Five Minute Upgrade – Writing Blog Post Titles That Grab Attention

Five Minute Upgrade – Writing Blog Post Titles That Grab Attention

You’ve just spent a ton of time putting together your latest blog article, and now it’s finally time to launch it. You know the quality is there, but how can you possibly summarize the entire thing into a one line title?

How are you going to make the perfect elevator pitch for your article?

Hold on a second, take some deep cleansing breathes, let’s take a look at some ways to make titles really grab the attention of your audience.

1. Create Curiosity

Let’s say one day, after a good deal of research and hard work, I make a post entitled Little Known CSS Secrets. Think about your reaction if you saw a post title like that pop up in your Twitter feed, would you click it? You may think you know the ins and outs of CSS, but now I have just presented you with a new possibility – you’re missing something.

An individual that believes they have CSS locked down might not be as receptive to an article named Common CSS Techniques, but once you create a potential gap in their knowledge – aka little known CSS secrets – they will want to fill that gap.

Titles that include terms such as “common mistakes/misuses”, “secrets of”, “little known”, “must see/have” and “essential” imply that there is something you might be missing.

Curiosity Checklist
  1. Does the title create a knowledge gap?
  2. What terms have I used that spark curiosity?

2. Appeal to Self Interest

Why should I care about what you have to say? How does it benefit me? Keep these questions in mind because when a potential reader comes across your article in their feed, you’ve got only one way to address them – your title.

Another method is to get them invested in the article, which can be done by appealing to the type of people that they associate themselves with (ie: Designers, Bloggers). Going along with the above Little Known CSS Secrets example, let’s adjust it slightly to appeal to even a seasoned CSS veteran that might not buy into the whole “secret” thing – Little Known CSS Secrets of the Masters. Now we have not only created the potential for a gap in knowledge, but also made a play on their ego. They are now going to be as curious as ever, wanting to find out if they truly know all of these secrets that the other CSS masters allegedly know, it becomes about not wanting to fall behind.

Self Interest Checklist
  1. What type of people (ie: “Marketers”, “Designers”, “Bloggers”) am I appealing to with this article?
  2. From the title alone, how does the the article potentially benefit readers?
  3. If I didn’t write this, would I care?

3. Being Unexpected

How can you be unexpected? Upset a common belief, practice, or trend. Be brash, bold, more candid than you normally would. Anything that breaks the stereotype for the industry will likely also attract a decent number of eyes. If a person would probably follow reading your title with a “What!?” then you might be on the right track.

It’s important to be careful to not be so shocking that you slip into the gimmicky infomercial type of talk – I Made a $80,000 in 3 months… and You Can Too! Continued usage of sensationalist titles will also cause people to be desensitized to your articles – when everything is exciting, nothing is exciting.

Unexpected Checklist
  1. Have I seen this title before?
  2. What is surprising, shocking, or unique about this title?
  3. Have I crossed the line into gimmicky?

4. Clear and Concrete

I could have titled this article Get Your Blog Post More Traffic, but I didn’t. Why not? It’s not concrete, you would have no idea how the article would go about increasing your traffic, just that it would. How many spam messages come up on your radar that promise the exact same thing?

Which is more effective – Optimizing Image Labels for Visitor Usability with HTML or Adding Captions to Your Images? Stand out by being precise and avoid polluting your message with too many buzzwords.

When coming up with titles, I generally try to focus on describing the end result rather than the process, that way you know exactly what to expect. (Example : Animate Curtains Opening with jQuery)

Concrete Checklist
  1. Can I be more specific without being wordy?
  2. Have I avoided “buzzword/jargon pollution”?
  3. Is the goal of the article clearly illustrated in the title?

Examples – Putting it All Into Practice

Jacob Cass recently posted a pretty neat roundup of The Most Linked to Pages of Top Design Blogs, which provides an interesting look at titles that work. To further illustrate my points let’s take a look at a small sampling complete with breakdowns.

Something to think about for each title – What strikes you about this title? Were you driven to click it?

