11 Techniques for Writing Great Blog Post Titles
Today, I’m going to talk about crafting the titles for your blog posts. This is such an important topic, and I can’t believe I haven’t done a podcast about it in the last 155 episodes.
This is a topic I get asked about quite a bit. Get your title right and it will completely change the destiny of your blog post. This may sound a little bit grand and overstated, but it is true.
People make a decision on whether they will read and take action on your post purely based on the title. It’s crucial that you spend time on your title and get it right.
Note: this podcast can be listened to on iTunes here (look for episode PB156).
Further Resources on Tips for Writing Great Blog Post Titles
- How to Write Catchy Headlines and Blog Titles Your Readers Can’t Resist
- 10 Sure-Fire Headline Formulas That Work
- 5 Easy Tricks to Help You Write Catchy Headlines
- Here Are The 101 Catchy Blog Title Formulas That Will Boost Traffic By 438%
Hi there, it’s Darren from ProBlogger. Welcome to episode 156 of the ProBlogger podcast where today I want to talk about crafting the titles for your blog post.
This is such an important topic and I can’t believe I haven’t done a podcast on it in 156 episodes so today is the day because I do get asked about it quite a bit. Get your title of a blog post right and it can completely change the destiny of that blog post. That might sound a little bit grand and overstated but it is completely true. People make a decision whether they will read your post, whether they will take action ultimately on your post many times purely based upon that title. People make decisions about whether they will share your post very often without even reading the post, simply by the title. It’s crucial that you spend some time on it and you get it right.
Those few words at the beginning of your blog post that are a little bit bigger than the rest of your post, that are in bold, that are in heading tags at the top, that title of your blog post can be the difference between your post being read and spread like a virus through the internet like a wildfire or it languishing in your archives never to be read, ever. The difference is stock. A good title can really change the destiny of your post, as I said in my introduction.
Your blog post title matters for a few reasons. It is going to be in search engine results. Apart from a small description underneath it, there’s very little for someone to go on as to whether they’ll click your link or the link below or above it. Your title will appear in RSS feeds. Again, depending on how much information you have in your RSS feed, they may only see the title and perhaps the opening lines of your post. It’s important to make a decision as to whether they will click through and read the full post based upon that title on that opening.
Very often when other bloggers link to you in social media or on their own blogs, they simply copy and paste your title and then add the link. Again, people on social media reading other posts will make a decision as to whether they will click that link based upon the title. Of course, even on your blog, your title is really important as well. If someone clicks a certain category depending on how you have your blog designed, they very often will only see maybe featured image and the title of your post. They will click around on your site based upon the title.
In each of these occasions, the title can be one of a couple of things that people will see and make a decision upon. It’s probably the most important factor in terms of getting people to read a post. If you write a boring or a complicated or a confusing title, or one that is so intriguing but doesn’t actually have any compelling reason to click on it, people will really never click that link. They will never read that post.
So much has been written on this topic and I’m going to link in the show notes today some articles on the topic of writing titles. You will see as you click around, as you do some searches on how to write a great blog post title that there are many theories on this and there are many formulas that have been written. There are many, many swipe files that you can go and find. Whilst I think there’s a lot of good advice in some of these articles, it can be a bit confusing as well.
One of the things I would say to you is you want to just avoid being a bit formulaic. Whilst I think swipe files can be a useful place to start, a lot of those formula that do get used get overused. I suspect a lot of our readers are getting a bit over them. You really do want to be a bit careful about using those formulas too much on your blog. Go read them, look at why they work but try and adapt them for your readers. Ultimately, what you’re trying to do with your post title is get people to read your opening line.
I think it was David Ogilvy who wrote a great book called Ogilvy on Advertising. It’s a great copywriting book. He kind of uses that idea in that book where he talks about the headline of an ad is really there to get people to read the opening line of that ad. The opening line is there to get people to read the second line and to read through the ad. The same is true for a blog post. The purpose of your title is to get potential readers to read the first line of your content.
