The Survivalists Guide to Writing Blog Post Titles
I had just put down a wonderfully written book that kept me turning the pages due in no small part to the cleverly written chapter titles. Then I opened up my feed reader to catch up on some real estate blogs and *blech* uber-crappy blog titles cluttered the screen.
How’s a real estate blog to survive with dead titles?
Take a look at some of the titles found in my page turner:
“How To Become Immortal In One Easy Step”
“Why Knocking Up A Brazilian Woman Can Save Your Life”
“War, Genocide, And Other Real Estate Scams”
“Life Advice From The World’s Friendliest Nazi”
“A Cross-Dresser’s Guide To Combat”
There’s no one that can read those titles and not say “WTF is that all about?” and then proceed to read the article to find out. Heck, you’d go crazy if you didn’t read the article because your mind would keep spinning on it.
The Problem With Being Clever
The reason these headlines are so damn compelling is also their biggest problem. See, it’s the curiosity factor that makes these so effective.
On your blog, where folks are searching for specific information these titles don’t do much to tell your readers what they really stand to gain by reading. Those clever examples actually work best as email subject lines or sub-headlines in your blog posts.
For your actual blog post title, you’ll want to shed more light on topic specific benefits.
“5 Ways To ‘Systemize’ Your Blog”
“How To Improve Your Blog When You Have No Access To The Internet”
“13 Things I’ve Learned About Successful Blogging”
“Why StumbleUpon Sends More Traffic Than Digg”
“9 Attitudes of Highly Creative People”
Reading those titles, you get a clear picture of what’s discussed in the article. If someone’s looking for a specific bit of info, then these titles are still compelling but, more importantly, are actually helpful to your readers.
Clever is fun. Helpful is valuable.
Terrorized By Textbook Titles
Now, compare the previous titles with ones I found on Realtor blogs…
“Buying A Bank Foreclosure”
“Real Estate Market Report For May 2009”
“Best Time To Sell A Home”
“Open House: 123 Happy Street”
“When You’ll Need Money To Buy A Home”
Clearly, there’s a huge difference between these titles and the previous examples. While the previous sets of titles were compelling and pulled people in, this set of titles are about as boring and dry as *yawn* a textbook. No wonder so many real estate bloggers have a hard time connecting with readers.
Boring is death.
How Blog’s Survive
Here’s the thing: you may have some great content but if you aren’t selling it in your post title then you’re content isn’t helping anyone, especially you. If you want your blog to survive then you need to spend more time on your blog post titles.
What type of blog post titles are you most fond of as a writer? as a reader?
And if you have more examples of killer or crappy blog post titles, post them in the comments.
Oh, and since you just have to know “Why Knocking Up A Brazilian Woman Can Save Your Life” then you should check out the book Emergency by the ever-so-talented Neil Strauss about his quest to survive an an uncertain world.
June 15, 2009 at 1:53 pm
I confess to perhaps being in the boring column, and your post now has me addressing that issue. The title is the intro – but you better have something compelling to get me to click through.
Just after your post, Benn pops one with this title:
Real Estate Agents Rotting Like Dinoraurs- The Smell of Death Looms
I definitely will be reading that next.
Navy Chief, Navy Pride
June 15, 2009 at 6:33 pm
Mark, you and I must by synced up because this post was burning on my mind. Because we do not tell writers how or what to write, we often have palm forehead moments when we read titles on AG.
There’s two types of titles, one for instant gratification, and one for longterm longtail life, there is an art at blending the two- great tips here for all to read, including me.
June 15, 2009 at 7:13 pm
I’m afraid I’m a repeat offender. When it comes to instant/self gratification, I’m my own best friend. When it comes to choosing a blog title I mean.
Do you think it’s sorta like laughing at your own jokes, I do that – arg.
Then again, I’m more interested in the being “Immortal” title, I think the “Brazilian” life-saver method would generate too many unhealthy consequences and repercussions.
Helpful – thanks.
June 15, 2009 at 9:20 pm
@MarkEckenrode KILLER article! You know why most blog titles suck? Because five years ago, there was only ONE way to do SEO and it included jam-packing every part of of a site with keywords which has led to a dry boring world where much of this philosophy is practically regurgitated like cow cud. With Google’s ever changing algorithm, you nailed it when you said:
June 15, 2009 at 10:26 pm
Mark – Some days I look forward to reading every word you write, others I dread it. Today was the latter once I realized where you were heading with the post. I struggle with every title I write – here and elsewhere. One of my big problems is that I’m wordy in general, so my titles tend to start dragging on as well. At times the title hits me before I even know where I’m heading with the post and sometimes the opposite.
