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Writing Better Blog Post Titles

Articles about blogging tipsI’ve written a lot about writing and creating powerful, effective, and attention-getting headlines and post titles on your blog, but more needs to be said on the subject, especially for blogging teachers and students.

The following are not effective nor attention-getting post titles:

  • March
  • March 2006
  • March 17, 2006
  • Today’s News
  • Homework
  • Today’s Homework
  • In Class Today
  • I’m Okay
  • Today
  • What am I doing?
  • What am I doing today?
  • How are you?
  • Whatcha doing?
  • New Post

Example of post titles used in the sidebar featuring the most recent and related postsPost titles like “March” make sense if you are the one writing the post and know that it’s actually March 17, 2006, but it makes no sense to someone who stumbles upon your blog from a search or reading down the line of Most Recent Posts or Most Popular Posts. Did something special and memorable happen on that particular March?

Dates hold power when there is something powerful associated with the date, such as 9/11. The symbolism in the date and the national emergency phone number in the United States, dialed by thousands on that day, is powerful. But “March” doesn’t mean much without a serious association. It could also mean there is a peaceful rally followed by a march to the courthouse or something. We don’t have enough information from which to draw conclusions on what “March” means.

There are a lot of student and teacher bloggers out there using post titles like “Homework” also not helpful nor informative. Homework for what? “Homework for Science Class” is helpful, but what do you call it next week? “Homework II for Science Class” or “Another Homework for Science Class” – all not good choices.

“Today’s Homework” isn’t good unless with the next blog post you change the old post title to “Yesterday’s Homework” which is a lot of work and creates a lot of confusion. It also doesn’t change the post URL.

So what makes a good post title? One that lets the reader knows immediately what the blog post is about. Use simple, clear, and effective words.

Post Titles With Dates

If you have to have the date in the post title, make the date set in time and add information that helps us understand the blog post topic. “March 2006: Math and Time Zones” gives us a better idea of the date and the topic, and that throughout March of 2006, mathematics and their impact on time zones, GMT, UTC, daylight savings times, and how to calculate times around the world are being discussed. From just that short post title, we can draw a lot of conclusions.

For those covering educational material for their classroom via their blogs, a post title of “Homework: Biography of a Mathematician” clearly imply the intent of the homework, but by adding the date, “March 26, 2008, Homework: Biography of a Mathematician,” the post has lost its timelessness. Does the post content have value six months from now? Two years? Then get rid of the date completely so you can refer back to the post as homework for future projects, and no one will think, “Why do I have to do such OLD homework?”

When announcing an event, it is important to include the date, especially if it is the first announcement of the event, such as “Community Gathering on April 30, 2008″ rather than “Community Gathering on Wednesday” which leaves people wondering which Wednesday.

Example of a post title with the date includedIs it important to include the year? It depends upon the event. If it is an annual event, it may help to know which year is under discussion. If it is an annual event, and it doesn’t matter as the information applies across time, then including the year might not be relevant. Focus on the information that will help the visitor get to the point fast.

Is it important to include the times of the even in the post title? Again, it depends. If the post title is really long, “Forest Grove Community Gathering of Artists on Wednesday, April 30, 2008, from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM,” is just too long and gives too much information. A shorter version with only the event and the date might convey the message faster. The post can contain the details.

Vague and Moody Titles

Example of poor post titles within a feed readerPost titles that really say nothing but or more reflective of emotions, polite manners, or just a lack of creativity when it comes to filling in the post title blank, are really useless and need to be stopped.

“It’s an okay day” greeted me one day in my feed reader. It wasn’t okay for me. I’m glad it was okay for the blogger, but honestly, I didn’t care. It’s just another day. Unless you can add something to the post title that makes me want to find out what kind of day it was, a lesson learned, an inspired thought you want to share…I’m not interested. I don’t have the time to waste on frivolous and vague blog posts.

I skip all blog posts titled I feel sick, having a bad hair day, wonder what he’s doing now, wish I was somewhere else, and not again. While they are things we say to our friends and family all the time, without the history behind it, I just don’t care.

