the top of your post.
Here’s why it matters so much:
- Your title appears in search engine results. Apart from that small description (your meta description), people don’t have much to go on when deciding whether to click your link instead of the one above/below it.
- Your title appears in RSS feeds. Depending on how you set up your RSS feed, readers may only see the title and the opening lines of your post when deciding whether to click through and read the whole thing.
- Your title appears in links. When bloggers link to your post on their own blogs or social media, they often just copy and paste your title and then add the link. And their readers will decide whether to read your post based on that title.
In each of these situations, the title is probably the most important factor in getting people to read your post. Write one that’s boring, complicated, confusing or without a compelling reason to click, and people may never click on it to read your post.
Is There a Formula for Writing the Perfect Title?
A lot has been written about blog post titles. There are a lot of theories and formulas out there, as well as “swipe files” you can use to find template titles.
But while swipe files can be a useful place to start, a lot of the formulas get overused. So you need to be careful about using them too much on your blog. By all means read them to see how they work, but always try to adapt them for your reader.
Rather than give you yet another formula, I’m going to share ten things I try to do when I’m writing blog post titles. For each title I try to do at least a couple of things on this list (but never all ten).
Let’s go through them.
#1: Communicate a Benefit
With each title, I try to communicate a benefit or make some kind of promise about what the post will deliver. I want readers to know just from the title how they’ll benefit from clicking the link and reading the post.
When I’m trying to decide whether to read a post, I always subconsciously ask, “What’s in it for me?”
I think most readers ask questions like this. What’s the benefit? Will I be entertained? Will I be informed? Will I learn something new? Will I hear something newsworthy? Will I feel inspired?
A couple of titles that worked really well on Digital Photography School are:
#2: Think About Keywords and Search Engine Traffic
Search engines are the number one source of traffic to both my blogs. So I’m always thinking about how to get my posts ranking higher.
Every time I write a title I ask, “What would someone type into Google to look for this information?”
If I don’t ask that question I’m potentially ignoring half the traffic that could come to the site, particularly over the long-term. We tend to see social media traffic coming in when a post is first published, but after that 99% of the post’s traffic comes from search engines.
A title that does really well for us on search engines is How to Photograph Fireworks. In the afternoon on the 4th of July, a lot of people type how to photograph fireworks and they find that post.
#3: Evoke Readers’ Curiosity
A lot has been said about curiosity over the past few years. Sometimes it’s overused, to the point where we how have a term for content that evokes curiosity without satisfying it – “clickbait”.
This type of content will frustrate your readers.
You shouldn’t give away all the answers in the title. But you shouldn’t tease or manipulate people either.
A title that works well for us is Three Lenses Every Photographer Should Own. While it clearly communicates what the post is about, there’s also a bit of intrigue. You need to read the article to find out which three lenses.
Another good way to evoke curiosity is to take a negative slant using a word such as “mistakes”, which we did in 5 Common Mistakes Aspiring Travel Photographers Make (+ How to Avoid Them). You could also go with a “what the pros won’t tell you” angle, as in What They Don’t Tell You About Being A Wedding Photographer.
You need to be careful with curiosity. Most readers don’t like ambiguity. They want to know what they’re getting. So if it’s a choice between curiosity and communicating benefits, go with the latter.
#4: Use Questions
This technique works well with those we’ve covered already. People type questions into search engines all the time. So by thinking about those questions, you can often come up with great blog post titles.
You could use the question itself as the blog post title. For instance, “What do the numbers on my lens mean?” is a question people often type into Google. If you prefer you can flip the question around to create a title like What The Numbers On Your Lens Mean, which we used on Digital Photography School.
Another good opportunity to use a question in your title is when you want your post to start a discussion or debate. But again, be careful. If you put a question in the title, make sure you answer it in the post. If you don’t, readers will be disappointed.
#5: Break Your Title into Two Parts
Sometimes you want to do two things in one title or headline. Splitting it into a title and subtitle using a colon is a great way to do this. We do this a lot with our ebook titles, where we want to both communicate what the ebook is about and convey something aspirational.
