Titling blog posts is the hardest thing about them

Though I suspect few people actually stop to think about it, titling blog posts is actually quite a bit harder than writing them.  In reality, most of what is interesting about a post boils down to a few words: NYC soda ban is not an issue of freedom pretty much says it all.  But you want people to read, to understand the finer point that you’re trying to make.  So a truly good title gets people in the door, but doesn’t give away the whole plotline.

That isn’t actually all that easy to do.  As I remember one of my content-heavy friends noting, statistically the best titles are the “list” titles: 3 ways to shoot your dog, 6 things never to do on a date, The 100 most creative people in cajun music.  They tell you what you are going to be reading about, without actually imparting any of the important information, so that you’re forced to click-through if you’re interested.  And the click-through, the view, is the metric of all things holy in commercial blogging.

Where title writing gets interesting to me is for non-commercial bloggers.  You could argue they don’t exist, in that even those who do not make direct money off their blogs are still trying to get people to read it (otherwise, why write it at all?), but I do think the motivation set is different.  The longer I’m at this, the more I realize I don’t really mind if people get the main point from the title, since my whole endgame is to nudge people around with the knowledge contained in the points themselves.  So the title is actually a fairly good means to that end, provided I can do it well.

But that presents its own set of problems.  Writing your main point down into a few words that are difficult to misconstrue is not an easy thing, especially if your chief talent is in science rather than communication.  In the long format of a post, I feel that I can be forgiven for rambling; as any writer will tell you, it is the concise, dense prose that is the hardest.  And what could possibly be more concise than a title?

2 replies
  1. Anora McGaha
    Anora McGaha says:

    I totally agree – title writing is the hardest part. I appreciate your naming that.
    For my online blog magazines, choosing guest post titles is what I spend the most time with – maybe not actual time, but life force time. Choosing photos takes more literal time; the choice is quick, the handling is slow. But what few words will intrigue, capture the direction of the topic, invite the all-wanted click – that, takes pondering. (Then of course, we have to deliver. Ideally a short first line that’s like a diving board. A few bite-sized lines to slip into the story. And then splash, the swim has begun.)
    With press releases my aim is exactly what you say: the main point. I will probably only get the title read, if that, so it has to say everything I need the reader to remember. Event. Purpose. Date. Place. Players. Boiling down, as in the physical world, takes time for most of us.

  2. matt
    matt says:

    The interesting problem of something like a press release is that it is halfway between informing and convincing. That is, some of your audience just wants to know the details: the event, purpose, date, etc. that you mention. But the other half wants to be convinced that they should be going in the first place. And even within that group, some need more convincing than others and only some types of arguments work for some people. So to truly convince the maximum number, you have to give every possibly convincing argument, in the hopes of hitting all the different groups. Which is a nightmare.
    The guys at http://www.persuasionapi.com/ are trying to address that, but in order for their approach to work, you have to know something about individual audience members in advance. Short of getting people to explicitly signal their motivations, or having previous experience with them, it is a tough nut to crack.

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