Imagine a beloved ’80s teen movie where five high schoolers, each from a different segment of the school hierarchy, are forced to spend a Saturday together in detention. They butt heads and bond over their predicament, learning that they all have much more in common than they ever realized.
The movie drips with charm and authenticity. It was written by John Hughes, after all, in the middle of his unreal streak of movie classics.
Decades later, the kids who grew up watching this film still love it. Their kids love it, too. It is required viewing for just about anyone who has gone through high school (or is still going through it).
That wonderful piece of American cinema is, of course, The Lunch Bunch.
A Title Makes All the Difference
The Lunch Bunch?
No doubt, many of you were smiling as you read the first three paragraphs above, nodding your head in agreement over the influence that Hughes’ masterpiece, The Breakfast Club, had in your life.
Heck, even if you think the movie is grossly overrated, you can’t deny its enduring popularity.
But seriously, would that film be nearly as influential and lasting if it was called The Lunch Bunch?
I’d argue not. I can’t imagine people lining up to see a film with that title in the theaters. But apparently, that is what the movie was tentatively called at one point. Thank goodness they tried a little harder.
Titles are the first impressions. They are labored over and stressed about. Some overthink them, hoping to find a genius title that will both convey the spirit of whatever it is they are talking about and attract people’s curiosities.
Even parents understand the importance of good titles. That’s why many months are spent before the birth of a child debating what to name them.
If you’re a blogger, the title is going to be one of the most important parts of each piece of content that you publish. It’s been said that 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest of the post. Reducing that dropoff is the key to writing effective content.
If you want your blog post to be clicked on in search results, or archives of old posts, or in someone else’s list of great blog posts, or on a social media feed, the title better be spot-on and attention-grabbing.
Easy enough. So how do you do it?
The Nuts and Bolts
There are tactics that you can employ to figure out unique and compelling blog titles, but they can’t all be tried at the same time. We’ll get to those in a moment.
Before we can do that, there are some best practices you ought to follow for every blog title that you come up with. Regardless of the tactic (or tactics) that you try out on your own blog, these rules need to be followed every time:
Write the blog title LAST
This is a little trick I’ve learned in 10+ years of copywriting. Put in a placeholder title and leave it there until the piece is written. Titling existing content is ten times easier than trying to come up with a great title before you write. Often, writing the piece itself will lead you to certain phrases or wordings that can influence your title in a positive way.
Make it consistent with the content
The quickest way to lose readers is to give your piece a title that has nothing to do with the content. If you write a blog post about real estate dealings in Watertown, Wisconsin, don’t title it, The 6 Best Places to Shop for Alligator Boots in Southwestern USA. That’s an extreme example, but you have to be consistent. A title is going to set the expectations for the article. Don’t ask questions in the title that aren’t answered in the content, or you will be seen as unreliable at best, and misleading at worst.
A title isn’t a time to get cute or clever. Any time you try to do that, you risk being so unclear that you confuse the reader. You’re much better off calling the article “5 Hot Real Estate Listings in Watertown, WI” than something like, “Watertown: Porches, Pavement, and Parks!” Not only does it come across as stupid (and that title is deeply stupid), but you don’t know what you’re getting with that title. Make the expectation clear as day.
Now, with those rules taken care of, let’s look at five key ways you can generate unique and interesting blog titles that will attract readers.
1. Take a Stand
If you can be controversial and still remain true to your brand or message, then go for it. I don’t mean taking a political stand or anything hateful – there’s enough of that on the internet nowadays.
But if you can challenge commonly accepted ideas, go for it! Take a look at some of these completely made up blog titles:
- Kids Should Have More Screen Time, Not Less
- The Genius of the 2008 Detroit Lions
- Antarctica: Your Next Luxury Vacation?
- We Need Less Meaningful Relationships
- Why Tom Meitner is America’s Finest Writer, Past or Present
All of those titles take a firm, clear opinion on an issue. The fact that they fly in the face of logic is what makes them attractive. It breeds curiosity, and as long as you can back up your title with the blog post itself, it’s worth trying.
2. Use the Right Keywords
Like it or not, we’re still living in a search-based world.
Search engine optimization is still widely effective when done right. Even a few basic SEO concepts can drive new traffic from a search engine results page to your blog. People are still searching for stuff – the right keywords can get your blog in front of them.
If you just wrote a blog post on how to unplug a shower drain, then imagine what someone might Google if they wanted to see something like your blog post:
- Plugged shower drain
- How to unplug a shower drain
- Quickly unplug a shower drain
- Clogged drain
- Shower not draining
You can use these to build a nice, clear blog title, like “Shower Not Draining? How to Quickly Unplug a Shower Drain in Just Two Steps”.
Now you’re showing up for keyword searches, and your title is attractive enough to get some clicks.
3. Add Benefits to Your Title
Long ago, a marketing guy I worked with used a really lame phrase on the phone with our clients that, all these years later, still sticks with me. It’s cheesy, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
“Your customers are all tuned into the same radio station: WII-FM: What’s In It For Me?”
Objectively, that’s awful. But it illustrates a good point.
People don’t just care about the thing your blog post is about. They care about what it does for them. That’s the difference between features and benefits.
Notice I didn’t just use "5 Ways to Write Better Blog Titles” as the title of this post. I made sure to add “Capture New Eyeballs” at the end of it. Why? Because you don’t need better blog titles – you need new eyeballs. A blog title is just a means to get to that end.
4. Put a Number in the Title
There’s a reason click bait is usually focused on list posts. List posts work!
Lists are easily digestible. You can scan a list and get the gist if you’re short on time. A list post promises a limited article and sets clear expectations.
You can’t get more clear than “7 Ways to Improve Your Skin.” You already know how long the post will be, and how many things you’ll have to remember. It’s also easy to stay consistent in the post itself, because you’re not going to call it “7 Ways” and then have 11 tips in the post.
If your content lends itself to a list, go ahead and try it out, even if it makes you feel dirty. Remember, click bait is, by definition, false advertisement. As long as you back up your list-based title, you’re okay.
5. Jump Onto Trending Terms and Events
As I write this, my Green Bay Packers just lost the NFC Championship game. While in between writing projects today, and whenever I have felt the need to wallow in it, I’ve been Googling “packers” and seeing what articles have been written about their epic collapse in last night’s event.
Now, let’s say you’re writing a blog post about investing. If you published a post titled, “4 Things the Packers Taught Me About Smart Investing This Season,” it would not only show up in my search results, but I bet I would be enticed to click on it.
This isn’t a tip you can use all the time, but if you can swing it, it can be very effective.
Why It’s Worth It
In the end, you can’t get eyeballs on your content without something to entice the reader in. That’s what a good blog post title will do. Take your time to do it right, and you could see your traffic and engagement skyrocket.