Clicking and Screaming (What Makes a Title Suck)


Let’s face it, folks, readers delight in daring titles.

They seemingly can’t help but click on posts that make outrageous claims, not just about delicate issues such as, say, public nose-picking, but especially on titles that highlight one’s personal nose-picking habits.  Pronouncements like this, they can’t resist.

Readers like titles they don’t expect, titles that make seemingly ridiculous claims in inventive ways.

They like titles that confess sex or sin, titles that admit fat, failure, or an obsessive fondness for Pop Tarts, that picture you, mouth full, Twinkie firmly in fist.

I noticed this with my own blog. For example, last summer when I posted a piece called “It’s Official.I’m Fat,” I had a massive increase in traffic, received a total of 369 page hits, when generally last year I averaged 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.

This week a post called “Geek Out” was Freshly Pressed, I suspect, because its fun and quirky title attracted editorial attention and audience approval. You can decide whether or not you think the post itself was as successful as the title, but the title was, I’m convinced what won it the recognition.

I’ve also decided though that 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 or articulated 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.

Whether we like it 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, if you want to pull them in clicking and screaming, use titles they can’t refuse—some wicked words that drive them wild with curiosity and induce some major mouse madness.

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

68 thoughts on “Clicking and Screaming (What Makes a Title Suck)

  1. Geek out didn’t strike me as particularly interesting in any way, so I guess it was the title that got the recognition….but then I often don’t understand some Freshly Pressed. I rarely look at them any more.

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  2. I admit titles do sometimes get me to look at the FP’s, or the name of the blog (quirky and witty do attract).

    I haven’t noticed any titles specifically, of mine, that have warranted huge success in reader increase. I like a good title. I look back at some of mine and cringe. But, some I felt were quite inventive. I’m too lazy right now to go back and check my titles…… 🙂

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  3. Thank you for the link! Like you, I believe my post was Freshly Pressed due to the title. I often struggle with naming posts, but in this instance it came easy. Maybe because the idea of the post was so simple? If you would have asked me which one would be Freshly Pressed, I would have never assumed my Geek Out list would be chosen. But I am satisfied either way and hope to get FP’d again some day 🙂

    Thank you again!

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  4. Totally agree with that one, Kathy. Some of my weirdest titles have come from doing blog hops like Hilary’s Friday Fill In’s (www.feelingbeachie.com) when I link answers in the title that make no sense whatsoever. When I look at what posts have gotten a lot of hits it is those that consistently are at the top of the list. But then you have to have some decent content, too, and sometimes that is the problem! I try to be witty but it isn’t always there…..like today…just not feeling it! 🙂 Thanks for a great post and some great advice!

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    • I think it’s hard to get both title and content great in the same post! But I think titles are esssential, since you have to get that initial click before someone can read further. And I enjoyed your post this morning, Beth Ann! Great to hear from you this morning!

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  5. Titles definately suck me in. I love playing with titles when I write. Sometimes I get a good one and sometimes I get a stinker. I have given up hope of ever being FP or getting triple digit hits daily on my blog. Maybe I’m an acquired taste?

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    • I LOVE your titles, Sista. At the same time, I understand what you mean about being able to get them really good, or missing the mark entirely. I think what is really hard for me is getting both title and content great in the same post. You are definitely taste I have acquired–acquired from the word go Hugs!

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  6. I wish I had a talent for coming up with interesting titles! That’s probably why I will never make it as a writer…. 😉 I did notice a search engine term used to locate my blog yesterday that caught me off guard (actually made me laugh), I just might use it as a post title one of these days, but I don’t want to give it away just yet….. 😉

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  7. Completely agree with you here kathryn. Titles make or break a post. I read people I know regardless of the title, but whether I will click on that post by an unknown author, depends entirely on the title. Even though I know this, this is one aspect of blogging that completely floors me! I just can’t seem to think of whacky titles. i look at others like yours in this post) and wonder why can’t I ever think of something like that? If there is a tutorial “how to cook up creative titles for dummies” I will sign up for it, pronto! 🙂 ha! ha! nice post 🙂

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    • LOL–your comment gave me a good chuckle. I wish there were a tutorial for titling, as I would want to take it, as well. For me, either a title comes to me, or it doesn’t. Sometimes mine are awful. Sometimes not! I have no idea what makes the difference. Great to hear from you today.

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  8. I have never been FP and I’ve always wondered about how posts get chosen. Thanks for linking to the WP post that listed some of the things the editors look for. Fingers crossed! 🙂
    Have a great day!

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    • So glad you appreciated that post from WP. I thought it was very helpful, actually. It’s hard to believe you’ve never been FP, Jackie! What’s wrong with those editors?! Thanks for reading. Hope you have a lovely evening.

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  9. Admit it or not, we are all drawn in with a good hook- Marketing 101. The real question is- do we read past the first two lines?
    I think for many of us, we used to read FP and then started to drift away once we found the blogs that we liked and routinely started to read. Then the titles don`t really matter so much- we read it no matter what it`s about because we usually enjoy the content and have developed relationships with the writer.

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    • Good point, Emily. You should definitely know about the marketing thing. I actually hadn’t thought of it in those terms–God only knows why. As soon as you say that, I think, duh, Kathy, why didn’t that occur to you? Great to hear from you, my friend!

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  10. You’re right, Kathy, for blogs, news stories, magazine articles, and books, titles are your first shot at drawing a reader in. And although I understand it, I really believe that having to perform this type of writing gymnastics will be what ultimately drives me to put down my pen.

