I came up with this topic when helping someone with their book idea recently. I just finished writing one of my own, so I had lots of thoughts to share. The thing with books and blog posts is that they are one and the same, except that books tend to be a lot longer than most posts.
The book title he told me sounded a bit negative, so I told him that something more positive might sell more books. We’ll analyze his book title later.
Titles are important!
There are too many blog posts for one person to read each day. A reader has to make decisions about which posts to read and which posts to skip. Potential readers will generally use the post title to decide whether or not to read the post.
A search engine user will often see dozens, if not thousands of results for their query. They need to use the title and to a lesser extent the description to decide whether to click on your link and get to your blog.
Google looks at post titles to help determine what information your post might contain.
You write a post or book to sell it
Why do you write posts? Why would you write a book? In most cases writers want to sell their material. This doesn’t just mean selling for money, writers want to be read and get reactions. If I write a blog post and it gets linked by 50 different sites and gets 100 comments, then I would be very pleased and that would be payment enough. Money is also another acceptable form of payment. 🙂
If potential readers decide not to read your post, you haven’t sold anything and won’t benefit at all. I don’t really like the idea that most readers will decide whether or not to read my post based on the title, but that is just the way it is.
Try to align yourself with the potential reader
It’s nice to think that we can change the world with each blog post we write – if we have a bad experience, maybe writing a post will help discourage others from making the same mistake?
Fat chance. The reality is that if someone is looking for information on a topic, they have already decided on a plan and are just looking for details. You might think that trying to warn people of the perils of credit cards might be doing them a favor. You might even be right. However, most people who are searching for credit card information have already decided to get a new card and just want information about which card is best for them. You can try to put up roadblocks but those potential readers will either never see your post or will just ignore it if it comes up in the search engine results page.
Give readers what they want
If you want to warn people about something, align your post topic with what they are looking for. Give them the credit card information they are looking for (and affiliate signup links of course) and give your warnings as well. Those warnings might not be heeded, but at least they will get read.
It’s easier to sell useful information than a rant
People want to read posts that will either entertain them (which won’t make you any money) or provide them with useful information. The problem is sometimes writers will hide useful information inside a negative, ranty post (sorry Evan, your post was just too perfect). For example a post entitled “I hate [big American cable company]” might be full of great ideas on how to save money on cable bills and tips on how to deal effectively with customer service representatives. But most readers will assume this post is simply a rant from a disgruntled customer or ex-employee. Rants have very little value other than as a warning not to use that company. Given that the best companies still make mistakes once in a while, seeing the occasional criticism of that company might not mean much.
If I’m looking for an entertaining article, then I might check out that rant. If I’m looking for useful information, then I’m skipping it.
A more useful title?
- How I saved 20% on my [company name] cable bill with one phone call. Write about comparing packages, picking an appropriate package, threatening to walk etc.
- Why I switched from [company name 1] to [company name 2]. The emphasis on this article should be the good things about company 2, rather than the bad things about company 1.
- How I solved [problem] with [company name]. Was it an over-billing problem that got you angry? Did you get it resolved eventually? Describe how you got it fixed – that might be of use to people in the same situation.
You can still include the negative stuff in the post
If your post and title contains useful information and is desirable to readers, then they will read your post. You can still include all the gory details of your bad encounter with company X if you want to. Maybe add it to the end of the post and keep it short.
Pick a topic, write a useful sounding title and then write the post
If you write the post first, your title will be constrained by the content. If the post is one long rant about your local grocery store, you can’t then title it “10 tips to save money on your grocery bill“.
The title helps sell your post. The title has to accurately describe the contents.
- Figure out the basic topic first.
- Come up with the post title.
- Write the content to match the title.
Let’s look at the book example
My friend wants to call his book “Things about the used car industry nobody will tell you”. This friend is extremely knowledgeable about that industry and I’m sure the book would be both entertaining and useful. The plan is to talk about all the bad things and then suggest solutions to those problems. The book will contain a lot of “how to” information. Sounds great except that someone reading that title might think the following:
- Book will contain all negative material. I want to buy a used car and I want to read about how to save money, not just hear about the problems.
- Book sounds like it was written by a disgruntled ex-employee. Will they be constantly whining about their personal “mistreatment” in that industry? This will provide no value to me at all.
What is a more positive and useful sounding title?
- The complete guide to buying a used car – Step by step guide to successfully buying a great car at a great price.
I’m sure there are many other great titles as well. Of course this book will still discuss negative topics like slimy salesmen, but that will be in the book – not in the title.
How about a post example?
The post is about Canadian dividend stocks (obviously) and provides information about various dividend stocks, as well as sources of information on how to get started with these stocks. It occurred to me as I wrote this post, that the title could be improved.
At the time of writing the title is made up of the keywords “Canadian dividend stocks”. It’s accurate and not a bad title. However, it is a bit ambiguous – what information does it contain? A list of stocks? Recent prices for stocks? Something else?
Now I’m thinking that the title should be a bit more specific and describe the content a bit more. This particular post is very good and contains a lot of useful information so having a neutral title might be underselling it a bit.
More useful titles:
- How to start investing in Canadian Dividend Stocks
- How to invest in Canadian Dividend Stocks
- Information about Canadian Dividend Stocks
Can you think of any others? Leave your suggestions in the comments and I might use it!
- The post title sells the post and helps determine if it will be read.
- Make your post titles and content useful. Can the reader take something from the article and actually put it to use in their own lives?
- Make the title match the post content.
- Don’t forget about formatting the title for SEO.