There are many ways that you can do this. I’m not going to go through all of them. There are probably 50 different things that we could say about this but what I do want to share with you today is how I approach the task in crafting titles for my blog posts. This is just one approach but I hope it’s going to be helpful for you.
I want to say 11 things in this podcast and I’m going to whip through them fairly quickly. Some of these contradict each other I’ll have to say. Generally when I’m sitting down to write a blog post title, I’m trying to pull in at least a couple of this things into the title but I would never do all 11 in every title.
Let’s get through them. Number one, and this is the most common thing that I’m trying to do in pretty much every title that I craft. I try and communicate a benefit or make some kind of promise as to what the benefit will be. This is ultimately what I am doing in every post. I want someone looking at a title to know by looking at the title how they will benefit from clicking on that link.
A lot of people try to intrigue people or make people curious, which is certainly something I’ll talk a little bit about later. Sometimes, trying to intrigue people makes them so curious that you don’t actually communicate what they’re going to get out of reading that article.
Ultimately for me when I’m deciding whether I’m going to read something, I’m always asking the question subconsciously what’s in it for me. What am I going to get out of clicking this link? What am I going to get out of spending these couple of minutes reading this site? That might sound a little selfish but I think that’s how most people go through the internet.
What’s the benefit? Am I going to be entertained? Am I going to be informed? Am I going to learn something new? Am I going to hear something that is newsworthy? Am I going to feel inspired? There’s a whole heap of benefits that we can have. What is that benefit?
For me, a good title that’s worked quite well on Digital Photography School is How to Take Sharp Images. It’s a very short sharp excuse upon a title but it shows the benefit of clicking that link. How to Take Sharp Images, or Four Easy Photoshop Techniques to Make Your Pictures Pop. Making your pictures pop is the benefit there. It might a bit obscure but that title worked very well. There’s probably a few other reasons that title worked very well. It’s one of the earliest post that went almost viral on Digital Photography School. I think that word pop is a good one and we’ll talk about a little bit about some of those words that can work for us there but there’s a benefit right out their front.
Okay, number one, communicate a benefit or make a promise of what the benefit will be, will be another way to talk about that.
Number two and this is something I’m pretty much doing every post that I write as well is trying to think about keywords. This isn’t the sexiest technique out there but search engine optimization is the number one source of traffic to my blogs, both of my blogs. It accounts for almost half of my traffic which is pretty amazing.
I said this at the ProBlogger event recently that I think social media has alluded many bloggers away from a very important source of traffic. There’s been so much emphasis on how to get traffic from Facebook, how to get traffic from Twitter, how to get traffic from Pinterest or Instagram. Whilst I certainly don’t think we should avoid working on those areas, the reality is that most people come to most big websites through search engine optimization or through search. We really didn’t need to think about keywords there. We need to think about what people are searching the internet for. I do believe that you can get traffic from social and search and perhaps some of these techniques will help more with social but don’t ignore search engine optimization.
Every time I’m writing a post title, I’m asking myself the question, what is someone typing into Google to find this information? If I don’t at least ask that question and let the answer to that question inform how I write my post title, then I’m potentially ignoring half of the traffic that could come into that site. In fact, it’s probably more than half because social traffic for me brings in a lot of initial traffic. Every time we publish something, we see in the first few days a lot of social media traffic but ultimately for the next ten years of the life of that blog post, most of the traffic, 90% of it, 99% of it comes in from Google.
Don’t ignore people who are coming to your site from search engine optimization. Ask yourself the question what will someone type into Google to find this article and use that in your title if you can in some way.
The thing I guess you’re trying to do as you’re thinking about search traffic is also you’re trying to create a title that is going to stand out perhaps from some of the other post that come up in search results. You don’t want to just have the same title that everyone else is going to have. This is the challenge, really. You want to find something that’s going to rank but also that will stand out. Some of the other techniques I’m going to talk about in a moment will help you to stand out. Simply asking the question what are the people going to search for to find this article will hopefully help you to rank.
