This Title Sucks!


Let’s face it, folks, readers crave surprise. 

They like titles they don’t expect or know how to interpret. 

They like titles about food, fat, failure, or frustration with any of the above.

I noticed this with my own blog.  For example, the other day I posted a piece called “It’s Official.  I’m Fat” and had a massive increase in traffic, received a total of 369 page hits, when generally I average way, way less than that.

Coincidence, you say.

Perhaps, but I think the bottom line is this:  successful blogging depends in some significant way on inventive titles, titles that push the envelope.

image via betterbooktitles.com

If you give readers a title they totally hadn’t anticipated or a title that says something they have always thought but never dared say—at least not in public—and certainly not online, where every Tom, Dick, and no-name blogger like me can read it—audiences go weirdly wild.

They love daring, and they love it even more if you do daring well.

I’ve decided though the readers aren’t attracted to outrage for the sake of outrage.  They like outrage with a message.  And they like a message that is so fundamentally real, so bottom-line authentic, they always knew it to be true on some intuitive level but had never quite conceptualized it as you have.

In other words, audiences like to be surprised, but surprised by a reality they recognize, by their own very real truth, an “aha” that’s personal.

I think I broke my logic bone” was Freshly Pressed last week, I suspect, because its fun and quirky title attracted editorial attention and audience approval.  You can decide for yourself whether or not you think the post itself was as successful as the title, but the title was, I’m convinced, brilliant.

Whether we like it or not or want to admit it, readers love crazy.  They love drama.  They love posts that are the cyberspace equivalent of train-wrecks.  They hate authorial hypocrisy but love posts about hypocrisy itself. 

They love stories about ridiculous things happening to prissy people—the germaphobe whose toilet overflows, the preacher who’s having an affair, the politician caught stuffing the ballot box.

Let’s face it, we love it when Donald Trump makes an ass out of himself.

So, if you want readers to “like” your link, if you want audiences to take the next step and scan the first sentence, pull them in clicking and screaming with a title they can’t refuse—some wicked words that drive them wild with curiosity and a major amount of mouse madness.

What to-die-for titles have you read recently?

37 thoughts on “This Title Sucks!

  1. Earlier today I posted a title ‘Sexual difference’. It’s actually relevant to my post, and is nothing to do with blatant sexuality. I don’t usually get many hits at all but it will be interesting to see if my title has the same effect as yours!

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    • Thanks for stopping by, Nigel! I will be curious to know how your traffic is today–hope you’ll let me know. And thanks, as well, for subscribing! I look forward to learning more about your novel!

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  2. The only time I was freshly pressed, my title was “Spring in the Village.”

    Sounds pretty boring, if you ask me, but someone liked it.

    I’m blogging for my own sanity (whatever that means). If anyone else reads it, that’s cool. If not, it doesn’t rock my world.

    Peace, Phil

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    • Great to hear from you today, Phil——-

      I don’t know that there is a correlation between title and Freshly Pressed. But I do suspect there might be one between title and actual clicks on that post. But yes, “Spring in the Village” is not a title that would drive most crazy with curiosity, but, clearly, your FP post was about the quality of the post itself as a whole. That’s way more important!

      Have a great weekend, Phil!

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  3. This is a profund truth that I have noticed myself. And part of the reason I always try to be creative with my titles. Another key attraction is the choice of tags and categories. I have been tempted to write a completely innocuous post but put a list of tags that I know will draw attention just to see what happens. The highest hits I have received on any post was something I wrote about a Parrothead convention. And while i am not ashamed of it it was by no means the best thing I ever wrote. I guarantee the reason it was more popular than others was because I tagged in with Jimmy Buffet.

    I did a similar thing with my resume once. Posted nothing but a list of keywords from the monster.com site as my resume. Just a list of words. Never got so many job offers in my life. Yet my “real” resume barely gathered any interest. Face it. Humans are attracted by shiny objects.

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    • It’s interesting that you’ve had a similar experience, Steve. I must admit not knowing how to be quite so creative with tags and categories. So true–we are attracted to things that glitter, and sometimes that glitter is not gold! Thanks for this great comment. Hope you have a great weekend.

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  4. Personally, I liked the title of your post because my head screamed “FAT? ME TOO!”. I think you have a point though. I will have an increase of traffic on a day when my post isn’t all that great. If the title is weird enough, people just have to see what it’s all about. I actually read a post called “Cartoon Penis” yesterday. It wasn’t even close to what I was expecting, thank God.

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    • “Cartoon Penis!” What was it about? How bizarrre——–

      I think the hardest part of this is being inventive without being totally off the wall. And I’m not sure I know how to do this. But again, it’s interesting that you have noticed similar patterns.

      Hope your Friday is going well!

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  5. I’m a firm believer in good titles, and though I rarely read Freshly Pressed, I did happen to click on the “I think I broke my logic bone” post the other day (and enjoyed it). I have also read that studies have been done proving that use of the word SEX in your title generates extra traffic, guaranteed.

    Which, I suppose, means if that blogger had posted “I think I broke my sex bone” instead, her readership would have been through the roof!

    I may have to test this sexy theory myself…

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  6. Early on in my blogging career, at my other blog (Bountiful Healing), the post that garnered the most attention (and still does) is “My Feet.” There must be a lot of foot fetish people out there in cyberspace. The title isn’t particularly controversial, but it was enough to bring in lots of hits. And yes, “sex” works too. One of my favorite bloggers (who no longer blogs) used to experiments with various words in her titles to see what would draw people in. It was pretty fascinating.

