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.