What is your approach for blogpost titles?

stereobooster on August 20, 2019

The title is the face of the article. People judge the article by the title, before reading the article. Sometimes people don't read the article an... [Read Full]
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I really try to give enough context for it to be useful, and not get too cute with it. It's tempting to be clever, but I don't think that's generally the job of the title.

Descriptive and indicating what the post might be about. If it's clever, it should be only be if it drives home more descriptive clarity, not taking away from that.

 

I struggle with making titles interesting enough to click on but not over the top or click-bait. I can write the most helpful article in the world, but if my title isn't compelling no one will ever see it. My rough process:

  • I keep a Trello board with questions people have asked so I can keep the words and phrases they use in mind and use them in the title.
  • I use a tool called Answer The Public for the same reason as above. What words and phrases do most people use when they search for my topic? I include those in the title.
  • When I'm really struggling, I have a swipe file of sample headlines that help get my brain going so I don't have to start from scratch every time. Examples:

The Quickest Way To [Blank]
[Blank] to get started with [blank]
[Blank] Questions Answered About [Blank]

  • I play around with the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer until it lights up green. Keeping in mind that it's just a tool and what it says is not the direction I have to go every time.
  • Sometimes I write the article without a title and the content of the article helps me come up with a title.
  • I almost never use the first title I come up with.
 
 
 

It's not as much a formula as guidelines but,

  • Target keyword as close to the front as possible.
  • Exactly what they're going to learn
  • If it'll fit, a counter to a common objection

Examples:

This one's keyword is "automatic newsletter" which didn't make it very close to the front. The common objection is "But I don't have time."

This one doesn't really have a keyword in it, but the common objection would be "But my product isn't ready."

Sometimes I just do:

  • What the blog is, and
  • Why you should do it

Examples:

The what is "How to write with SEO in mind" and the why is "get more blog readers."

With this one, the second part could be both a "why" and a response to the objection of "But I don't have time."

 

I prefer titles that give a clear overview of the actual content being presented (as a RSS feed reader, as I usually only have access to titles, and it's the only piece of info I have to decide if the article behind it is interesting enough for me) than titles that use gimmicks and useless words that talk to "me" instead of explaining content.

Also, I really dislike Titles That Have Each Word Capitalized, and emojis, it's just a pain to read.

 

I guess, title case is more formal and traditional. I prefer sentence case as well.

1,2 emoji is fine for me, but I struggle when there are 10 or some puzzles with emojis 🤯

 

I have literally no idea what that emoji is supposed to be and I can't be bothered to inspect the HTML to find out.

That's my attitude when I see any in blog posts at all, but it's really off-putting when it's in a title. I mean, half the time it's just that unicode I-don't-know square box anyway because somewhere along the line the encoding broke or your font doesn't have it.

All sorts, but on here, on the latest Chrome on MacOS, I sometimes get titles with squares in them.

 

I don't know that I have a formula. I just try to find a short, memorable title.

I especially try to find a title that feels like it could be a Thing in and of itself; that is, a title that lends itself to being cited in conversation:

  • The Cranky Developer's Manifesto
  • You're Doing It Wrong™
  • Your Project Isn't Done Yet
  • Anatomy of a Bad Idea
  • Clean, DRY, SOLID Spaghetti

There's also the titles that suggest an action or challenge:

  • Please Reinvent the Wheel
  • To Comment Or Not To Comment?
  • Please Don't Answer This Question

That said, I try to avoid cliches and clickbait when possible. There are rare exceptions wherein I'll write a list:

  • 10 Principles of a Good Code Review
  • 4 Communities Every Coder Should Join

I also like when I come up with a title that feels like a book title:

  • The Curse of the IDE
  • The Dark Side of the Magic
  • Retraction of an Obituary

I don't have any way of tracking click-throughs here on DEV, but if the view counts on my articles are any indicator, these titles are working pretty well.

 

The title of a blog article can be in practice anything. You can construct it in different ways.

IMO more then the article content itself, the article title is dependant on two other factors.

The audience you want to target and how do you want to "sell" your article to that audience.

Personaly i try to use SEO principles when thinking about the article title, so keep it short, keep it very descriptive and focused on the main keyword or idea you talk about on your article.

I dont usually like when i see others using clickbaity titles so try not to use them whenever possible. But again it depends on where im writing and what im trying to achieve. Clickbait titles are titles that sell. Titles that get the user attention, not just towards the article but sometime even towards the author itself.

Example: "How i improved website speed of website X by 500%".

Who wouldnt click this?

Another way of constructing this title could be:

"How to improve your website's speed"

Now, this title takes the attention from the author. On the clickbait title i specifically put "How I ..." so this should get the attention of the users not just towards the article. Using this title i could expect more visitors to this article to turn into "Followers" (in DEV.to case).

So it depends on what you are trying to achieve and who are you targeting also.

 

It depends on the article most of the time I don't use clickbait titles.

I always provide a rough outline of what is the main gist of the article.

I do agree that clickbait titles can get you readers and even change the perspective of readers as well which you have to use it for good, not bad.

If you are really into fake news or the subject Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday is a awesome read in the subject that made me understand about it.

 

I haven't posted a lot in dev.to, yet; but one of my preferred approaches is bad puns.

