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Titles: They're Not Just for People

Create titles that are intriguing, but that also accurately describe the content of the post.

We're familiar with titles in contexts other than writing on the Web. We pick up a particular book in part because of the title. Movie titles attract our attention in trailers, and we remember them later. Newspaper article titles are second in importance only to the headlines; we make our decisions on whether or not to read an article in large part because of the information in the article's title.

Titles are at least as important in Web pages and blog posts as they are for books and articles. For many readers, who follow a blog via an RSS reader like Google Reader or My Yahoo, all they see is the title of the post, and nothing else. For readers using an RSS reader, (sometimes called an aggregator) the decision to click through and read a post will be based entirely on the appeal of the post title. That means as writers we need to give some careful thought to post titles in order to attract a reader's eye. Another reason to pick a descriptive title is that the title you choose for your post also gets magically inserted in the HTML Title tag in the code that, probably, you don't even see. The Title tag provides important information that Google and other search engines use; the text of the blog post title is the first line a searcher sees in the search results. In order to be useful to the reader using a search engine—and to be listed early in the results for a given set of search terms, the post title needs to accurately reflect the content of the post. It needs to be both descriptive and accurate.

The fact that titles need to work for two seemingly different audiences, search engines and readers, means that as writers we need to strike a balance between two seemingly contradictory requirements with respect to a post title; writers need to create a title that is catchy enough to be intriguing, but that accurately describes the content of the post. Writing a good title can be be tricky, admittedly. Here are a few basic guidelines to help:

  • Shorter and succinct is better than overly complex.
  • Use strong verbs.
  • Use specific nouns.
  • Word play, when it's appropriate and doesn't confuse the reader, is good.
  • If you have to compromise, accurate description is better than catchy; a clear, descriptive title is better than an overly clever one.