Many of the Google faithful find their way to my site via the question “how to think of a title“, which invariably lands them here. Once again, my penchant for wordplay has led them astray from the straight and narrow search path of righteousness and into the perdition of offtopicness. So I will try to make restitution and answer the question that every blogger faces, sometimes several times a day: How do you come up with a title?
TDavid wrote a good post on this topic over a year ago, and his tips haven’t lost their relevance:
- write down two or three keywords that describe the content of the story and blend those into the title creatively
- consider using key (short) quotes within articles or stories you are writing about. For example, the quote from Google’s blog was so juicy I decided to use for the title (pictured above)
- play on words. For example, I combined the word accident and Adsense to make the word: accidense
- avoid getting too cutesy with titles and not summarizing the post body. If the title has nothing to do with the post it’s a big risk that is more likely to backfire than not. Readers don’t want to feel like they got suckered.
- when in doubt, be boring. If you can’t think up a good title, then just come up with something descriptive with no sizzle. It’s better than doing a “no title” or just having the date.
The first and third bullets best describe my usual strategy. I think of synonyms for my main subject with which I can make a neologism, a pun, or an alliterative or rhyming phrase. I’m sure that thereby I often stray into the path of the fourth bullet (too cutesy to be useful), which leads searchers to my post who are looking for something they don’t find there. But sometimes I’m willing to sacrifice reader satisfaction to the worship of my own cleverness. Sorry.
Generally I avoid quoting others in the title, though that can certainly be effective. And I try to avoid the bland — to what degree of success can only be measured by my readers.
Another approach to creating a title: make it a question — one that the post answers, or one that it raises. The difficulty with these titles is that you often find you want to add them to the text of the post instead. But sometimes, for effect, they’re better left only in the title. Titles scream out, and screaming questions attract attention.
Jessica Hagy, author of the popular and insightful blog indexed, seems to offer her titles as additional commentary on her posts. You should really read them after digesting her diagrams, and I’m pretty sure that’s how she composes them. But in a way, reading them first adds a puzzle aspect to each post, and at the end the meaning of the title clicks.
Humor makes any part of a blog post better, and some of the best humorous titles can be found at Good Morning Silicon Valley. Some recent good ones: New Vonage on-hold music: “Nearer, My God, to Thee”, It’ll be just like YouTube, only with less You, and It’s a computer, too? We just thought it looked nice in our Zen garden. These titles are kind of like outtakes from each post. There’s another good strategy: imagine something that could be said somewhat tangentially (or even mistakenly) on your subject, and convert it into a quip.
If you really want to get attention, say something startling. Kathy Sierra asks: Is your app an ass-kisser? Tell me you didn’t go look at that one. Distill your post down to its most controversial point, then ask a provoking question or make an alarming statement based on it — even if it’s essentially a misunderstanding of your opinion. You can set them straight in the text of your post after they’ve come charging into your readership with phasers set on flame. For instance, if I wanted to write a post on the failures of the present US administration, rather than giving it the transparent title of “Bush: worst president ever”, I might call it “Bush: greatest leader of all time?” and then let the content tear the title to shreds. It would attract many more readers, pro and con — especially from the search engines.
How do you think of a title? Do you employ any techniques other than those listed above?
Now, to think of a title for this one…