One of the titles that did really well for us from search engines was simply How to Photograph Firework Displays. I came up with that title purely by saying what is someone on the fourth of July, in the afternoon on the fourth of July going to type into Google. I suspected most people type in those very words, How to Photograph Fireworks. Some of them might use the word display but I think How to Photograph Fireworks is just what people type in and we see a big spark of traffic as a result of that. That’s my number two technique. Communicate a benefit, number one. Use keywords, think about search.
Number three is curiosity. A lot has been said about curiosity over the last few years. It I think has been overused and it has been used to manipulate readers as well. You can go overboard with making people curious by trying to tease them into your site. The term clickbait is one that people use to describe a piece of content these days in a negative way. Ultimately, we do want people to click and we do want to bait them to click but we don’t want to manipulate them to click. Because if you do, if you intrigue them to come and have a look at your post and then don’t satisfy that intrigue or don’t satisfy that curiosity with the actual post you’ve got, then you’re actually going to frustrate your readers as well.
I think e do need to evoke a bit of curiosity with our post titles. We don’t want to give all the answers in the title for example but we also don’t want to tease people. We don’t want to manipulate people or else we might get the eyeball but it’s going to hurt your brand.
Some titles that have worked well for us that I think evoke a little bit of curiosity have been titles like this one, Three Lenses Every Photographer Should Own. To me, that makes me want to know what does this author think the three lenses are. It communicates what the post is about, there’s some benefit there but there’s also a little bit of intrigue there as well. I know going to that article I’m going to learn about three lenses that travel photographers should own. I’m being told what the article is about but I’m not being manipulated and I’m not being told the answer there. You can use curiosity without manipulating people.
The trouble with some of those curiosity formulas is that they can also get a bit long and you can lose the benefit as well. I’ve seen articles from sites like Upworthy and BuzzFeed over the years who have such long titles, they almost tell the story but they don’t give you the answer. They say things like you won’t believe what would happen at the end of this video. They can actually end up being quite long and it can also get a little bit overused.
Another way to evoke a bit of curiosity with your readers is sometimes to take the negative slant on the post that you’ve written. One of the post titles that worked quite well on Digital Photography School is a formula that we’ve used few times now, Mistakes Beginner Travel Photographers Make or Mistakes Wedding Photographers Make. Using that ‘mistakes’ word is something that’s worked quite well for us and I think because it gets people a bit curious. People want to know what to avoid, they don’t want to make mistakes. Writing about mistakes and putting it in that negative slant can evoke a bit of curiosity.
Another formula might be something like What the Pros Won’t Tell You About Photographing a Wedding or Five Uncomfortable Truths about this particular topic. You can see all of these titles have a bit of a negative slant to them and they’re really there to try and make people a bit curious about things that they might want to avoid. You want to be a little bit careful about getting too negative all the time. We certainly don’t use these types of formulas too often but they do work quite well when we do use them.
I’ve read a study a while ago. I can’t actually find it now but the study said that words like stop or avoid or don’t, those sort of negative words have also been shown to work quite well.
Another way of getting people curious about your post is to use surprising headlines. Surprise grabs people’s attentions, they make people look twice, they elicit curiosity. Doing something that’s different to all the other headlines that you would normally do might be one way to do that as well. Sometimes playful headlines can work well as well.
An example from ProBlogger’s archives, I can’t remember exactly but it was something like What You Don’t Know About My Dad, the ProBlogger. It was written in a more playful tone. If you’re going to read the post in the voice of my child who, my eldest son who is I think two at the time. It’s a playful post but I think that that post did so well because the headline made people curious, obviously made people curious what you don’t know about Darren the ProBlogger but also by the fact that it was written in the voice of my son was surprising. A lot of people clicked on that for that reason.
Barack Obama did really well with his email subject line, “Hey”, or “Wow” or “Join me for dinner.” He did those three and apparently they worked quite well. I think because it’s surprising, you’re getting an email from Barack Obama, for one that’s pretty surprising but him using that casual type of tone was I guess a little bit out of character, a little bit surprising, made people curious.
