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How to write good and bad titles for your blog post

Some blog posts work, some don’t. Why?
I’ve been blogging over 4 years, and after writing nearly hundreds of posts, I’ve developed a high-value niche audience of over 15,000 blog subscribers and 28,000 Twitter followers. My focus has been completely on writing about startups and high-tech companies. Building up my blog in this niche audience has been a lot of fun and professionally rewarding too.

I’ve had the time to collect some observations on what works and doesn’t work, and wanted to share an interesting stat: It may not surprise you to know that the most popular 10% of my blog posts drive over 500x the traffic of my average blog post. It’s a classic Power Law distribution.

Blog titles matter
One of the most important things to any blog post is its title. It’s the first impression your writing will make on anybody on Twitter, Facebook, or any news site where your link might be shared. If you don’t impress instantly, people won’t click, and they won’t get to read your amazing content.

So what kinds of blog titles attract the most attention?

Here are the patterns that I’ve found to work really well:

1) “The tweet-sized argument”
It’s highly effective when your title argues for or against something, in a tweet-sized package. Especially when the argument uses lots of superlatives, like “best” “worst” “obsolete” or otherwise.

Take a stand! Make an argument! In real life, people usually don’t believe in the extremes- instead, they are always comfortably in the middle, in the shades of gray between two options. When you argue something, and argue it strongly, they’ll want to read it- if only to refine their own thinking.

Examples:

  • If you hate your job, quit it. Today.
  • The iPhone 5 is the best phone ever made
  • Don’t start a startup, you’ll end up a pauper
  • Mobile apps are going to make websites obsolete

2) “The sneak preview”
The other important pattern is when you can use start blog posts with titles like:

  • How to do X…
  • Why I think X…
  • When does X happen…
  • 10 ways that X…

Assuming that the topic X you’re picking is really interesting, people will check it out and find it insightful. They’ll share it if they think it’s interesting to learn how to do what it is you’re talking about. The important idea here is that the title is a promise for what you are going to elaborate upon in your post.

What not to do
What happens when you don’t use the patterns like above? Well, the most common case is that people write blog posts that are descriptive, but abstract. Something like “Google and their mobile products” or “Our product features” just sounds weak, compared to “Google makes amazing mobile products” and “5 amazing features in our new product.”

And at the same time, if every post you write is “5 ways to X” you’ll sound cheesy. So there’s a fine line there. Basically the trick is, don’t use your title to describe your content, use the title to trigger an emotional desire to read your content. Do it well, and every post will spread far and wide in your target community.

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