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  11. Titles are important and you’re right, they do attract attention. For me, they’re not my strong or weak suit. They’re my average strength suit. Some titles I write hit, some miss, but most are somewhere in-between. Looking back the post I had FP’ed, was one called “Savage Waiting” I suppose it had an unintentionally provocative title, but I never aim for the FP fences with anything I publish on my site. That honor just came out of nowhere. As to what gets FP’ed I don’t pay much attention, but I did glance at “Geek out!” due to you, but that’s a title that otherwise has no appeal to me probably because I’m such a (cough) cool New Yorker.

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  12. I dunno. I think I’ve come up with some pretty clever titles (i.e. “Would You Like Flies With That?” but have yet to see the accompanying FP love).

    Maybe I’ll title my next post “I Had Sex With A Pop Tart and Got Really Fat.”

    Hmm…

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  13. Kathy, I don’t read Freshly Pressed either, so promise me you’ll tell me right away if your FP’d again. I’ve discovered quite a few reading it, but for the most part, sometimes I’m baffled by their pick. Someone I know once got FP’d just because they reprinted a recipe for a popular, easy Hannukah dish. That’s when I said, go figure. Yes, titles are everything. I try to be clever, but titles can be tricky. And yes, you have to have a good post with good writing to back up the fancy, shmancy title. Btw, when are you going to continue your story??

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    • Freshly Pressed has remained a mystery to me. My first post that was FP was written when I’d only been blogging 3 weeks and is, what I think, one of my weakest early posts. Go figure.

      Okay, yes, you’re the second person to aske me about my memoir in two days. I need to get my butt in gear. I’ve been working recently on a blogging project for Habitat for Humanity International’s website. This has gotten in the way, as has the business of summer, I suppose. I need to get myself refocused. Thanks for asking, Monica!

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  14. I like word play so titles like the one you used here (brilliant!) will often grab my attention. Anything clever or humorous will usually draw my attention. I’m not really a fan of drama or train wrecks anymore. Whenever the Drama Llama enters, life goes haywire, so I tend to ignore him.

    I saw that “Geek Out” post on FP, but ignored it as the title didn’t interest me. I scan FP periodically, but rarely click and read anything as I’ve found myself disappointed with some of their picks. I noticed that snarky is popular with the folks who pick these things. For instance, one I read recently was about those funny toe shoes that I like to wear (Vibrams), and it was very snarky and lacked some basic research into why people wear barefoot shoes. I understand making fun of the shoes (I have a friend who does that, and she always refers to them as my Shrek feet), and I can take a joke, but I found that particular post rather mean-spirited and sarcastic.

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    • I don’t understand the whole FP thing any more either. I was glad though to see them do a post about the criteria they use to evaluate. I must have missed the Vibrams post. On, well. Sounds like I didn’t miss a lot.
      Hope you have a great weekend, Robin!

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  15. I’m afraid I’m guilty of falling for the tempting title tickler. But, usually the posts themselves are banal. Vanilla dressed up in a Tutti Frutti ribbon. Sooo interesting that you write about this. I just read the WP note about using titles and tags to up one’s chances of getting FreshPressed. I still think they use blindfolds and darts.

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  16. I am the WORST with titles!

    I heard on the radio this morning about an article featuring Kobe Bryant’s wife. The article was titled, “Vanessa Bryant does ‘not want to be married to somebody that can’t win championships” Of course, the title was a bit deceiving, but it was definitely an attention getter. Now if I could only learn to do that!

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    • OMG–that is a great title! It’s so stange how we have also begun writing such long titles that pretty much amount to sound bites for the entire piece. Have you noticed that? That titles are, so often, complete sentences?

      Plus, you have been known to have great titles, as well!

      Have a wonderful weekend, Terri! Great to hear from you!

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  17. Kathy, this was a very instructive and entertaining post, and, gosh, what a great title to boot! I’ve learned some of the same things as you. The title pulls the readers in, and then you (hopefully) have to say something so that they are not disappointed, that perks their interest beyond the headline. Just this week a friend emailed and thanked me for interesting titles, saying she wouldn’t take the time to read otherwise. It’s certainly an art. “My mother got stuck in an elevator!” had way more hits than usual, kind of like your “fat” post. (This post could be Freshly Pressed, methinks.)

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    • Oh, thanks, Kathy. You’re sweet to suggest this could be FP. Tell you what I liked–your most recent title about Gulliver’s Travels! Now, that was well done, my friend. Hope you have a wonderful week to come, my friend. Thanks so much for reading!
      Hugs,
      Kathy

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    • You know what? I think you have articulated my own title weakness, as well. My titles become so damn long, it’s ridiculous–though I notice that sort of being the trend in titling these days. Great to hear from you. Hope you’ll stop by again soon!

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  18. I’m always checking out Freshly Pressed for cool articles .. I usually find one or two on the fronty page and the rest make me wonder why the hell they are there ! Anyway , Ill start dreaming up the craziest headlines I can think of , that might do it ! Xx

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  19. I will try a new book author, based almost solely on the book title, so I agree titles are important. I’m not as creative as you are though in thinking up good titles for my own posts. If Willie knows I’m writing about a specific topic, he always comes up with some “brilliant” title suggestions! 🙂 Sometimes they are good, sometimes I think they’re just too obscure for people to be interested in clicking and reading further.

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    • My favorite title of yours was one I wished I had actually thought of myself. The one about your getting Rosie called, “Jet Set Puppy.” It might have even been a series–I forget. I love to play with title ideas–a tiny, managable task that allows me to fiddle with words–my favorite.

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