The last thing to say about curiosity is that I have also read a few studies over the years that show that too much curiosity doesn’t work. People actually like certainty. They don’t want ambiguity so a title that tells them exactly what to expect sometimes can be the best option as well. This is where you almost ignore that curiosity playing. You say this is exactly what you’re going to get in this post.
This is some of the examples that I’ve talked about before, How to Take Sharp Images for example. It doesn’t really elicit too much curiosity, it’s exactly what to expect from this post. That’s why I probably tend to move more towards that approach. Communicating the benefit using the SEO, the keywords. For me, that’s where I do probably 80%, 90% of the articles that I publish. Curiosity can work in some situations but I prefer just to tell my readers what they’re going to get and I think that has worked very well for us in the past.
Technique number four is to use questions. This can be combined with some of the other things I’ve already talked about. I’m not going to go into great detail here. People type questions in search engines all the time. As I mentioned before, I’m asking what is someone going to type into Google. Very often, I will come up with a question that they’re typing into Google. There’s a couple of ways that you can use that question.
Firstly, you could use the question itself as the blog post title. One of the questions that we wrote an article answering was What Do the Numbers on My Lens Mean? That’s what I know a lot of people are typing into Google. What do the numbers on my lens mean? We actually published I think a post with that exact title, with the question mark.
A flip side of that would be to then answer the question. You could title that same post, What The Numbers On Your Lens Mean. Either way can work but it really did start with the question. Asking questions can be quite good.
If you’ve got a post that you’re trying to get a discussion going on, maybe a debate, maybe a this versus that type article, writing about two different cameras or two different options for people. You could put that in the form of a question as well. That’s more likely to get comments as well. You just need to be careful when putting a question in the title that you’re going to answer that question because again you don’t want people coming and expecting an answer and then you don’t give it to them.
Number five technique is to use subheadings. This can be a good way to do two things in one headline. This is what we do with a lot of our ebook titles. We want to convey in our ebook title some aspirational type stuff. We want to talk about the beauty, the gorgeousness of photos but we also want to communicate exactly what the ebook is about.
Couple of our bestselling ebooks, one was titled Natural Light: Mastering a Photographer’s Most Powerful Tool. We kind of put it in the first part natural light. This is what this book is about, it’s about natural light, signal right at front but then we put the subheading Mastering a Photographer’s Most Powerful Tool and there’s something more aspirational about that. Mastering this powerful tool, and I think that worked quite well.
Another example would be what we called Living Landscapes: A Guide to Stunning Landscape Photography. Living landscapes, if you see the cover the of this book you’ll see the landscapes we teach in this book of living. They are all of long exposure techniques. They make out landscape come alive. That’s what we’re trying to convey there. We’re trying to convey some aspirational elements there but we also wanted to say exactly what the book is about as well. A guide to stunning landscape photography. Sometimes a subheading can work, can enable you to put the benefit right upfront or make a promise right up front and then do something that is more advocative and aspirational as well.
Technique number six. This is another favorite from me. It’s partly because I have blogs that are teaching blogs but many of the articles that I’ve published over the years used a how to element in the title. That’s because as I say, they are teaching sites and it taps into the intent of our readers. I think it also lends itself to the benefit that is included. How to Take Photos of Fireworks, How to Take a Great Portrait.
There are other ways of signaling that it’s a how to type post. You don’t probably want to use how to in every single article you do because that can get a little bit boring to look at. Sometimes as I’m putting together a newsletter, I go to myself, “Oh my gosh, we’ve published seven articles this week with the word how to in it.” You want to avoid that. It can look a little bit tired. There are other words that signal that it’s a how to.
Tips would be a word that you could use. Techniques. Steps. A guide. Even words like rules or secrets or hints can promise people to communicate something to them that is going to help them to learn something. I find that quite work quite well. And again with how to or words like tips or techniques. These are words people type into Google. Again, you can see there that I’m really trying to position these articles for search results.
Technique number seven is we use a lot of numbers in our posts. Now, listicles, post with numbers get used a lot and as a result people tend to dislike them. Bloggers tend to dislike them. They get a bit tired of them. As I’ve said in previous podcast, they work and studies show again and again that titles with numbers in them tend to get clicked on more than titles without them. It’s not always the case but certainly it is a technique that works.
