How Not To Write Blog Post Titles

As I spend more and more time thinking about blogging, blogging and analyzing blog posts, I realized that there are several "schools" of blog title styles:

  • the journalistic school, with sometimes punny headlines inspired from traditional newspapers;
  • the SEO school, where the keyword is the most important thing and clarity be damned; and
  • the clickbait school, with its emotional manipulation tactics.

Some of these schools apply only to certain types of publications, and businesses have to figure their own way to develop effective blog headlines without falling into extremes. 

Although each school has some good elements to it (time-honed writing techniques, search-engine friendliness, lots of click-throughs), using only one type of headline may actually hurt your blogging and digital marketing efforts. Here's how not to write blog titles, and some tips on what to do instead.

Don't write blog headlines that are too journalistic

Journalists literally spend years honing their headline skills. Newspaper article titles are informative first, entertaining second. Columns and analyses have a different slant: they often ask a question or express an opinion. 

The newspaper headline model is helpful to write informational blog titles, but it shouldn't be followed too closely. Let's take a blog post describing a new plumbing product that people at home can use to seal leaks.

A newspaper-style headline would be something like:

New plumbing sealant helps homeowners

That's informative, but on a blog dedicated to DIY, it seems a bit terse. Here's a better version specifically meant for a blog:

Solve Your Small Plumbing Issues With This Great New Sealant

Notice how the blog post title has an action verb ("solve"), uses "your" to call directly to the reader, and entices through the word "great". That's much more likely to get people clicking and reading through than the journalistic headline.

Don't just focus on SEO

Another no-no for blog title writing is over-optimizing. Few people make this mistake these days, but enough do that it's sometimes a bit annoying to read through a blog listing page that focuses way too much on SEO.

Let's make one thing clear: using a keyword in your headline is essential if you want the article to be relevant to search engines. However, there's a difference between properly optimizing for SEO and actually thinking you can game the system by putting the keyword in three times.

Sticking with our DIY plumbing blog, let's use another example. A post covering the difference between PVC and copper pipes would definitely be of interest to readers. An SEO-focused writer would likely end up with something like this:

PVC vs Copper Pipes: Choose The Best Option Between PVC and Copper

Since we've already said that the post is about PVC and copper pipes, is there really a reason to repeat the keywords? It just ends up being awkward and repetitive.

A proper way to title this post on a blog would be something like:

PVC vs Copper: Your Guide To Plumbing Pipes

You still have the topic of the post--PVC vs copper--but you also add value by adding "guide" and refine the topic by saying "plumbing pipes".

Don't overuse clickbait techniques

We've all seen them, the Upworthy and Buzzfeed posts that are so tentalizing to click... and so disappointing to read. Some sites have developed the art of clickbait so well that all their content now uses its techniques.

Clickbait tactics work--but only when used subtly and sparingly. It's okay to raise curiosity or call to your readers' emotions, but doing so dramatically and repeatedly is only going to weaken your influence in the future.

Let's take our plumbing example once again; imagine we have a tutorial video on how to change your faucet washers to post on the blog. A clickbait title would probably sound like this:

He Complained About A Leaking Faucet, And You Won't Believe What Happens Next

It's easy enough to see what's wrong with this headline. I mean, I can probably believe what happens next, so unless unicorns repair the faucet or gold comes out of the leak, your readers will probably be angry. Here's a more subtle way to use curiosity to get people to click through:

This Surprisingly Easy Technique Will Help You Repair Your Faucet Leak

If the technique's easy (which it probably is), then you won't actually be lying to your audience with this title. You also mention what the post is about--repairing a faucet leak--and what you can do about it--repair it yourself. 

Use common sense and balance

As you can see, the trick to writing good blog post headlines is to use a balance of information, keywords and interest-grabbing expressions. As long as you clearly indicate what the topic is and what your audience will get out of reading it without misleading them, you've got a good blog title on your hands.