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  7. Titles, for me, are always the hardest part about writing. Once I know what I want to say, the words tend to just flow through my fingertips to the keyboard. But the title? ALWAYS, ALWAYS a challenge for me. My titles usually DO suck!

    But now that I’ve learned a little secret from you about titles, maybe I’ll learn to be more creative. Thanks!

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    • Your titles don’t suck, Terri! But you are lucky that the writing flows. For me it’s agonizingly slow. Titles interest me. I’m not necessarily good at them, but I like playing with them–figuring out what works. Have a great week, my friend!

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  8. I think because I am still really a ‘newbie’ blogger I just keep pouring out stuff with little editorial input (I hear ‘stating’ and ‘obvious’!) or thinking too much about increasing readership etc. Often I start with my title and then the writing just skips off from that. However I’m not completely without an understanding or interest in the business end of writing and what titles can make or break a post. My guru (bowing movements) Penelope Trunk has loads to say on this topic and I have to say her post titles, like much of her content are always riveting, sometimes hilarious and usually informative to some extent – bit like yours Kathy 🙂

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    • It’s interesting to learn how the writing process works for different people. I rarely start with the title, or if I do, it usually changes by the end. It’s fabulous that once you have the title the writing comes. It’s never that simple for me–God, I wish it were!

      I will have to check out Penelope Trunk’s blog! Thanks, Penny————-

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      • I had to come back to this as I realise what I have written here is just potty! I think what I meant was that when I am writing/thinking through my writing sometimes just writing the title first gets me going. Once it is there the writing flows after. Have been thinking about this as I am writing today 🙂 this is probably just as potty!

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      • Dear, dear Penny–you are incapable of “potty!” What you wrote last was far from toilet talk– Ha, Ha! I will be curious to hear more as you reflect on your process. The way one does or doesn’t write has long intrigued me—————-

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  9. Sadly, this is true! The only thing about it though is that if your title catches people’s attention, but the content doesn’t live up to it, do they read beyond the first paragraph? Or does it essentially become an “empty” hit. I think your post “It’s Official. I’m Fat” delivered, but so many others don’t.

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    • You are absolutely right! To me an empty hit means little. I also agree that this post wasn’t as good as the post about “fat”–but I wanted to experiment to see what happened with a wacky title. This one hasn’t done nearly as well as “It’s official. I’m fat.” So now I have a bit more data to deal with.

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      • No silly – I wasn’t talking about your other posts. I was talking about other people’s posts with catchy titles that don’t deliver! 🙂 I thought this post was spot on. And the title was great.

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      • OOPS! I guess i thought you meant that cause I didn’t think it was up to snuf! You’re right. I just reread your comment. Isn’t it weird how what you have in your head can influence how we read or misread, as the case may be. This post was different for me, as the title came to me before the post itself, which usually doesn’t happen with me. I usually write and the title comes to me in the process. I didn’t trust the process this time.

        Thanks for clarifying for me! Silly me, is right! You are dear, Lisa!

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  10. Pingback: Horseshoes, hand-grenades and a lollipop | The odd ramblings of a mind that does not quite fit

  11. I don’t know. I feel like I’ve come up with some interesting titles, but it gets me nowhere. I think I’ve given up attracting a following and will just continue to write for myself and the few people who care to read.

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    • I think the success one has with creative titles is mixed. You are much better off writing for yourself. I just wish I were able to do the same. It’s really what works best in the long run, I imagine. I guess I get too greedy. Not a good quality!

      By the way, your most recent post was amazing, Lisa!

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      • Kathy, you should be greedy and you deserve to have a ton of followers. I’m just feeling grumpy as I can’t seem to break away and other blogs get more attention than mine, no matter what I do. So, I pretend not to care when really I care. I’m definitely in a low zone lately, and writing to only a few hits a day is not helping.

        I’m glad you liked my post today. I don’t know where it came from or where it is going.

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      • Lisa, that would discourage me too, my friend! I just can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t attract a lot of readers. Though I had an incredible day last week, things have been slower for me this summer than they were back when we were in Haiti–which seems like the wrong direction to be going. I think lots of folks are on vacation in the summer and fewer people read than do during the school year.

        You deserve massive sucess, dear Lisa! Hugs to you–big hugs!

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      • Oh, I recognize the summer lull, but with my site its more than that. Even at my best I was only averaging about 87 viewers a day, and I very rarely break 100. I think I just don’t have appeal. C’est la vie.

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      • I just don’t get it, Lisa. That makes no sense. I think you DO have it. I don’t know the answer, but there has to be one. I wonder what Tori might recommend. I think she does really well, as does, Mark, our Idiot friend. But I think humor is always an easier sell. It’s not fair, Lisa!

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  12. Kathryn, thank you for this timely post. Everything you say is so ‘right on’. My blog is 1.5 years old, and I’m creeping up on 5000 hits, averaging 13 a day. I have an small, tight knit group of readers, a few have even added me to their blogrolls! I write because it’s a passion. Mostly I write about writing, writers and books (pretty narrow focus). I blog to learn, to find my genuine voice, to hone my newby writing skills; the blogosphere is a powerful, generous and warm classroom! Another reason I blog is to have a ‘writer profile’ on the first page when Googled. But, a BIG BUT, I read other blogs because they are as fascinating as the bloggers who create them.

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  13. My Freshly Pressed post titles were “Reading While Walking” and (as you know!) “A title to end all titles. Like, obliterate them.”

    After reading this, I wonder if “Dead Moms Can’t Care” got as many hits as it did–double the norm for me–because of its title. My original title was bland and safe, but it didn’t do my sentiment (or my mom’s memory) any justice. In light of this entry, I’m glad I retitled it.

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