Writing Effective Titles for Your Blog Entries

Women of WiFi, after CaillebotteHow do you write a title that makes people want to read your text? That was one of the major lessons of Chris Pirillo University (CPU): Writing for Google, an online seminar I attended last month. The on-demand version of the webinar is now available for rental on YouTube.

The session, led by Jake Ludington, covered writing titles, choosing keywords, using links, naming files, and including rich media—all the things that Google and other search engines pay attention to when they rank web pages. It’s what social media experts and marketing folks call Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

My blogs have a very specific audience of teachers and educators, so I’ve never thought much about SEO. I don’t write entries that the general person using Google or Bing is going to look for. Jake’s explanations of SEO made me realize, however, that I’ve been making a mistake by not paying more attention to my titles and the details in my posts.

I quickly realized was that I hadn’t been thinking about audience and purpose in the right ways when I was writing titles for my blog entries. I had fallen into the habit of using either titles that would fit a scholarly article or titles that relied on a pun or clever thinking to reveal their topic. Let me show you some examples, and point out what’s wrong with them:

  • Trying Out Some Tasty Blackbird Pie relies on an analogy related to the WordPress plug-in name. If you didn’t know Blackbird Pie was a plug-in, you’d have no idea what that post was about. I should have included keywords like WordPress and Twitter in that title.
  • Warning: Your Usage May Vary takes its title from an image in the blog post. The post is about usage and style, in particular as it relates to dialects and regional variation. Even though the title includes the word usage, I bet no one realizes what the entry is about. I should have been more descriptive instead of hoping the play on words would draw in readers.
  • No Yelling in the Food Court summarizes the underlying lesson of the classroom activity described in the post. Readers have no way of knowing, though, that the activity is a way to talk about audience and voice. Heck, they have no way of knowing the entry is about a classroom activity at all, and no teacher in the world who is looking for a fresh way to talk about audience is going to search for the phrase “no yelling in the food court.” I should have used a title that included the keywords and described the post better.
  • 100 Sticky Notes, or The Simple Way to Move from Observations to Composing is more like a title for a conference presentation than a blog entry. It’s far too long and the first part (“100 Sticky Notes”) doesn’t give a reader any idea what the entry is about. Even if you read all the way to the end of the title, it’s not going to be obvious that the entry is about a reader-response strategy. Using the words “Move from Observations to Composing” was a good start, but I needed to drop the cute stuff up front and be more specific about the point of the piece.

I liked all those titles when I wrote them, but I wonder now if I would have brought in more readers if I had used better titles. The webinar made me realize that good titles applied to far more than SEO. Certainly I want people to find my posts when they search for writing activities using Google, but writing effective titles for my blog entries also matters to RSS feeds, the Tweets I send out, and other ways that I spread the word about my work.

A well-written title makes a difference everywhere. How much of a difference? How about roughly 33% more visits? In the week before I attended the session on Writing for Google, my highest days in Google Analytics showed 86 and 96 visits.

After I attended the session and applied what I heard, my two highest days were 122 and 132 visits—and that’s all in the days before Thanksgiving. Having more teachers visit my site in the days before Thanksgiving is fairly unheard of. Most people are turning their computers off and forgetting about teaching at that point.

With that response to the change I made, I’m sold. Attending Chris Pirillo University (CPU): Writing for Google helped me write more effective titles (and posts), and I learned important information that I can pass along to students I work with. Who knew that a couple of hours could make such a difference?

If you want to learn more about writing effective titles for your blog posts, take a look at How to Make Money With Google on Chris Pirillo’s blog.


[Image: Women of WiFi, after Caillebotte by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com, on Flickr]

Is Twitter Classroom Worthy?

Sending Twitter Message by Cell Phone Image by rockinfreeI have a confession to make. I spend more time sending out Twitter updates (commonly called tweets) than I do on email these days.

Why is it a confession? Twitter has gotten a bad reputation in some circles. The College Humor video Twitter in Real Life demonstrates the way many people perceive the world of Twitter—it’s all a bunch of random, mediocre comments about whatever the writer happens to be doing at the moment in time.

Just because you can use Twitter for random reports on your day, however, doesn’t meant that you have to use it that way. In fact, I’d argue that a lot of the updates on Twitter are anything but random and mediocre when they are read by the intended audience in the appropriate context.

Yep, it’s all about the rhetorical situation. There are lots of people using Twitter to publish status updates about projects, news, and their lives in ways that are anything but random. Take @BreakingNews for instance. All day long, every day, the editors post the latest news stories in 140 characters or less, often with a link to a page with more information.

Looking for a more local example? The town where I live posts regular updates about road construction, town planning, town council meetings, and special events as @Blacksburg_Gov. Virginia Tech, my local university, posts similar updates as @vt_edu and @vtnews.

But is Twitter classroom worthy? Obviously, you can send similar class information and news to students using Twitter, but is the social networking tool capable of more than simply class announcements? Absolutely.

If you’re unsure, think about Twitter as another of the many ways that students can publish their writing. Make it one of the tools in your arsenal, placing it alongside blog posts, Wikipedia updates, email messages, and web forum posts.

Now any one of those tools for publishing writing can be used in mediocre ways that are not worthy of classroom exploration. That’s where the teacher comes in. The teacher has to talk about the audience and purpose for the messages and help students find the most effective ways to communicate—whether students are using blogs, email messages or Twitter.

Now just how do you go about it? Come back later this week for tips on how to introduce Twitter and ways to use Twitter in the classroom.


[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by rockinfree]