There’s been a whole heap of theories about why this works. Numbers make a post perhaps feel bit more manageable. There’s a sense of certainty or expectation that they bring to readers. There’s ten points in this articles. I know what I’m going to get through this. That certainty is very specific and that’s something that certainly appeals to people.
Numbers can sometimes signal that a post is going to be digestible or achievable. There’s three points in this. It’s not a long article, I can manage this. That can also signal a comprehensive post. We’ve done quite a few articles that have 21 points and for some reason 21 works well with our audience. Maybe because it’s signaling that this is a meaty post. There’s 21 things here. This is going to be something that’s going to take you on a bit of a journey. Maybe that works as well.
I think numbers certainly set some expectations for your readers. Maybe they stand out a little bit as well. Numbers can work well. Probably don’t want to do them in every post. Sometimes we actually don’t, sometimes we have the opportunity to use a number but choose not to because we’ve had too many other number type post that week.
Another technique that you might want to use, and this one won’t appeal to everyone or every article but it’s where you do comparison titles. One of the things that I’ve noticed people tend to use Google a lot for is to compare things. They’re doing this versus this type searches. Should I buy a Nikon D50 or a Canon 5D, they’re two different cameras. I’m trying to work out which one to buy. I’m trying to work out whether to use WordPress or Blogger. I’m trying to work out whether to go to [00:25:02] or Bali. There’s different options that people are trying to search through.
When you write posts that compare things and when you put those in your titles, that can position you for traffic and grab attention of those who are making that particular choice. It also signals a benefit and a promise in that you’re going to help someone make a decision but you of course got to have the answer to that in your post. Comparison titles can work quite well but of course you need to write a comparison post as well so it’s going to depend upon the content.
Three more techniques just to whip through and number nine is put your audience in the headline. There are a couple of ways that you can do this. First that you can use personal words. Using the word “you” can really personalize a headline very well. Instead of writing a post Ten Mistakes Photographers Make, you can write a post Are You Making these Photography Mistakes. Simply by adding the word “you” does personalize it. It takes it from being an abstract theoretical thing into something that is relevant for you. I’ve used this a lot in my titles. Just adding the word “you” or sometimes even adding the word “me” or “I” to show that I’m telling a story here and this is a person writing a story and not just a theoretical type of thing. Using those personal words can work quite well.
The other way to do it is to describe who the post is for in the headline. What Beginner Photographers Need to Know About the Camera. That signals that this is an article for beginner photographers. Whilst it will mean advanced photographers won’t read the article or intermediate photographers are probably not likely to read the article, it cuts down this potential size of the audience, it makes the eyes light up or the ears kind of light up of anyone who puts themselves in that category. It’s going to peak the interest of that type of person. We find that beginner articles work very well.
Sometimes on flip side, we do articles that are, we promise are advanced. Advanced Composition Techniques. They do very well as well because anyone who feels they are advanced is going to be more interested in that article. Putting your audience into the title, you could say something about accountants if you’re writing for accountants or lawyers if you’re writing for lawyers or moms if you’re writing for moms. Actually putting that in the title can really make people pay attention to that.
Number ten technique is to use power words. I didn’t really know what to call them but some words just work really well. It might be that they’re aspirational words like we use the word gorgeous quite a bit in our photography articles, How to Take Gorgeous Photos of Your Newborn Baby. That kind of makes it a bit aspirational. I guess it hits the emotion. You can use words like breathtaking or beautiful or sensational. You just want to be a bit careful about going overboard with the superlatives. It can actually turn people off if you include too many of those words or if you use the same words too many times in all of your articles. It can come off as a little bit hyped up or a little bit fake perhaps. Be a bit careful with it but they certainly do work.
There are other words that perhaps we’re just wired to take notice of, the word free for example or secrets or mistakes or easy. These sort of words that make something sound a little bit more appealing and a little bit more intriguing. Again, be a bit careful of them. Some of those words will actually trigger spam filters and emails. Using the word free or discount can put you into the promotions tab in GMail. You want to be a bit careful about some of those words but they can actually get people’s attention.