A post title sitting in my feed reader must inspire me to click. That takes a lot of energy. My eyes scan down the list of new posts in my feed reader, jumping from title to title, seeking keywords that reach out and grab my eyes and pin them to the link. Without the grab, I just skim on by.

In Public Speaking 101, students are taught the rules of giving a good presentation:

  1. Tell them what you are going to tell them.
  2. Tell them.
  3. Tell them what you told them.

A blog post can be written in a similar manner. The blog post title is step one: tell them what you are going to tell them. The content is step two, and the summary at the bottom of the post can be step three.

If you aren’t telling me what you are going to tell me in the post title, then I’m not interested.

The Gimmick Post Title

Avoid ridiculous or gimmicky post titles. I used one for years that my mother creatively came up with, “Making $$ Doing What Comes Nature-ly” about the business of nature photography. I’ve published this article for print magazines many times with this title, or a variation thereof, to great success. For several years, it was a solid source of income. So I was stunned when I published it on my blog and it was ignored. I had almost no traffic to the article. Demands for reprints from publications continued, but it was ignored on my blog.

After a couple years of watching it be ignored, I changed the post title to How to Succeed in the Business of Nature Photography and it took off in web traffic.

Cute titles and phrases just don’t work when you are trying to get the attention of web surfers. They need it now and they need it clear. Blog titles are not a time for word or guessing games.

The Post Title That Doesn’t Deliver

“Complete Guide to Web Design” is a great title, but if the post is four paragraphs long and holds no links to more information or resources, I’d not call that “complete” as a guide, would you?

“Sexy Web Designs” are often sexy because they have pictures of half-clothed people, not because there is something inherently “sexy” about their layout and design elements. Just put a little “sex” in your blog post title and people will often line up for a glance.

What happens when that glance doesn’t deliver? When the promise of sexy, complete, guide, tutorial, how tos, and such aren’t backed up by the content, what happens?

Readers jump on and jump off, often to never return. They don’t tell their friends. They don’t write about it on their blogs. They don’t even tweet about it, unless to poke fun. It’s useless content because the title was great but it didn’t live up to its promise. When you make claims and don’t back them up, you lose readers, but you also lose integrity.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, the author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.

30 Comments

  1. Posted May 2, 2008 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Very good posting on having dates within the title. I’m only using dates when posting about things that happened during a period of time, like post round-ups or news. Otherwise, I don’t really see the necessity of having dates in the title since our blogging platforms display the posting date, which should be enough to align the post to a timeline.

  2. Posted May 2, 2008 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle – I just found your blog and spent the last 45 minutes or so reading posts. I’m a new blogger, and I’m learning a lot by just being here!

    Thanks –

    Lisa

  3. Posted May 2, 2008 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    @ L. Wood:

    Always glad to help. And glad to have you visit. If there is something specific you can’t find or need to know, please let me know.

  4. Posted May 2, 2008 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Yes! Yes! Yes! This is the number 1 reason why I personally Unsubscribe from blogs. Lousy, bland, uninteresting post titles. Thank you Lorelle for doing this post!

    Creating good, attention grabbing post titles cannot be overemphasized.

    Your post title should make crystal clear what your post is about, and what readers will learn if they read the post.

    Thank you again Lorelle for doing this post. Hopefully people will learn to figure this out. I’m off to Twitter link this url, ’cause it’s just too important.

  5. Gerry Sell
    Posted May 3, 2008 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I learned a lot about blogging from Lorelle over the last few months, and one of the things I learned is the value of linking readers to other blogs. I’m not a big fan of the tagging game, but decided to play in my own way – and Lorelle, I tagged you! Regards – Gerry

  6. Posted May 4, 2008 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    Lorelle,
    Great post. This is an interesting topic and worth revisiting fairly frequently. I wrote on a while ago on “How to choose a blog title”.