One thing that I think might have helped the article a little more (not that you asked) would have been to take the second and third sets of titles and tie them together…ie, a good example of a title about buying a foreclosure and a bad example of one. Just would have helped me get a glimpse into what is great and what is so-so and may have helped hammer the point home a little bit more.
You definitely have me thinking about titles now. I’ve been guilty of clever, helpful, and textbook titles. Now I need to clean up my act.
June 15, 2009 at 10:38 pm
It’s amazing how reading an article like this can make me realize how boring I’ve become in blogging. Thanks!
I need to spice it up a bit and get a little more creative.
June 15, 2009 at 10:45 pm
Lani is right… down with keyword titles. me included
June 16, 2009 at 8:27 am
Mark, as you know I am a fan of your stuff, but not sure I agree with you on this one. If I am trying to attract readers to my blog to find out information on how to do a short sale so I can get the listing I can come up with a creative name, or I can come up with a name that let’s them know right away this post will contain the information they are looking for and also pack it with keywords for some google juice.
June 16, 2009 at 9:08 am
@joe: that benn fella is good. he knows that folks make a judgement call based on the blog post title… if the title is not compelling, then that’s how they judge the content of your article. and they won’t even read the article to find out otherwise.
the easiest way to ensure you have a good post title… write many of them before you even write the article.
@benn: yes, the art is in blending the two. which i didn’t do in this post’s title… i went straight for shock value to get more eyeballs on the issue
@ken: i also laugh at my own jokes very much like the alien ALF “Ha! I kill me!”
@lani: yeah, thank god the net’s evolved beyond keyword stuffing (mostly). the best optimization is that done for people – especially in the world of social media where folks share links. a keywrod stuffed title that’s not compelling is NOT going to get shared before a btter writeen more compelling one
@matt: umm… thanks for saying you dread my writing. i’m going to go shoot myself now 🙂
but, i agree that writing titles can be challenging. i’ve found that banging out the title before i write the content helps the whole thing go faster. i’ll often come back and tweak the title when i’m done but the orignial pass helps set the tone and keeps me on point.
and yeah, you got me. i had planned on making that title mix but time constraints got the best of me so i cheated and left em out. BUT… how would you re-work the boring ones? that’s the real point…
@steve: it’s easy to get boring when something becomes routine. we all need to shake it up every now and then and refocus. glad this helped
@jason: get the pitchforks and torches!
@dean: i’m not advocating being vague or overly clever with your titles. just to make them more attractive…
“buying a bank foreclosure” is a boring title. re-worked to “how to buy a bank foreclosure when you’re a real estate newbie” is far more compelling and will even draw in a targeted audience. keywords are still included, it’s simply a better title.
the highly clever titles, like i said, work best as email subject lines or sub-heads in the article itself.
filtered down, the rough formula to follow is this:
topic matter + benefit = good title
topic matter (buying foreclosures) + benefit (tips and experiences) = 13 Things I’ve Learned About Buying Bank Foreclosures
heck, if you want to get granular with it make it “…Phoenix Bank Foreclosures” or whatever
June 16, 2009 at 9:23 am
actually, a better title formula is: topic matter + audience + benefit = great title
June 16, 2009 at 10:49 am
@loomerjoe Real Estate Agents Rotting Like Travel Agents- The Smell of Death Looms didn’t quite capture it, and besides I can’t take credit for the dinosaur sentiment as much as I’d like to
@markeckenrode I never question your titles, ever
June 16, 2009 at 6:26 pm
Mark – I actually wrote the most brilliant comment, but I tried to post just as AG went are weird on me this morning. Of course, I was smart enough to copy my reply. Then as the time drew on and I couldn’t get back onto AG, I starting doing some work. Most of which required cutting and pasting. The thought never even crossed my mind until I noticed AG was back up. I will try my best to recreate my brilliance.
As for dreading your posts, please know that it’s a compliment of the highest order. You typically challenge me (and the rest of the readers) in your posts and although I dread it on one hand, I relish it on the other. I dread a lot of things in life, but for all the best reasons.
I’m sort of glad you didn’t cross-reference the titles (good vs. bad). It’s a challenge and I accept it. In fact, I see this as a great exercise and look forward to hearing your (and others’) thoughts.
Let’s see what I can do to these:
Well Mark, what do you think? Any pointers?
I have a question to go with this discussion. Do you think provocative works better amongst your peers (such as here at AgentGenius), but more “traditional” titles would work better for speaking to consumers? For example, your title certainly made me wonder what was inside, not sure I would read it if I was reading a blog about cars (of which I am a consumer).