Why your web startup will fail from Ideas On Ideas
  • Simple – It’s targeting a specific group of people
  • Unexpected – Bold and not the typical “feel good” title
  • Curiosity – What makes him qualified to say this? Why will I fail?
  • Self Interest – It’s not a random startup potentially failing, it’s mine.
Obama logo ideas that weren’t chosen from Logo Design Love
  • Simple – I know exactly what I’m going to see.
  • Unexpected – Oh yeah, I didn’t realize, it makes sense there were other drafts.
  • Curiosity – There are other logos ideas? Now I need to see them.
  • Self Interest – Involves a person I know/followed
30 Essential PDF Documents Every Designer Should Download from Positive Space
  • Simple – I don’t have to decode the title’s meaning to know if it applies to me.
  • UnexpectedNot necessarily.
  • Curiosity – Essential? What if I am lacking some of them? I do call myself a designer.
  • Self Interest – I’m a designer looking to constantly improve, here’s a competitive edge.

I encourage you to take the time to cycle through more of the titles in Jacob’s post and see if you can pick out winning traits of each, who knows what might be useful for you in the future.

Case Study – My Oops Title

I made a mistake recently. When it came time to finalize a title for one of my posts, I rushed it along for the sake of getting it out the door, ultimately landing on a title which fell flat. The article didn’t receive the typical amount of circulation around the Twitter scene and I continue to wonder if perhaps a stronger title could have changed that. Enter Quick Tip – Reading & Editing HTML Attributes in jQuery.

Before: Quick Tip – Reading & Editing HTML Attributes in jQuery
  • Simple – Sounds specific but not entirely clear what we’ll be doing. Almost too much jargon.
  • Unexpected – Debatable.
  • Curiosity – Perhaps, if someone wants to know what the title means.
  • Self Interest – Not really, why should I bother learning this?
After: Image Manipulation with jQuery – Generate Captions, Swap Images, and More!
  • Simple – Okay, I’m dealing with jQuery and images. I have a target goal.
  • Unexpected Hmm, I didn’t know I could swap images with jQuery.
  • Curiosity – I wonder how to go about swapping images. What does the “More!” refer to?
  • Self Interest – Here are some tangible ways I can improve my site/learn more about jQuery.

It may not be perfect, but I like to think it is a bit of a step up, satisfying my “quality title” requirements. What do you think?

Go Forth and Title

I, by no means, am trying to hop up on a soapbox and tell you that this is the way to do things just because I could tie certain traits to certain titles. We are in an industry that thrives on creative approaches and there are always posts that will break the template.

At this point I want to put it on you – what do you think works? I’m looking forward to a hearty discussion in the comments below.

Posted Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 · Back to Top


Add Comment

29 Comments 11 Mentions

  1. web2000 Author Editor

    he nice post here.. your objective is very clear and i think you got your point across. Thanks!
    .-= web2000´s last blog ..50 unique search engines – that are not Google – Part2 =-.


  2. Armen Author Editor

    First time visitor, Sam.

    Good article. Constructing titles is a unique art. Considering most articles go unread (even in feedreaders), it’s wise to give this topic some study.
    .-= Armen´s last blog ..Novice Authority – Free eBook! =-.


  3. Dicky Author Editor

    Great post! This is what a web designer need in order to write a Digg frontpage-able content!
    .-= Dicky´s last blog ..10 Really Useful Server Monitoring Tools =-.


  4. Tom Kenny Author Editor

    Great topic and as I’ve found out, a good title really can make all the difference. It’s what draws people in to read the post so of course it makes sense that it needs to be efficient.

    This is perfect timing as it’s something I’ve been looking at now that I know how much of a difference it can make. Thanks!


  5. Brian Author Editor

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing.
    .-= Brian´s last blog ..JMS Messaging with Seam =-.


  6. Sean Author Editor

    I have been noticing in my Google Analytics which kind of titles are working for my readers and they seem to follow the steps you illustrated.
    .-= Sean´s last blog ..How well do your print ads drive website traffic? =-.


  7. ameL Author Editor

    this is a made to stick model simplified.


