October 23, 2013

I recently wrote a blog post about how to ensure blogging works for you. Within that post I talked about blogs that have crappy titles and how this reduces the success you'll see with blogging. Let's face it, if your title sucks, why would your content be any good, right? I know. That's not necessarily the case, but if you can't catch people with your title, you're not going to get them to read your content, which probably is really good.

Anyways, as a response to that blog post, one of my amazing readers left me a really good comment that spurred this post. She said "Coming up with catchy compelling titles is the hardest part for me ...  At the time I write, my creative energy has gone into making sure the content is good. I feel like a chef. I have cooked up something great but oh wait I need to plate it."

I absolutely LOVE her analogy. It is so true. Your blog is like your delicious cuisine creation. You put all this time into selecting the perfect ingredients. Then carefully mixing them and preparing them so that they cook up into a delicious meal. But no matter how savory that dish turns out, if it looks like crap on a plate, no one's gonna eat it.

Your blog post title is the presentation of the meal. It's the first impression readers see. And just like a customer perusing your tray of desserts, if nothing looks good, they won't bite.

Ok, so you understand you need a good blog title. And maybe yours aren't so awesome right now. That's ok. I want to help you create better blog titles. To be clear, I do NOT consider myself an expert in this category. I'm still learning what works for me and trying out new things. And that's what I want you to do too. Experiment with the ideas I give you here and find a system that works for you.

In my opinion, writing blog titles (or book titles or headlines) is a true art form perfected through scientific experiment. Just because something works today doesn't mean it will work tomorrow, or next month, or next year. And what works for my audience may fall on deaf ears for your audience. This is why you have to keep playing with new tactics, new ideas, new formats, etc.

What should you write first - the blog or the title?

This is kind of like the chicken/egg question. And for everyone it's a little bit different. Some people like to write their entire post and then go back and write a blog title reflective on the content they wrote. Others like to write the title and then build the content around the title. There is no right or wrong way, nor any black-and-white answer to which to do first.

For me, I draft up my blog post content. Sometimes I jot down notes and other times I just formulate it in my head. Once I know the general construct of the post I start thinking about a title that reflects what I'm actually writing about. I probably type up 3 or 4 variations of the title before I decide on a "final" option. I play with the word orientation, the adjectives, the type of post (list, tips, how-to, etc.). Then I have to figure out if I want to be funny, bold, informative or succinct. This "tone" of the title plays a big factor in how I'm going to write the post.

Here's an example. For this blog post you obviously know what the content is. So which sounds more appealing as a reader? "Write Good Blog Titles" or "How To Avoid Writing Crappy Blog Titles"? I'm not saying the latter is perfect, in fact I might have come up with something better. But it's definitely better than the first option. They convey the exact same "message" but are presented in completely different manners.

But I'm not done yet. Now I have to start thinking about my SEO. What are my keywords going to be? Any good SEO expert will tell you to include your keywords in your title, your URL and your meta description. Here's the thing, sometimes my whole keyword phrase doesn't make it into the title because the "boring" nature of the keywords doesn't work with my idea of a good title. And I'm ok with that. But the title should still reflect the purpose and content of your keywords.

But I've done all this and I still haven't even written my darn blog post yet! So I write. And I edit. And I preview. And I reread. Then I go back to my title. Does it still work for the content? Did the content take a different path as I started writing? Do I need to rework the title to really reflect the content? And, most importantly, do I want to read the post based on the title? If not, it's time to change it.

I know, it sounds like a lot of work. But I put a lot of thought and work into my content. And if people are going to decide whether or not to read my post based solely on the title, shouldn't I put just as much, if not more work into the title?

So to answer the question of which comes first, for me, it's neither really. I do a little back and forth until it all comes together. Find a pattern that works for you. Try doing the title first. Next time, try writing the content first. Maybe the next time you go back and forth a bit. Find out which method works best for you and then use that to your advantage.

Anatomy of a good title

Before you try to write your next blog title, I offer you the challenge to look at blog titles that catch your eyes. Just go to your Twitter stream and read all the article titles being shared. Which ones make you want to read them? Write down all those titles, or copy and paste them into a document on your computer. Get a good amount (at least 10 but I'd go for 20). Now what is it about them that makes you like them?

Emotions - titles that make you feel a certain way are more likely to get your attention. Do they make you angry, happy, shocked, concerned? Take these ideas and use them in your posts to convey emotions to your readers.

Reverse psychology - use a title that tells people how to suck. Yeah, it can be done creatively. Writing blog titles like "Follow these tips to destroy your business" scares people into thinking they might make these mistakes. It's the same thing as saying "Follow these tips to grow your business" but doesn't the first one make you more anxious to read it?

Advice - titles that teach you something get more interaction because most of us are reading to learn. Using "How to..." or "10 ways to do ..." titles are clear ways to tell readers that you plan to teach them something.

Lists - as a culture we inherently love tips and short-cuts. We want to succeed with as few steps as possible. So telling readers that this number of tips will produce specific results is a targeted way to get their attention.

Relevancy - I hate when people bait and switch me with their titles. You know, when you read this awesome title about something you're excited to read and then the content has absolutely nothing to do with the title... yeah, it sucks. Don't do it! Keep your titles related to your content!

There are a lot of blog posts out there with advice on how to write killer blog post titles. And a lot of them have really good advice. If you feel like you need help creating better titles, I honestly recommend you do a search and look into this more. There is no perfect recipe but the more you research, learn, and practice, the better you will get!

Do you have any tried and true tips for writing blog titles? Please share them in the comments below!

Did you find this helpful? Please share:
  1. As I was reading this article with your analogy to fine cooking, I couldn’t help but to picture a short order cook vs a chef preparing the same ‘meal’. Both may be preparing the same dish, but I would bet that the chef’s delivery would far surpass the “hash slinger’s” in presentation, taste and anticipation!