June 17, 2009 at 6:24 pm
@matt: man, i’ve suffered the same misfortune more often than i care to remember. now, i just write everything in notepad rather than online forms and then just cut-paste over. saves me the heartache 🙂
okay, you’ve definitely beefed up the titles to elaborate on the post content. now, i’m just going to tweak your titles a bit…
each of these is simply a tweak of what you wrote but with the intention of triggering some sort of emotion in the reader.
and to answer your question, i admit to going for shock value with this post’s title purely to draw more eyeballs to the issue. now, this blog title works well here and would also work on a blog targeting consumers. it’s got the “what the…?” factor. if it was a blog about cars it would be “war, genocide, and other car scams”… would that appeal to car enthusiasts? sure.
however, i do advocate using a more descriptive title in your blog posts rather than purely clever or provocative ones. you want to help your readers find information on your blog and clever/provocative don’t always facilitate that.
now, i’m going to cut-past this reply from notepad into AG 🙂
June 17, 2009 at 7:44 pm
Mark – In this case, it was just my own stupidity. I had the forethought to copy it, I just forgot that copying something else ruins all that work.
I like your titles and see where you’re coming from with them. Interesting to me that 4 out 5 of them contain some form of negative (not “negative” in the “bad” sense).
I can see how negatives can have a strong impact, but I have to wonder – was this on purpose, a tool you use, or just coincidence?
As for the Matt Bonner open house ad, just for a little story…Matt Bonner was appearing at a local HEB (our grocery store in town) and they were giving out free samples of their ice cream that weekend. I had an open house right next door to a very new HEB, so I thought combining the three would be great. Of course, that was the day my car battery went dead on me and I spent all afternoon trying to get either a jump or a tow truck so I could get to the open house (a builder, not one of my direct clients). Neither happened. The house was still “open” but I wasn’t there to greet anyone. Rough day.
I think I’m guilty of over-simplifying my titles. Not in length, but in statement of what they are. They tell you what you’re going to get in the post, but they lack the attention grab that I think I need to work on.
I see you point about the post on cars, I just think it might be easier to accept when amongst your peers (and many who know you already) to throw out a topic like that. For example, I’m not sure if I think titles like that would build you a great readership in the first few months as a real estate blogger…perhaps they would for the curiosity factor, but I wonder if those readers would remain as you shifted into more normal titles? I think peppering them in occasionally could work, but you need to be prepared to deliver. Provocative for provocative’s sake probably won’t get a blogger far in the long term.
June 17, 2009 at 8:50 pm
@rerockstar: some of them i intentionally supplied a negative connotation but the others were more from the angle of “there’s more here than meets the eye”… like transformers 😉
the whole idea with titles is to describe what’s ahead, and to “tease” the reader’s mind/emotions so that they just can’t pass by.
the title gets the first sentence read. the first sentence gets the second sentence read and on and on. with this we get into the science and art of copywriting.
the evening news does a great job of this… “how simple ingredients found in your refrigerator can make you a bazillionaire. tonight at 11.” again with the “what the…?” factor
“Provocative for provocative’s sake probably won’t get a blogger far in the long term.” without a doubt, there needs to be something of value with it. you can’t tease and not deliver … after a while, people will hate you for it.
June 17, 2009 at 8:52 pm
@rerockstar: BTW, thanks for the really good comment discussion
June 17, 2009 at 9:09 pm
Mark – I’m was in a good conversational mood. Thank you for supplying the starter.
I think I know why I struggle with title thanks to your example. I hate the way news broadcasts tease you for three or four commercial breaks before getting to the info you want to hear. Of course, I still fall for it every time. Perhaps I’ll have to keep that thought stuck in my head over the next few days to see if I can utilize it.
June 17, 2009 at 9:22 pm
@rerockstar: yeah, i hate the news for that too… “how an everyday household item can kill you. tonight at 11.” umm, shouldn’t you be telling that to me now?
however, with titles, you’re not keeping folks from that info. it’s a click away. another way to look at it is the cover of Men’s Fitness or Cosmo… all that teaser text to get folks to flip open and check out the real article.
June 17, 2009 at 9:33 pm
@MarkEckenrode – “Is your home a ticking time bomb? Watch the 11 o’clock news for this must-see report.” (checks watch)…”Um, it’s only 4:32…can you tell me now, so I don’t blow up?”
Good point about the “click away.” I have trouble with the internet at times, because I’m not your typical surfer. I don’t go many places and just click or scan. I go, I read, I look, I follow links. I’m a web designer’s dream.