Then there are other words that set expectations of the style of article. For example, we find that when we brought in articles that are step by step guides, they work really well. A step by step guide to a particular topic signals to your reader that you’re going to really walk them through it. It sets the expectation of a certain style of article. We use those words semi regularly in our articles as well.
Other words ignore that something’s going to be very comprehensive or have authority. We use the words essential guide to. The Essential Guide to Black and White Photography is the name of one of our ebooks. We don’t use that all the time because not everything that we write is a mega long comprehensive guide. But when we have written something that is meaty, that’s a good way to signal that to people, and it will make people come with that expectation.
Over time, you begin see patterns in what words are working with your audience, just pay attention to those words that you see working repeatedly, that will give you some ideas. Again, you want to be a bit careful about overusing those words because it becomes a little bit monotonous and predictable but certainly pay attention to those words that are working quite well.
The last thing I want to say is a technique of making a big claim about something. This I guess can be the benefit of the article but making a big promise or a big claim can work quite well. I’ve already shared a couple of examples of this but one that’s worked quite well for us was post 21 Techniques All New Camera Owners Should Know. It worked I think because of all new camera owners. This is the stuff that every new camera owner needs to know. This makes it quite a bold statement there. If you don’t know these, you’re in trouble. Some of those big claims can work as well. That title also elicits a bit of curiosity. Do I know those 21 things?
There are the 11 things that I tend to draw on as I’m crafting a headline. One, communicating a benefit. Two, using keywords. Three, using curiosity from time to time. Four, basing titles upon questions. Five, using subheadings, breaking the headline into two parts. Number six, using how to. Number seven, using numbers in the title. Number eight, using comparisons in the title, this versus that. Number nine, putting the audience into the headline in some way. Number ten, using power words and number eleven, making big claims.
A few last things that I do try and keep in mind. One, I try and keep them short for search engine optimization but also in social media particularly on Twitter where you’ve only got 140 characters and then I’ve got to put the link and a photo sometimes in as well. You want to try and keep your titles short, readable and clear.
Know your audience. What worked really well with them. Don’t overdo the formulas. Sometimes they can be good but sometimes they can get overused so you want to be aware what you’re doing over and over again but also what other people in your niche are over doing as well. Watch what works and replicate it but try and find a fresh spin on it from time to time as well.
Another quick thing I’ll say is that sometimes it’s good to have a headline for search engines and then to change it for social media. I think that’s totally fine. It is a little bit of a manual process. When I’m sharing something onto our Facebook page, sometimes I’ll look at the headline that we’ve chosen for the article and I thought that’s great for search. It’s got the right keywords. It’s the type of thing that someone will be searching for but maybe I could do something a little bit different for Facebook. Facebook allows you to click on the headline and to change it before you share it. I might use something that’s a bit more curiosity type of thing or maybe it’s a bit more aspirational there on Facebook. Because I’m sharing posts on Facebook more than once, I posted on Facebook the day that we publish the post, and then usually about a month later I’m publishing it again. I can try different techniques there and so that’s totally fine as well. It’s a good place to experiment with some different types of headlines as well.
The last thing I’ll say is take your time with this. I think the best writers usually come up with 5, 10, 20 different options for a title. Sometimes they bounce them off other people and get other people involved. I think it’s well worth putting that extra effort into crafting your blog post title. Like I said at the start, it can be the difference between someone actually reading the post, taking action on it, taking the course of action that you have at the end of your post to buy your products or to change their life in some way. You really do want to get people reading that first line by getting that title right.
I would love to hear your tips for crafting titles for your blog post. Do you use some of the things that I’ve gone through today? What is your go to formula? If you like, has there been a certain formula that’s worked? Are there keywords, certain power words that seem to work with your audience? Do you tend to go more for a search engine optimized title or something that’s more about curiosity? I’d love to hear what’s worked for you. Share the knowledge a little with the rest of our community and hopefully we can all learn as a result.
Thanks for listening today.
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