    I constantly keep experimenting with title styles and looking for novelty and advice. But I know that out of over 500 of my posts in two years there are more stale titles than interesting ones :)

  7. Posted May 4, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I figured this out using google analytics. People would get to the blog, then they wouldn’t drill down any further…that was until I retitled some blogs:

    “Rub my nipples, please.”
    “Got domestic violence?”
    “So I was in the desert looking for buried bodies!”

  8. Aaron Long
    Posted May 6, 2008 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    wow this helped a lot, but how did you manage to get your blog setup like this. I am having trouble with mine.

  9. Posted May 7, 2008 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    @ Aaron Long:

    Set up like what? My WordPress Theme? I use the Sandbox Theme on WordPress.com and designed it myself. I have many articles here on designing your WordPress Themes. Check the WordPress Themes category.

  10. Posted May 7, 2008 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    I find myself going shorter and shorter on the titles. One thing I have been poring over lately as well is how to title items in a series. Should each be unique or should each have a comment prefix or suffix. Title are so important. Great topic to bring up.

  11. Posted May 7, 2008 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    @ Damien:

    Shorter titles aren’t always helpful. “Dreams are Good” is okay but “Dreams That Can Make Your Dream Life Better” will always mean more.

    Article series should start with the same keywords that describe the series, a colon, and then the new, unique title for each article in the series. For example, my series on Blog Bling started with “Blog Bling: Specific Post Topic” which connected all these together visually as well as with keywords. I discuss more on writing article series in Technical Tips for Publishing a Series of Articles on Your Blog.

  12. Posted May 7, 2008 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    I am writing an event post as we speak on a restaurant blog for my father-in-laws restaurant, now i know how to deal with the title. Thx.

    P.S. Love your WP theme design!

    Missy.

  13. Posted May 8, 2008 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    great , I got a good insight and now I can understand why my first blog did not give me much hits. So may be you can give your reveiews on the current blog :)
    (i am too much inspired by your trolling article )

  14. Posted May 8, 2008 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    You are so funny. Seriously — I could hear your voice as I read this!

    And I will add in a little note to any newbies out there to not be mortified if you have written really lame blog post titles. When I first started, I knew NONE of this stuff. And sometimes I still throw in a non-interesting title just because it keeps me in touch with that driving need to be completely real and authentic at all times.

    But I will say that if you look at the “popular post” titles in my sidebar — all of them are in the format Lorelle describes here. (So, the artist’s need for approval wins trumps her need for authenticity! hooray!)

    p.s. lorelle, i got the raw food cookbook you recommended. damn, i can’t wait to have more of them rockin’ potato chips! (though i will say that my breath knocked down more than one bellhop at the hotel after I ate them.)

  15. Posted May 8, 2008 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle, good advice! I am guilty of needing to pay more attention to my titles. As awful as it is, it tends to be late when I finish a post and I just want to upload and go to bed, so my titles tend to suffer.

  16. Posted May 8, 2008 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    I agree with this for most blogs, but I wonder for mine if I can take exception to vague and moody titles. My sole purpose is to give a snapshot in “a day in the life.” So sometimes there are posts of “Monday sucks.”

  17. Posted May 8, 2008 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    @ Anonymous Mentee:

    “Monday Sucks” doesn’t help anyone, especially you. Remember, if you want to record your feelings in the moment, get a paper journal or journal in Word or something. If you hit the Publish button, it’s about your readers, not you. You want to make it public, thus you have to help them understand why Monday sucks.

    Does it suck because you’re depressed? Does it suck because it’s another day back to work? Does it suck because you’ve just found out you have cancer? There are a lot of reasons for sucky days, but you help your readers understand more when you lead them to your story.

    You publish this personal information on your blog because you want it public. Therefore, you want it read. The more specific you are, the more likely they are to click through and read. Monday sucks for a lot of people all the time. What makes your Monday special enough to want to read?

  18. Posted May 12, 2008 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    Thanks Lorelle for the great advice. I’ve learned a lot from your blog, and I appreciate the time you take to bring us all this wonderful information.