 
 

I try to just explain what they're going to see in the post... but it's an area that I could improve for sure :)

 

I think it's dangerous to even consider the possibility of silencing someone's voice because one might not like his/her "style". Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental pillars of all freedom we enjoy. For the sake of future generations' freedom, I think we should start considering it much more seriously.

Whoever dislikes a particular title style can simply ignore the stories. If lots of people dislike it, those stories will suffer to gain traction and writers will need to adjust to what readers want. Or they may keep their style if they want to and get lower readership.

 

Interesting reaction. Which of my phrasing made you think of silencing someone? (Let's fix that before confusion spreads) I didn't suggest anything like that. I explicitly ask about styles that people like

Have you noticed some style that you like?

 

What hinted me of something dangerous was the way you ended your article:

Is it morally acceptable to use those tricks for dev.to posts? It seems not directly prohibited by CoC (or am I wrong?)

Unless one is calling for violence or something of the like, it is free speech. Even clickbait, low-quality speech is free speech and must be protected as such.

It's not a matter of protecting the content. I might disgust the content, I might outright disagree with it and I might hope for days where this content doesn't get published by anyone. Nonetheless, I must fight for the right of that person to be free to speak his/her mind the way he/she wants to.

To me, that is fundamental to all freedom we enjoy nowadays. Our grandfathers across the world, in the west or east, in all ages, fought for us to be free to speak our minds. In recent years, it feels to me that many people don't fully grasp the magnitude of this, and is not prepared to hold ground and protect what was achieved, in many cases at the cost of human blood. It almost looks like a complete disregard and ingratitude to an invaluable gift we received.

I find it dangerous when someone considers having a right to judge whether some form of pacific speech can be 'accepted' or not, can be 'prohibited' or not. Just by considering this possibility reveals that I do not fully understand this fundamental freedom and my role in protecting it as a member of the human family.

Some might find all this too much for too little, but I do consider this something capital for our lives and for future generations.

Let's add some clarity:

  1. Any kind of censorship is dangerous, and I'm against it
  2. I didn't propose to censor but asked the opinion of people if this is morally acceptable or not

Now let's talk. Which definition of freedom do you use? I would use human rights.

Article 29

  1. Everyone has duties to the community...
  2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

Using clickbait titles can be interpreted as manipulative action - the author exploits the emotions of the reader to draw their attention, which can be considered immoral, which can be unacceptable in society.

This is, as you fairly noticed, is a slippery way, because the definition of "just requirements of morality" can vary, but doesn't contradict freedom as is.

In fact, in some societies there are traditions about morally acceptable approaches for writing - scientific society doesn't appreciate clickbaity and speculative titles. On the other hand, any kind of limitation is in acceptable for an art society. So the question can be interpreted if dev.to is more about science and precision or about creativity and self-expressiveness (for example).

Clarifications noted.

Look, I'm not criticizing your post, I think it's a fair and nice discussion. You asked for feedback and I shared mine. I don't mean to make you mad at this, just wanted to contribute with what I think is relevant. How valuable is this feedback is up to you...

You asked for how people approach blog titles. That's my approach: freedom of speech. I do not recognize anyone as entitled to claim moral superiority for limiting other people's freedom to speak their minds.

I consider dangerous vesting an external authority with such power and superiority. Just remember about Galileo or Giordano Bruno, for example. They were considered to be immoral by the highest authorities of their time, just by saying the Earth was not flat and it revolved around the Sun.

To me, freedom of speech must be inalienable. One can name any institutional or authority notion of morality; I, as an individual, will not recognize any entitlement for them to judge what people can or cannot speak, provided that it's not physical violence promotion, as I noted in previous comments.

 

Absolutely nothing you said is dangerous or implies the silencing of anyone.

Don't you consider that asking "is it morally acceptable to use those tricks for dev.to posts" implies that one or some individual's notion of morality is entitled to judge and restrict what others can speak and how?

Sure, if you take that sentence out of the context of the whole post.

The post is his reflections on how he writes and posts to Dev.to. It's a #discuss post where he asks what we think and then reflects on how he makes decisions.

And that's precisely what I was addressing: his reflections and the way he thinks about this.

If I think my voice can be vetted by other people's notion of morality, I will find it acceptable if I see it happening to me or anyone.

And I find that position very dangerous.

One thing is asking "is it respectful or appropriate", "is it a grateful way of writing to other developers", or "is it effective from a publisher's perspective". A totally different thing is asking: "is it morally acceptable", "has this been prohibited"...

I really don't think making decisions for yourself based on the moral code you follow is a dangerous thing. At no point did the OP call for silencing of others' speech. At no point did the OP call for policing others' speech.

I guess we have different positions and that's totally acceptable.

To clarify, I did not claim he called for silencing other people. What I said was:

"I think it's dangerous to even consider the possibility of silencing someone's voice because one might not like his/her "style".

 

If dev.to gets blocking features, I'd love the ability to block against an expression (e.g. /[0-9]+ ways (I|you|to) / would make my feed a lot cleaner :)

 

I would also value such feature, providing that each reader is in full control of what and how content gets filtered, not a 'council' of Dev.to 'censors' (or 'reviewers' as social media sites like to call censorship nowadays).

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