headlinesI suck at writing a headline.

It is the last thing I think of whenever I write a post and it shows.  I try to think of something witty and fun and I draw a blank.  However it is the most important part of any article. Be it for a magazine, newspaper or blog post, we have to grab our readers attention with a catchy headline that will draw them in and make them want to read more.

We have obviously been lucky.

Our headlines are terrible. People may read our posts, but I know it is not based on the titles of the piece.

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So What makes a good headline or title for a blog post?

Too Vague

When I first started blogging, I didn’t have any clue about SEO (search engine optimization) If I were writing about our preparation for our cycling tour of Africa, I would end up writing something like “Crunch Time.” What does that mean?  It doesn’t give the reader any idea what the story is about. And search engines would have no idea how to index the article.

Key Word Stuffing

As time went on, we learned about the importance of SEO and then went to the extreme the other way.  My titles were terrible as I tried to fit every key word possible. eg: Strange Funny and Odd Names of Towns in Canada.  That is a title that is obviously trying to look good in keyword searches and it sucks.  If I could have fit the word city and village in there, I would have, but the title was already way to long.

Balance.

In recent posts I have tried to put what I am writing about in the title and try to make it a little interesting to grab the readers attention. We think one of our latest posts has a fairly strong title “Why We Love McDonalds in France” Not many people love McDonalds, so it grabs the readers attention. Why would anyone admit to loving McDonalds, and it is very clear about what and where we are writing about: France and McDonalds.

But we still need a lot of work.

So What Makes a good Title?

I have been doing some research.

It is my new mission to try to grab the readers attention while staying relevant to the content.

Keep it simple – people want to know what they are reading about. If you are writing about Yangon, Burma put that in the title.

Stay on topic – There is nothing worse than having a title spark my interest and then when I go to the piece it isn’t about the topic at all. You may think it is clever and funny, but it still has to be about the subject you are writing about.

Ask a Question – Bring the reader in by asking a question.  Has something funny happened to you on the road? Put it into your title with a question encouraging readers to leave their thoughts.  People will read it and say “I totally know how you feel!” and want to read more to see what happened.

WordPlay - This is where I struggle and it can be difficult coming up with a clever pun. I have seen some amazing headlines that use double meanings that are amusing and yet completely explain what the article is about.  I haven’t found any great wordplay headlines lately, If you know of any let us know!

This brings me to….

SEO Vs A Good Title – People worry about SEO when using wordplay or puns. People aren’t searching for clever headlines on the Internet, they are searching for information. But that doesn’t mean we should try to be clever once in a while.  Plus, we have just recently figured out  that you can have a fun headline and then in the “Title Tag” add the key words to fill out what the article is about. We wrote an article called “Increasing Traffic with Easy Tweaks” But in the Title Tag we wrote “increase traffic to your blog”  We made the title tag more search engine friendly, but still kept the actual title clear and concise as to what the article was about.

Numbers - Everyone loves a top 10 list.  I see them and click on the title. I know what I am getting and  I know how long I will be reading.  What are the top 10 things to do in Montreal?  What are the three best travel secrets of all time? Numbers catch a browsers attention.   I just read a great headline from Traveling Canucks called 10 Alternative Adventures in Australia. I want to read that and will once I finish this article.

Stay Positive – People are looking for help and advice when they search for things on the Internet.  I thought I was being clever when I wrote “10 Things we Hate About Travel” I remember thinking, oh people will want to read this and see what we could possibly hate.  While our regular readers read it and commented and initially it received a lot of traffic, it doesn’t receive much traffic because who looks up the key words Hate with Travel.  We don’t really hate much about travel, we talked more about what is difficult when travelling, what is upsetting when traveling and what irks us when traveling. I think that a more effective headline would have been “The Difficulties of Long Term Travel” or “10 Things we Struggle with when Travelling.” Hate is such a negative word. why do we want to be associated with that?