  19. Posted May 14, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Now you have me thinking about Post Titles and what I can do to perfect mine. I suppose the problem with mine is that I’m writing on a topic that can often come off as gimmicky/salesly. Though that isn’t my intention, the fact remains that most viewers will see it that way.

  20. Posted May 14, 2008 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    @ Ricardo Bueno:

    Write your titles from the heart and write them to connect with readers, and let the rest of the content follow through – with more heart and sincerity – and people will bypass the surface. If you do. It’s not hard.

    Keep it real. People can spot a fake in a second, but they can spot heart and embrace it quickly too.

  21. Posted May 19, 2008 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Hey Lorelle,

    I have jjst started posting using dates. I am just getting used to the concept at last. why do you not use more friendly url postings

  22. Posted May 19, 2008 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    @ rob mac:

    Why don’t I use more friendly URL postings? Is that what you are asking? Dates come with the permalink structure WordPress.com uses, and I think my post titles are pretty informative. However, since most WordPress blogs use a date in the permalinks structure, putting the date in the post title is redundant. If you don’t want your blog found or read, using dates in the post title is fine. If you want to invite people to read, your invitation (aka post title) better have a good description of the party I will be attending. :D

  23. creeping
    Posted May 21, 2008 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Lorelle,

    In the new version of WordPress it seems that the blog title & slug are independent after your first save, meaning, it’s easy to change the post title while the slug and/or permalink remain unchanged. Is that true?

    A few times we have posited that if our post title was tweaked by a word or two it would show up in more search results, particularly after the mainstream media may have picked up on the same subject yet with a different title.

    Other than nailing a great post title the first time, any thoughts on changing the title – pro’s, con’s?

  24. Posted June 1, 2008 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    @ creeping:

    Semi-independent, yes. You can change your post slug and it should automatically redirect, IF all other things are equal and your server can handle the redirect commands. There have been a few blogs on old servers with some problems with this, but that’s a hosting problem. And this only works with WordPress 2.5+, not older versions.

    I believe you should change the post title if you feel it will improve attention and traffic to the post. It’s your blog. Do with it what you will, always keeping in mind the best interest of the reader.

  25. Posted June 8, 2008 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle, I know this may be asking a lot given the time constraints you no doubt have, but I’d sure to love get an informal audit of my blog titles and some straight-forward feedback on how I’m doing. I try to keep ‘em concise and snappy without being too gimmicky.

  26. Posted June 9, 2008 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    @ Rob O’Daniel:

    Thanks for asking, but such reviews come with a price. :D It is time consuming, but keep working on them and follow the tips I and others give and you should be okay. Also check in with the free review services for bloggers to see what they say. Good luck!

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  29. Posted June 18, 2008 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Lorelle, for another great post. I can tell my blog needs some less vague subjects. :)

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12 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] From ‘Lorelle on WordPress’ “A post title sitting in my feed reader must inspire me to click. That takes a lot of energy.&… […]

  2. […] Writing Better Blog Post Titles is a Must Read for all bloggers and writers, as this is an area so many bloggers get wrong. Your post titles are one of the most important things to consider in order to pull subscribed readers into your articles, or to increase search engine traffic. Do not miss Lorelle’s article on how to write better titles for your posts. […]

  3. […] Writing Better Blog Post Titles at Lorelle on WordPress […]

  4. […] The power of titles Before people read your content, they will see the title. Either in the RSS Feed (what is RSS?) on another blog linking to you, or in a search engine. Spend an extra few seconds each time you write a blog post and make sure the title will jump off the screen. Or try your guts out attempting to do that! Read more about titles at Writing Better Blog Post Titles. […]

  5. […] over at her blog at lorelle.wordpress.com, but she’s particularly spot on with her advice on Post Titles. One of the best ways to really get people interested in your posts is if they have a really good […]

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  8. […] quick about it! Immediately let the reader know what your article is about. Use great headlines (here are a few more ideas for headlines) and a strong lead. Make your introduction interesting, […]

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