blog_titleHow important are blog post titles? Short answer—pretty darned. Long answer—if you want anyone besides your mom to read your stuff, you really need to put some thought and effort into crafting headlines for your blog posts. According to Copyblogger’s Brian Clark, “On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. This is the secret to the power of the headline, and why it so highly determines the effectiveness of the entire piece.”

The title of your blog post is basically pulling double duty.  It needs to be relevant for the benefit of the search engines, yet compelling enough to grab the attention of your human readers.  Make your title too clever or obtuse, and it’ll become one of Google’s best kept secrets.  Make it too utilitarian, and your readers will be too busy yawning to click over to your blog and read.

So how do you come up with an awesome blog post title that will entice your human readers as well as the search engines? There really aren’t any quick answers or hard, fast formulas. However, there are a number of guidelines that can help you through the headline process.

The Four Commandments of Blog Post Titles

Okay, “commandments” might be a bit strong. Let’s just say that unless you have a compelling reason to break any of these rules, you’re better off sticking to them.

  • Take your time. Many professional copywriters subscribe to the 50/50 Rule of Headlines, which means you should spend as much time on the title as you do on the rest of the content. Now this might seem a bit excessive for a blog post, but the point is that you shouldn’t just dash off the first thing that pops into your mind. If you want folks to read your post, put some effort into the title.
  • Keep it short. If your readers are getting bored and bailing before they finish reading your headline, then it’s time to rethink your titling strategy. Not only are shorter titles more effective at grabbing the attention of your readers, but they make it easier for folks to share your article through social media. Eight words or less is generally a good rule of thumb for title length.
  • Make it clear. Your title should make it abundantly clear what your blog post is about. It’s okay to be clever, but you should never set out to confuse your potential audience.
  • Target a keyword or two. Keywords are good for the search engines as well as the humans, provided you use them properly. This means choosing one or two words that are relevant to your article and incorporating them into your title organically and seamlessly. Keyword spamming is never a good idea, as it will alienate your readers and hurt you in the search engine rankings.

Grabbing the Attention of Your Readers

Once you have the basics down, there are a number of techniques you can use to make your title more inviting to your readers. You probably won’t be able to use all of them in a single headline, but have fun trying!

  • Solve a problem. Identify a problem commonly faced by your audience, and then communicate to them through the title that your article will address this need. If you’re going to employ this strategy, make sure you actually deliver with the content.
  • Be sensationalistic. A controversy or debate can be great for drawing your readers into your article. However, you need to make sure that you back up your opinion with the content of your post. You also need to be prepared for strong reactions (and possible hostility) if you’re sounding off on a particularly touchy subject.
  • Use catchy phrases. Some words and phrases are just better at capturing the attention of readers than others.  For example, blog posts formatted as lists (“Top 10 Ways to…,” “Top 5 Tips for…,” etc.) tend to get read more frequently, as do blogs that use words like “free,” “secrets,” “revealed,” and “easy” in the title. That said, it’s probably not a good idea to use titles like “Top 10 Secret, Free, Easy Tips Revealed” on every single post. The reason these phrases work is because they stand out. Overusing them will dilute their effectiveness.
  • Ask a question. A question in your blog post title is not only a great way to draw in your readers, but will also encourage them to leave comments. Avoid rhetorical questions or questions with a single cut-and-dried answer. Instead, ask an open-ended question that will spark a variety of answers and opinions. Feel free to state your own feelings on the subject in your article, but be careful not to shut down the potential for further discussion.
  • Be humorous. This one is a pretty risky proposition. If your wacky title falls flat, you’ll end up confusing or alienating your readers as well as hurting your performance in the search engines (Google’s algorithms are pretty snazzy, but they don’t quite get these things that we humans call “jokes”). That said, if you can pull off the funny title, you’ll draw more readers into your article. They may even be more likely to share it.

“You Went with That Title? What Did You Throw Away?”

In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to point out that I agonized over the title of this particular blog post far more than usual. In case anyone is interested, here are the titles I considered but ultimately rejected:

  • How to Write Blog Post Titles That Don’t Suck
  • Dying Is Easy… Blog Post Titles Are Hard!
  • Blog Post Titles for the Soul
  • XXX Hot Wild Blog Post Titles XXX
  • Zen and the Art of Blog Post Titles
  • Building a Better Blog Post Title
  • How to Write Mind-Bendingly Awesome Blog Post Titles
  • 9 Ways to Make Your Titles Awesome
  • 9 Tips for Writing Awesome Blog Post Titles
  • Don’t Just Title Your Blog Post… Title the HECK out of It!
  • Can You Believe How Awesome This Title Is?