    I love seeing a great title that uses a play on words, or conveys an mental image or evokes a feeling, and am sure that I am not alone…

    Great info, Jenn!

  2. Great post, Jenn! I’m with you on Twitter (and other blogs) for gaining inspiration. Another great place (for me) is events and/or webinars with really good speakers. They have a way of using sentences that are catchy – so not only will I get a great blog IDEA, I can usually take their words and spin them into a catchy title, too. Plus … I really think practice makes perfect! 🙂

    1. Thanks Brooke. And you’re right, good webinars and other events like that are a great resource for good headlines and phrases that are well crafted and catchy. And, absolutely, practice and repetition makes the process easier and more effective.

  3. I needed this. I needed steps on how to start thinking about my titles. I know my titles suck, but unless some one shows me a map from where I am to were I am going, it’s just frustrating.

    Thank you for giving me a map. I usually write content first, so I will try title first. Maybe I’ll engage my Facebook fans and ask them which title would they be more apt to click on.

    1. I’m so glad this helped you out Julia. Keep playing with the process until you find what works for you. And I love the idea of posing a couple title options to your fans for feedback. It’s also a win for you in that you’re pre-promoting your posts to get them excited about the upcoming content!

  4. Hi Jenny, great article! I must say that the title really corresponds to the tone of the text you’ve written. In addition, the title is a real attention grabber, I couldn’t resist reading it as soon as I’ve seen the title. The first thing to my mind was “Hm, this is gonna be fun” 🙂 and it is! Great way explaining this topic!

    1. Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed the title and that the post lived up to your expectations 🙂

  5. Wonderful post, Jenn! I tweeted this with the title “How to Avoid Being a Mediocre Blogger #learnfromjenn” 😉 lol

    Anyway, the cooking analogy brought to mind a very personal experience. I took on an ‘Eat Fresh’ Challenge for 30 days, and blogged about my culinary skills every day. Now, I am not a good photographer, so I knew my pictures weren’t drool-inducing, but I didn’t think they were horrible until someone very close to me (a great person, really!) commented on a picture of an Egg-Beaters Omelet with a, “That looks gross!”

    It hurt me deeply at that moment, because the dish was really delicious!

    So, yeah, I understand the importance of presenting your blog in a way that convinces readers to want to partake in your ‘delicacy;. Having a good title is paramount to grabbing the readers attention instantly! And, yes, I always struggle with it. My titles are long and boring.

    I have an internal battle between a relevant and long title vs. one that is snappy and witty without completely clarifying the content.

    I have to find the sweet spot in between. And I am willing to put in the work to get better.

    Thanks Jenn! 🙂 You are always an inspiration!

    1. Thanks Krithika! I’m so glad you found this post to be valuable to you.
      And as crazy as the connection is, I’m happy that the analogy I used resonated with you. I’m sorry that your friend told you your omelet looked gross though.
      Just remember that titles don’t have to be long to be effective or representative. You should be able to convey your message in less than 10 words. If it’s taking you more than that, you’re trying to say too much. Keep it short and punchy for effect and leave people wanting more. Also remember that you only have 140 characters on Twitter and you want your title, your @name and room for the link to fit in the tweet.
      Best of luck as you work on creating your titles!

  6. Great post, Jenn! Yes, blog titles are key, as are email subject lines. When creating blog titles I often times use a thesaurus (online of course). I also snap pics of the magazines in the check out line at the grocery stores. Those copywriters are geniuses.

    1. Thanks Adam! And you’re right, copywriters for magazines are geniuses and that is another great source of inspiration!

  7. Hi Jenn,

    Thanks for sharing this! For me, finding the right punchline titles are always good with the help of Google. I search for the relevant articles and titles and look at their titles for hints. That keep me on the right track and … a higher chance to create better titles!

    Just my 2 cents 🙂


    1. Thanks Reginald! I’m glad you liked it.
      Finding good titles from other writers can be a good source of inspiration too. You just want to make sure you’re using them only for inspiration and not making yours sound too much like the others. 😉

  8. Hi This is very informative and useful one for the bloggers and writers,
    Good points to note and practice, Thanks for sharing this, Keep inform.
    I just happened to visit this page, OMG! lot of info to follow. thanks again.
    Best Regards

  9. Letting titles sit and simmer is a biggie Jenn. Awesome tips here. I like sitting for a few minutes before publishing. Usually I can churn out solid titles but this was after years of practice crafting titles. Power share buddy!


    1. Thanks Ryan! Glad you enjoyed the tips. 🙂 It does get easier to craft good titles after we’ve done it a ton of times but, like you said, it’s always good to let them sit for a little while before publishing.

  10. thanks for the tips. i am terrible at blog titles and probably not much better at content right now. Any help I can find is always appreciated.

    1. I’m glad you found it useful, Mike. Best of luck as you continue to work on creating titles (and content).

  11. Good tips! I always struggle with titles. I will definitely have to remember these. Especially love the ‘how to suck at…’ one!

    1. Thanks Sarah! So glad you found it useful 🙂
      Best of luck as you work on new titles!

  12. Its a really amazing thought…. like i personally dont go on the title merely but also look whats the content in anything…but i know people who pick reading stuff only if they like the titleIi think its not write sometimes as u said a person has put their heart and soul in the content but couldnt find a perfect title and it will ll go waste…!!
    but i like to have better content than a good title

    1. I think we would all rather have better content than a great title. But many people decide what to read based on the title alone. Even if you or I or a few others don’t judge based on a title, you’re excluding the many who do. It is important to put time and effort into crafting a good title for great content.

    1. Thanks Jacqueline! I’m so glad you found this helpful and I hope you see greater success with your new blog titles 🙂

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