Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hey look kids! Free buried treasure!

One of my 'blogging resolutions' for this year is to really work on my blog-post titles. I wanted to focus on this, because I assume everyone else reads blogs in the same way I do. I scan titles. If the title is at least mildly interesting, or if the post appears to be about a subject I am interested in, I will scan the first paragraph or so, then move on if my attention isn't captured. I know I totally have ADD when I read blogs, but by my unscientific guess, a post's title has about 0.78 seconds to convince me to read the post.

So why does it seem that so many bloggers couple solid posts, with a bland title? I am as guilty of this as anyone, many times I will write the post first, then slap on a title in a few second simply because I'm ready to get the post up on my blog. I forget that the title is actually the 'gatekeeper' of the post. The title decides if the post itself merits our attention.

And when you are trying to go through the 348 posts backed up in your Bloglines feeds, how important does that title become?

So what are your keys for writing a great blog post title? As I said, this is definitely an area I want to work on this year. And which bloggers do you think do a great job writing their post titles, and why?

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Burbanked said...

I don't know if my titles are great or not, but I'll answer the question as if they were!

I have just a few criteria:
1. The title usually will have at least one keyword that reflects the subject matter. This functions both to grab the reader's interest as well as for search engine optimization.
2. Although if I can make a provocative joke without the subject keyword, that's fine as well.
3. For the purposes of 99% of my posts, I try to be amusing or pithy. Or obnoxious. Unless I'm in a big hurry to post, I rarely say "Here are the Oscar nominations" or along those lines.
4. I don't get hung up on length. If it breaks over three lines because I think it's funny, so be it. Sometimes a silly, rambling title fulfills the point one is trying to make.

Handy Tip! I don't know if everybody does this, but I've got my own feed in my RSS reader so that I can make sure that my titles and article snippets are displaying correctly, and I can make quick revisions if I'm not happy with how they turned out.

Anonymous said...

The title as gatekeeper ... that is a great view of the headline! Just as a great title can generate a lot of page views, an un-thought-through headline can bring page views that are not desirable. For example, I end up with a lot of referrals from Google based on the search terms "servant" and "porn".

That is really no way to create community.

Anonymous said...

I do think that titles are important to getting readers to dig for that treasure; I know they draw me in! When I first started my blog, my titles were very light-hearted and made me smile. I tried to think up a title that would be fun and maybe a little silly, pairing them with photos that reflected the theme.

However, I also read something recently about SEO, and I think it messed up my thinking, as my most recent posts had titles that were boring (IMHO!). Thanks for your post here; it made me think this over, and I will be going back to titles that have more "ring" to them!

Mack Collier said...

Funny stuff Gavin. When I first started The Viral Garden, I did a post looking at the MySpace page for several female artists, and entitled it 'Women of Rock: MySpace Smackdown!. Almost daily, I get at least one Google search referral for the term 'Women of Smackdown', which Smackdown is the WWE wrestling show ;)

Becky I hear ya on the SEO issue. My view is that I try to keep it in mind when creating titles, but not to the point of changing what I want to say just to get extra Google Juice.

Anonymous said...

There are definitely two schools of thought in writing headlines. Some content people say you have to write specific keyword-rich headlines; others say you gotta write for readers.

In my view, the best headlines are a combination of both, as many of you suggest. But in a debate on this issue, I come down more on the side of art, thann science. I'd rather write a clever headline that makes one individual pause to "get" it.... than a hundred headlines that score high in the engines.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post Mack. I always used to try and come up with clever headlines but then I noticed that it wasn't as easy to get picked up in Google's search results. So, when I write a post, I try and come up with a good title that also is search friendly. When I can't, I usually go with a search friendly title that isn't as clever.

One post I wrote recently was called "Once you have good lap, you don't go back" and it was about my new HP laptop. I went with that title knowing full well, it won't be listed. A more boring title I wrote but it is #2 in Google's results was called The Netroots of a Primary.

Obviously a good title that is also search friendly is the goal, but when I can't come up with one, I often go with the less sexy, but search friendly one. On my site these days, I am getting the majority of traffic from organic search results.