How to Write Irresistibly Awesome Titles Without Burning Your Users

Having a catchy, interesting title can be a challenge for many publishers. But it is a key factor in attracting readers and marketing your content whether it is an article, book, video, picture, or graphic. The title is the first thing users see and without a doubt, it can play a big role in the content’s success and sharability.

But the need to make a splash and grab visitors can get in the way of what is actually in the content. Sometimes it is just getting ahead of the story (i.e. “Dewey Defeats Truman!”) but more often than not, it is stretching what is in the content for the sake of a compelling title.

Know What is Going Too Far


There was a recent MSN.com headline that caught my eye “Ex-GSA Head Sorry For Vegas Spending Spree”.

My first thought when I read this was that this government official threw a wild Vegas party or perhaps some incredibly lavish shopping. This was not the case. I clicked on the article and found out that while the agency did spend $823,000 in Vegas, it was for a conference. While this it is a lot of money, it is not the wild night in Vegas I envisioned learning about when I read the title.

As a user, this let me down. While it’s nice to know that government agencies are spending lavishly at conferences, the article did not meet my expectations and I felt deceived. I get that there is an obvious need to attract visitors, but this should not come at the expense of misleading the user.

Be Original With Your Titles

In the SEO and publishing worlds a whole, the emphasis on title is huge. Many writers and editors spend hours just brainstorming on titles. Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of a lot of the articles I see written with annoying titles. Perhaps too many people have taken the SEOMoz article “Are Your Titles Irresistibly Click Worthy?!” to heart. On this note, I enjoyed Bill Sebald’s recent post on Green Lane SEO entitled “Top 10 Lists Must Die”.

When the movie Jon Carter debuted at bombed at the box office, I was waiting for a YouMoz post with a title like “How to Avoid the Jon Carter of SEO Clients”.

Another SEO Example


I have huge respect for Jon Cooper. I think he’s one of the better SEO bloggers around, but even he is not immune from the overly catchy, misleading title, in my humble opinion. Case in point, Jon had a recent YouMoz post entitled “5 Pro Link Building Tips to Improve Scalable Link Building”.

I had high hopes for this article. First it had two words I find interesting “pro” (I always want to learn from the pros) and “scalable” (I’m always looking for tips to build quality links at a more rapid and efficient pace). Plus, I think Jon’s more than 12,000+ word post on his PointBlank SEO blog “Link Building Strategies“ is the single best article I’ve read on practical, actionable link building.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the article failed on the “scalable” part of its title and I felt shortchanged. While it provided some useful tips to collate and qualify link targets, it did not meet my expectation of a quicker way to build links. One of the comments in the article from “oli4UK” echoed my sentiments, “Some good advice on prospecting, but not so much on scalability.”

Jon responded to this comment by making the point “But scaling is all about being able to do the process a lot of times..” Why not just title the article “5 Pro Tips to Qualify Link Prospects”. That would not have been as buzz-worthy but it would have been more honest, met my expectations and I wouldn’t have felt mislead. This may be just technicalities but I do think meeting user expectations is very important.

You Can Be Catchy, but Don’t Misrepresent

There is an obvious need to grab people’s attention. We all want our content to go viral and make as big an impact as possible. But misleading your users (even if it is just perceived) is a huge negative. Even if there was no malicious intent behind it, it can really turn users off.

Titles and headlines should be interesting and worthy of attention. Just don’t create an expectation that isn’t going to be met.

Author: +Jason Nelson. You can follow Jason on Twitter at @AscentInternet.

What are your thoughts? Please leave your comments below.

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7 Responses to How to Write Irresistibly Awesome Titles Without Burning Your Users

  1. Jon Cooper says:

    Great post Jason!

    Yeah, I completely agree. The title was misleading. If it was on my blog and not the Moz blog, I would’ve changed it immediately after I realized Scalability wasn’t the best descriptor – honest mistake on my part. I too get pretty annoyed with misleading titles, and more importantly, people taking the “irresistibly awesome titles” strategy so far as to decrease user experience (that’s why for the most part I try & make sure the titles are accurate; it might decrease clicks, but it’ll definitely increase user satisfaction for those who visit, and those are the people that matter).

    Thanks for the links Jason, and overall, great post!!

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for dropping by Jon. I appreciate the feedback and honesty.

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