SEO Tips – We have also figured out recently that you should put the key words near the beginning of the Title. Put the idea of the article in the first two words of the article.  If you are writing about a photography tour in India make sure those are the keywords you put at the front.  Don’t put the useless words first nobody is going to care about Dave and Deb’s Cool Photography Tour in India, they will be searching Photo-Tours-India.  A good one I read in my RSS feed today was Swimming with Sharks in St. Maarten at GoNomad, Anything for a Story. It gets to the point quickly, but adds humour at the end.  People won’t be looking up Anything for the Story online, they will be searching for swimming with sharks.  but Anything for the Story adds another element to the piece.

Do you have any tips for writing a great headline?  We would love to hear your advice. How do you come up with clever puns, clear and concise words or eye catching headlines?

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26 Comments

  1. Adam

    Ahhhh, I HATE writing titles and am terrible at it as well. Either it’s too short and boring or it’s a paragraph long and just too long-winded. I am the same in that it’s the last thing I think of, and I usually come up with something terrible that I just don’t like. You give some great tips in here, and I am going to have to implement some of them in the future.
    .-= Adam´s last blog ..At this time last year… =-.

    1. davendeb

      Glad to hear we are not alone! This was a good exercise for us too. we haven’t been able to write headlines in the past and to be able put all of our ideas and tips onto one page helps us to focus on what we need to think about when we write our next title. What I really want to improve upon is being clever. I am just not clever:)

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      1. davendeb

        Thanks for the feedback. It has been a long process, but I think we have come up with something we like finally. I am sure we will change it at some point though:)

  3. Gillian

    Thanks for the tips. I need to work on SEO optimizing my titles. I usually go for witty and fun and need to think more about SEO and practicality too. Hopefully I can find a balance as I don’t want it to all become ‘drone like’. Cheers!

  4. Arun

    I tend to keep the headlines functional, not sure if it is always a good thing. As you mention, it works good for search engines, but may not exactly go well with readers. But I completely avoid witty titles with double meaning because I prefer that the reader understand what the post is all about without having to checkout the content.

    But to catch the attention of the reader soon after he reads the headline, I sometimes try to make the first paragraph of the post as catchy as possible. It will be just one or two sentences, highlighting what is really nice about the post. Like ‘I went for my first diving lesson hoping to figure how to breathe under the water. But the 256K colour drama under the sea, the vibrant corals and the schools of fish almost made me forget to breathe!’ That should hopefully get the reader want to continue to the next paragraph!
    .-= Arun´s last blog ..The Days of Travelling =-.

    1. Arun

      ..and forgot to mention, you guys have an awesome blog on travel and blogging tips. Shall be coming back here to see more posts often. :)

    2. davendeb

      That is excellent advice Arun thanks. I am happy to hear that people don’t worry too much about catchy titles because we can never come up with any ideas for one, so it makes things easier for us:-) Great point about making the first paragraph catchy. That is important for sure!

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  6. Corinne @ Gourmantic

    SEO is the evil of creative writing. My early posts had witty titles and once I figured didn’t help SEO at all, I went back and made changes through the SEO plugin. Now I just write functional (and boring) titles but they’re concise and to the point (such as the one below).

    Staying positive all the time is too PC and begins to feel contrived. I’d more likely to click to read about what you ‘hate’ instead of what you ‘found a challenge’. I was always drawn to your passion and energy, so why mute it. I believe we’re slowly losing our freedom of expression by following too many rules and colouring the world in grey.

    My 2 cents :)
    .-= Corinne @ Gourmantic´s last blog ..The Ugly Side of Venice =-.

    1. davendeb

      I don’t like the word hate. I still like writing my opinions and the truth about travelling, but i don’t think that I should write a negative title just to grab peoples attention. Besides, it will only have readers for the initial posting and once it needs the help of searches it will not be seen again. I really loved my piece “What we hate about travel” but it doesn’t get a lot of organic traffic through search engines anymore. A lot of people read it when we first wrote the piece but it has been lost in cyberspace. Unless someone is searching for hate and travel together; and really why would someone put the two into the same sentence. People don’t look up negative pieces on the Internet, they look for help and advice. A more helpful title will find a larger audience. And if you look through our blog you will see that we are definitely not too PC, we tell the truth about our experiences.

