Monday, August 14, 2006

7 tips for blog post titles

Post titles are your blog's sales staff, ambassadors, receptionists, and info indexers.

Here are 7 ways to improve them.

Edit Update: Notice how I title my posts, not that I'm perfect. But I do think deeply and obsessively about blog text, design, and media content.

Watch and see if you agree with how I solve various problems. For a quick example, when I post three videos in one post ("Box. Angry. Norbert."). How I titled tricky or complex posts, so that we all will be able to guess what's in them, weeks or even years from now.

"Lord Byron's daughter first computer programmer" seemed more micro-content rich than "who was the first programmer?" or "First programmer was a woman" or "Babbage and Lovelace, a powerful pair".

Not that these titles are "wrong" or "invalid" in some way. Just be sure to wonder about how a reader would react to and relate to the title of the post, not knowing what it is about. Write the title from a new visitor's perspective, someone just looking hurriedly for vital or amusing material.

I almost NEVER use a general topic title, like "web analysis musings", "blog community building" or "New web browser is smooth cruising". Say exactly what it is you're discussing. Say something more like "why prompt, polite replying to comments is mandatory" or "what Firefox does that IE cannot do", or "proper way to start your computer in safe mode".

(1) Short, thus: easy to remember, cite, and type in the post URL for linking and navigating to the post. While prolix, rambling titles with lengthy parenthetical embeds are popular, they are also a pain to work with. Respect your audience. Use brevity in all things.

(2) Relevant: It should be immediately clear that each post you write contains material your reader cares about or can use. While I also think you should use vague, weird, poetic titles for variety, I suggest sticking primarily to newspaper "mini-headline", magazine article, and book chapter style for the bulk of your post titles.

Your post title is the salesperson of the post. It must say the right things to get attention and respect.

Your list of recent posts, by title, is also an advertisement for your blog. So keep the titles focused.

For example, post title for a cat lovers blog should contain words related to cats and pets "Feline health care update on teeth" or "Cat food brand comparisons". Use teaser or vague titles with moderation. People don't have time to play guessing games about the value of a blog post, whether it's worth surfing to and reading.

(3) Numbers: A title with numbers seems more professional, information rich, and organized. Thus, "7 tips for blog post titles" sounded better, more specific to me than "writing good blog post titles". But, then again, a user might type "how to write post titles" into a search engine, more than my numbers title. So use both styles, numbers and how to.

(4) How To: People typically like and seek out information that supplies easy, step by step instructions. Even if you know how to do something, you may still be intrigued, and check it out to see if you might learn one or two things. Or to see if you can post a comment displaying your superior and more complete insight and skill. ("Nice, but you forgot to mention....").

(5) Radical: Try using a title that is "in your face", a confrontational outburst, a challenging statement. Like: "12 signs of blog psychosis", or "Start video blogging now!", or "RSS is lazy browsing", or "Blogs are already old fashioned", or "Here's why Haloscan sucks."

(6) Archivable: Use a title that will still make sense three years from now, so when someone scans your archives, it will be clear what the topic is, and is not dependent upon then-current events awareness, which has now passed into historical knowledge.

Same principle applies to when other bloggers cite your post and link to it.

When a reader of another blog sees your post title, will it convey what the post is about? Will your post title, acting as an ambassador in a foreign blog, entice the reader to visit your blog, perhaps your only chance to hook that reader?

(7) Funny: Since office workers turn to humor to relieve stress, and most people like comedy, try using silly titles now and then. "Bloggers are lousy in bed", or "My blog ate my brain", or "How to Become a Blog Addict".

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