Blog Post Titles

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Apparently there is a science to titling blog posts to maximize the number of readers you can attract. Many sites that give advice on building blog audiences talk about the importance of choosing the right title. You want a title that hits all of the SEO buttons. You want a title that will hook potential readers. You want a title that implies lists of things (which people like to read). You want a title that uses buzzwords. Do this, apparently, and the content of the post doesn’t matter. You’ll get more readers than you can possibly handle.

This may explain why I don’t have millions of daily readers. Advice on blog titles is on piece of advice that I generally try to ignore. A lot of what I learned about the business of writing came from Isaac Asimov’s essays and memoirs, and he influenced me heavily on the question of titles. In his memoir, I. Asimov, he wrote:

I’m pretty careful about titles. I always believe that a short title is better than a long title and I like (when possible) to have one-word titles such as “Nightfall” or Foundation. What’s more, I like to hav a title that describes the content of the story without giving it away, but which, when the story is finished, is seen by the reader to take on an added significance.

This is generally how I think about blog titles. I prefer simple titles, like “Blog Post Titles.” I am sometimes swayed by the mass of voices that cry out for more “optimized” titles, and you can skim through the thousands of posts here to find quite a few where I’ve bent to the SEO will. More and more, however, I like choosing a simple, memorable title. It turns out that these titles are also good for searching and can lead to the elusive evergreen post. Back in 2009, for instance, I wrote a post about the best order (in my opinion) in which to read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. I titles the post, “If you are planning on reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series…” This has been a perennial best-seller (in terms of views) ever since.

I generally don’t like deceiving readers with bait-and-switch titles, which are what SEO titles often seem to me to be. I abhor what I call “authority” titles. You’ve seen these titles before. They say things like, “I am a doctor and here are the 5 things I’d never do in a doctor’s office.” Adding the “5 things” provides an additional bonus because everyone likes lists of things and wonders, “what will those 5 things be?” Not me. I ignore these posts. (Although they permeate my attention enough for me to write about them in a blog post on blog post titles.) I also ignore clickbait titles like “Here’s the One Change you Need to Make to Become and Instant Millionaire.” This is just another form of deception. I don’t know how readers can stand this.

I prefer titles like “On Travel By Train” or even just plain “Trains” to something more romantic like “The Romance of Train Rides.” Simple, clear titles seem to produce results for me, regardless of what the rest of the Internet says. When I wrote about “The Death of Marigold Churchill” back in 2014, I came up with the title because it was the shortest possible way I could describe the subject of the post. Even that post had (and continues to have) a surprising number of views. I think it is because simple titles are easy to find. The titles reflect the way people thing. Someone wondering about the death of Marigold Churchill is likely to type “the death of marigold churchill” into a Google search. When I do this, guess what appears on the first page of results?

When I wrote about my bad habits, I used a simple, clear title. That post, too, has bucked the tide and been surprisingly popular.

All of this tells me that I should continue to resist the advice to SEOify my blog titles. While occasionally, such a title slips by my internal censor, more and more I avoid them in favor of simple, straight-forward titles. I’d rather my titles by honest and direct and accrue fewer readers, than be misleading and annoy many.

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