Titles; The Importance, The Sublime, And The So What…

In my previous article I gave a lot of tips on the topics of 15 lessons about blogging, and I think it was pretty good. However, there’s a topic I haven’t discussed often that I felt it’s time to talk about. Not because I’m the best at it or have lots of recommendations on how to do it better, but because I’m sometimes curmudgeonly and thus don’t always agree with what everyone else says.

fliegender via Compfight

You’d think this would be a simple thing to come to an agreement with; “write a compelling title“, which many other bloggers advocate. I could just agree and make everything right with the world. Hwoever, that’s not always the case, which means it’s not always true. Let’s take a look at why I believe it’s not so cut and dry.

Some of the most compelling titles in history have led to some of the biggest arguments. If you want to see compelling titles, check out news stories on the internet and in newspapers. Something not often known is that writers almost never put titles on their articles. So, they might write a piece on one thing only to have an editor decide it needs a punchy title to drive people to it, even if the title has nothing to do with the article, or has something to do with the article that’s on the fringe.

At the other end, sometimes the titles make no sense, or are so ethereal that you’re left pondering their meaning or relationship to the story. For instance, a book I enjoyed called Torpedo Juice had only one reference in the book to the title, that being a drink that this one particular bar made. It had nothing to do with the story but I spent a lot of the book making sure I hadn’t missed the reference. And you can think of a book like To Kill A Mockingbird and possibly miss the reference in that story, yet overall it has nothing to do with what’s going on.

Still, titles can be very important. When I wrote my first book on leadership I initially titled it The Mitchell Principles Of Management because I’m horrible on titles in general, was worse back then, and I thought that a business book needed a business title. Even though it’s self published, one publisher did write me and tell me that it needed a better title, one that might get someone to actually pick it up since they didn’t know me, thus Embrace The Lead was born, even though it took probably 3 months to come up with a title. Man, that’s a lot of work!

This brings us back to the main question, which is just how important are titles anyway? My response… depends…

First, here are some major points to consider:

* Are you writing a story or an article, such as a blog post? If you’re writing a “how-to” then the title is important to let people know what you’re teaching them. It also helps your SEO because your content will match the title. However, if you’re writing a story about an encounter with aliens from another planet, the skies the limit.

* Are you looking to be honest or just get people to come? Back in the day people who gave advice on writing titles for blogs said to put in words like “the secret to” or “the real story behind” and junk like that because humans love scandal, and of course that’s true. These days we call it clickbait; ugh! But if the post doesn’t live up to the title, aren’t you, the reader, dismayed?

* What are you hoping others will do if they read your article or post? If you’re hoping to drive visitors to consume and comment on your missives, that’s pretty cool.

If you’re hoping they’ll share with others, compelling is nice but what’s more important is how long your title is. Some titles are so long that trying to share them on social media platforms can be troublesome, while other titles are so short that people don’t know what you’re writing about.

Once again, it depends on the topic you’re writing about. The title of my last article matched the topic and was easy for people to understand, whereas an article I wrote back in March title The Keys was more confusing, yet for whatever reason it compelled a lot of people to see what it was all about (even if it only got 10 comments lol).

Lisa Lee Marie @ Formula D Irwindale Round 7 "Title Fight"
Charles Siritho via Compfight

Here’s the “so what” of the post; seems like I’m all over the place doesn’t it? Had to get that other stuff out of the way first, because I’m actually going to give some tips on writing better titles in general. As I said earlier, I think I’m the worst at titles, but that’s because I don’t sit around spending time trying to think of something outrageous to title anything I write. But if I did, these would be some recommendations:

1. If you write a how-to, it must be in the title.

This one should make a lot of sense. If you’re teaching someone how to build a birdhouse, tell them that instead of using something cute.

2. If you’re writing a review type scenario, that needs to be in the title.

Once again, tell people what they’re getting… but please, PLEASE, don’t use scam in the title unless worded properly.

3. If there’s an overall theme that keeps popping up throughout your tale, that should go in the title.

This one’s a bit dicey because, like the fictional books above, those were pretty much one liners. For blogging, and of course the stupid search engines, it works best if you help them help you drive visitors to your site.

4. Don’t play with the audience’s emotions. If you use a misleading title as clickbai,t you might get visitors but they’ll leave and never come back.

That’s all I’ve got. If you have any further ideas on your beliefs about titles, go for it. Onward and upward!

8 thoughts on “Titles; The Importance, The Sublime, And The So What…”

  1. Back in the day, I went with “punch in the face” titles on my blog: “Misquoting the Bible”; “Chase What Matters”; “The One Million Product Challenge”. Half outrageous, half click-bait, these titles were simply fun. I did not care about SEO because, Commentluv!! LOL

    I only wrote one article with SEO in mind, it was about CAPTCHA, and Google loved it! So I know your advice is on point. Otherwise, I’m firmly in the “So What” camp.



    1. Yeah… truthfully I feel that most of my titles are SEO friendly, but Google doesn’t seem to think so. However, both Bing and the Duck think so; I’m not picky about who’s giving me love. lol

  2. Mitch, this is very helpful information on a topic that I suck at. My titles are probably the weakest part of my writing, and for many of the reasons you cite. I don’t want clickbait but I do want to get people curious enough to click. Today I published a piece on dogs. The title: Pretend You Are Competing on Survivor / subtitle “With one dog and only one command allowed.” The question of course is what is the command. I thin the title will not generate tremendous interest though I like the piece. Anyway, thank you for writing this.

    1. You’re right, that’s a tough title to get found on search engines. The problem might be that not everyone’s seen Survivor, which are people like me, but everyone’s seen dogs and that’s actually a more compelling start. If I kept the same words, I’d probably have reversed the lines, but it’s not like I’m a titles professional. lol Still, Holly would say use the title you like and don’t worry about anyone else…unless it’s a book, in which case make sure you highlight what you’re talking about.

  3. Hi Mitch

    This is a really nice, and refreshing, article about titles.

    I’m really interested in writing blog article titles for my business, so that’s always my focus.

    And like you said, the title is really geared to get people to click onto your article… yes, clickbait, I suppose.

    I say this is a refreshing article because anytime I read about “titles” they always focus on clickbait… so-called “power words.”

    The thing is, you need people to (1) click on your article, but (2) read it, too!

    So clickbait might get you to step (1), but for step (2), like you said… you’d better deliver what is promised in your title!

    PS: Did you know that the original working title of Gone With the Wind was “Tommorrow is Another Day”? And, before the title change, the novel totally bombed with the publishing houses, but afterwards, it made its mark! Maybe you CAN tell a book by its cover.


    1. I didn’t know that Donna, but I do know that the original title of To Kill A Mockingbird was Atticus. It’s amazing how many popular books have titles that were mentioned only one time in the book, and most people miss them the first time. We can’t always afford to do that with the titles of our blog posts, but sometimes it just feels like the right thing to do. 🙂

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