  7. Audrey

    Titles can really make or break a piece – for better or for worse. There are some pieces from the past that I love, but realize that the titles limit them in terms of Retweets and postings. oh well. Live and learn :) But, I’m fortunate that Dan is good at titles, not necessarily of the SEO-friendly sort, but of the fun sort.
    .-= Audrey´s last blog ..Eat Your Heart Out- Tuscany! =-.

    1. davendeb

      Your titles are always awesome. You popped into my mind when I started thinking about the piece. I remember while we were travelling India reading your eye catching posts. But you are so right, I is the titles that are short and too the point that have longevity. It seems that Google uses that title as a large factor in SEO. I have so much to learn when it comes to putting up titles. I even struggled with this one and look how uninteresting it is:)

  8. Michael Hodson

    great tips – I am really trying to increase my SEO knowledge. I get almost zero traffic from search engines. Then again, the site isn’t that old, so hoping that some of the stuff just hasn’t registered yet.

    Hey ya’ll. Doing a StumbleUpon post this weekend. Mentioned your emails to me about helping sort me through the basics. Hope that is ok.
    .-= Michael Hodson´s last blog ..Photo Journal- Barichara and Guane- Colombia =-.

  9. Jools Stone

    It’s a tricky one isn’t it? getting that balance right between something eye catching/attention grabbing and something sensible using those keywords. I tend to veer towards something a bit verbally playful, probably not doing myself many SEO favours that way. I think I’m getting gradually better at it though. My last one (below) seems to have attracted a bit of search traffic. Funny thing is lots of people have been searching with Montreal and the day’s date, so they probably aren’t getting exactly what they came for. Well, it’s not worth worrying about I suppose, you can only second guess these things so much.
    I actually think negative titles in travel blogs are good as they grab attention. After all, you expect travellers to enthuse about their experiences so I am probably more likely to read something about the worse places to go or things you hate about travelling, anything really which turns things on its head a bit, but maybe that’s just me!
    .-= Jools Stone´s last blog ..45 things to do in Montreal before you’re dead =-.

  10. Anil

    I almost always write my headline before ever starting a post. I figure if I can’t tell myself what I’m going to write before I do, it may come across that way to potential readers when they see the headline. It helps to organize my thoughts and makes the headlines to the point (or at least I try). That said, every headline doesn’t have to be perfect or include the right keywords – some titles just work, keywords or not :)

    1. davendeb

      You are one of the smart ones Anil. I have to start thinking about the headline before the article. I always think about what I want to write about, but have no idea what to title it. I think it is the most important part of the piece, so we should all follow your example and write the headline first, not last.

  11. Matt | YearAroundTheWorld

    I’m trying to improve my titles too. SEO tweaked titles are important, but I think it’s good to have a mix. Some funny and confusing ones thrown in as well.

    Too many “Top 10″ type posts look cheesy to me when looking at the overall feel of a blog. Sure it might catch my attention once, but if I see them all the time from the same blog, I quickly get desensitized.
    .-= Matt | YearAroundTheWorld´s last blog ..VIDEO- Sea Monster Attack! =-.

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  13. Trisha Miller

    Wow – great post! I totally love that you guys really study and work at making improvements and that you share what you learn with your readers – bravo!

    I also agree with Corinne – as you say, title should ‘grab’ a reader’s attention, and the word “hate” as you used it is perfect – your regular readers might think “what could they possibly hate?” and that draws them in, but even folks who love travel might think that they’re missing something important (and even hate a few things themselves, after all, traveling isn’t all rainbows and unicorns) and that draws them in to – no one wants to feel like they’re missing something.

    Sometimes you have to use the negative, things that all of us feel or fear at one time or another, to entice readers, so don’t be afraid to use that.
    .-= Trisha Miller´s last blog ..QA: Why Am I Not Getting Invited on Press Trips =-.

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