  8. Sam Dunn Author Editor

    Thanks for the responses everyone, I appreciate them.

    You’re a fan of good books, I’ve read Made To Stick, and a number of Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin books before piecing this article together. It is interesting how it applies to the web niche.


  9. Suneel Author Editor

    Thats way good a tutorial on how to build up traffic to a blog.

    Loved the article. Bookmarked and subscribed to the feed.

    Waiting for more informative articles.
    .-= Suneel´s last blog ..Ad Research using Microsoft Desktop Applications =-.


  10. Si Author Editor

    This is an important part of writting a blog article. The modern way seems to be to overly use words like ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’ etc. Very rarely does the content live up to the title. The best blog titles are short, sharp and to the point. + dont forget to get as many keywords into your title as you can
    .-= Si´s last blog ..Detect Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) and other popular browsers with Mootools =-.


  11. Akshay Author Editor

    Excellent post !!quite useful.
    .-= Akshay´s last blog ..One Click Facebook Video Download =-.


  12. David Airey Author Editor

    Hey Sam,

    I share Armen’s sentiments. Headlines can make all the difference when backed up with a strong opening paragraph, then equally worthwhile content.

    Thanks a lot for giving my Obama headline a quick crit.
    .-= David Airey´s last blog ..AIGA President Debbie Millman on spec work =-.


  13. Clay Schossow Author Editor

    I think another essential aspect of titling a blog post is to running the title through Google’s Keyword tool in AdWords. In addition to having a catchy title, it’s important to make sure that it’s optimized for the longtail of searches around that topic, and the Keyword tool will let you know the most popular terms around that topic that you should craft into your title.
    .-= Clay Schossow´s last blog ..Building a Mr. Potato Head Website of Parts: 13 Easy-to-Add Website Services =-.


  14. Jawaad Ahmad Khan Author Editor

    Great tips, I’m relaunching my blog next week…completely overlooked this topic, now I gotta look back at some of my posts and revise the titles…thanks for the tips,

    btw, I’d heard of Made To Stick, but now I’m a bit more interested in reading it now…


  15. Melody Author Editor

    I shall definitely consider these tips when working on my future titles..
    Sometimes I have found that my more quirky titles are probably good “inside jokes” for me, but don’t come off as clear as some “technical” (5 steps to blah blah blah) titles..
    .-= Melody´s last blog ..6 Ways to Market Yourself as a Digital Artist =-.


  16. Kawsar Ali Author Editor

    wow very useful tips. thanks for sharing
    .-= Kawsar Ali´s last blog ..Top 5 Web Operating Systems =-.


  17. Mahmud Ahsan Author Editor

    nicely written, great tips!
    .-= Mahmud Ahsan´s last blog ..please vote my application =-.


  18. Glenn McKeown Author Editor

    Tabloid newspapers are the best example of this practice.

    Catchy headlines make you pick up papers…


  19. Steve Author Editor

    Hi Sam,
    Yes I can accept to catchy title idea, but unless I missed it, you did not mention about keywords in titles..?
    Surely this has to be of prime importance, because without these keywords / phrases, who is ever going to see the catchy title..? Is it not true that an articles title is one of the strongest ranking factors on the page & as such should include your strongest keywords / phrases..?

    Regards Steve


  20. Maicon Sobczak Author Editor

    Valuable tips. Good examples.


  21. Hameed Rahamathullah Author Editor

    Tweeking their post headings in this way could really help bloggers to achieve great attraction among their readers.

    As a reader I would also suggest, to make the heading more crisper (as it should be).


  22. jamesm Author Editor

    Ideally, you want your design to have one single feature item, that’s one thing that stands out and grabs the viewer’s attention. Remember – less is more.


  23. Carly Author Editor

    Wow great resource, love your checklists. I’m writing a blog post this afternoon so I’m going to ensure that I run through them :-)



  24. Clocktower Media Author Editor

    Nice advice, I have been working on brainstorming better blog titles and this checklist has helped me quite a bit. Thanks!


  25. toptensthings Author Editor

    i like concepts, it can help for me to catch attention of readers, thanks


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