For instance, one of our ebook titles is Natural Light: Mastering a Photographer’s Most Powerful Tool. The first part, “Natural Light”, tells you what the ebook is about. The subheading “Mastering a Photographer’s Most Powerful Tool” is more aspirational and enticing.
Another example is Living Landscapes: A Guide to Stunning Landscape Photography. This time the first part of the title conveys something evocative – making landscapes come alive. The second part makes it clear what the book is about.
#6: Use a “How To” Element in the Title
This is one of my favourites. Many articles I’ve published both here on ProBlogger and on Digital Photography School over the years have a “how to” element in the title. These types of titles tie in well with communicating a benefit.
You don’t necessarily need “how to” in the title to signal it’s this type of post. You can also use words such as “tips”, “techniques”, “steps”, or “guide”. Even words such as “rules”, “secrets” or “hints” can communicate that your post will teach the reader something.
People often type “how to”, “tips” or “techniques” into Google when learning how to do something.
#7: Use Numbers
List posts (or “listicles”) get used a lot, and some bloggers feel a bit tired of them. But study after study shows that titles with numbers in them tend to get clicked more than titles without them.
People have come up with a lot of theories about why this is true. One theory is that numbers make a post feel more manageable. Readers know what to expect: ten points, for instance. And that certainty often appeals to people.
Small numbers can signal that a post will be easy to take in or achieve. For example, three points implies a fairly short article. Larger numbers can signal a longer, comprehensive post. We’ve found that 21 tends to work well with our audience.
#8: Compare One Thing to Another
People often use Google to compare things. For instance, they might type “should I buy a Nikon D50 or a Canon 5D” when trying to work out which type of camera to buy or “should I use WordPress or Blogger” when deciding on a blogging platform.
If your post compares something and you signal it in your title, that post will be well placed to get traffic and attention from people facing that particular choice.
This also ties in with signalling a benefit. Your post should help people choose, or offer a definitive answer about which option is the best.
#9: Put Your Audience in the Headline
There are a couple of ways to include your audience in the headline.
A simple way is to use the word “you”. Instead of writing “Ten Mistakes Photographers Make”, write “Are You Making These Ten Photography Mistakes?”
Another way is to describe who the post is for. A title like “What Beginner Photographers Need to Know About the Camera” makes it clear your post is for beginner photographers. While this might reduce the potential audience size – more advanced photographers probably won’t read the article – it catches the attention of people within the target audience.
#10: Use Power Words
Some words really work well. Aspirational words such “gorgeous” work well for us on Digital Photography School (“How to Take Gorgeous Photos of Your Newborn Baby”), as well as words such as “breathtaking”, “beautiful” and “sensational”.
Be careful not to go overboard here. Using too many of these words in one title, or the same word all the time, can come across as a bit hyped up or fake.
Other words we pay attention to include “free”, “secrets”, “mistakes” and “easy”. These sorts of words make something sound more appealing and intriguing.
Again, you need to be careful. Some of these will trigger spam filters. For example, Gmail often puts emails containing words such as “free” or “discount” into the Promotions tab rather than the main inbox.
Other power words set expectations about the style of the article. For instance, “step by step” signals you’ll be walking the reader through a process.
Some words signal authority, such as “Essential Guide”. Making a big promise or claim can work well, as it does in our post 21 Settings, Techniques and Rules All New Camera Owners Should Know. This post makes a bold claim and also elicits a bit of curiosity.
Regardless of what technique I use, I try to keep in mind how long my titles are. It’s important both for search engines and social media to keep them fairly short and clear.
I also try to know my audience and avoid overdoing formulas. I watch for what works, but also try to find a fresh spin on it from time to time.
Sometimes it’s good to have one headline for search engines and a slightly different one for social media. Having a ‘straight’ title for search engines and a more curiosity-focused or aspirational title on social media can also work well.
And take your time. The best writers usually come up with multiple titles, perhaps as many as 10 or 20. Sometimes they bounce ideas off other people and get them involved too.
It’s well worth putting extra effort into crafting your blog post title. Like I said earlier, your title determines whether or not someone reads your post and eventually takes action on it.
Do you use any of the techniques I’ve covered in your titles? Do you have a particular way of writing titles that resonate with your readers? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.
Image credit: Nicole Honeywill