How To Write A Good Blog Post Title

And why most of the things you think matter actually don’t

Kris Gage
Kris Gage
Nov 20, 2018 · 10 min read

Stop following bad “How To” guides

artist Taylor White

Who cares about titles?

You, probably. Most writers think they should. And I get why:

So, titles matter. But: we care about — and are looking at — irrelevant things.


WE’RE LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS ALL WRONG

I’m amazed at how many people slap together averages of top posts and call it “analysis,” actually thinking this is sufficient, let alone “significant” on any intelligent level.

First: top post “averages” say about them, but nothing about how they’re than the low performers.

Without comparing, you can’t know anything significant. You have to look at for any kind of meaningful insight.

Second: averages can mean Just because you calculate an average (and god, do we freaking to…) doesn’t mean it matters.

I could tell you the average name length of best-selling authors or athletes, but while that may be interesting, it‘s not what makes them good.

Quit with the “averages.” They’re fun, but illogical.


STATISTICAL ANALYSIS

I ran statistical correlation tests on the titles of my 470+ posts to date. (Feel free to skip this part if you don’t care about the details.)

Model used: Pearson correlation coefficient

It measures the linear correlation and covariance between two variables, and yields a value between +1 and −1.

  • A score of ±1 means total correlation (direct or inverse)
  • A score of 0 means there is no correlation

The closer to ±1, the more correlated. The closer to 0, the less.


I ran the coefficient between “Reads” and “Views” (obviously very correlated)… and, yeah, it came out to 0.977 (0.0.), i.e., “fully correlated.”

Which, duh, makes sense. “Reads:Views” is our ( control.

represents “the probability of the significance” of results.

a small (often ≤0.05) indicates strong evidence against the null hypothesis, so it’s rejected. A large (>0.05) indicates weak evidence against the null hypothesis, so it’s rejected.

<0.05 = the PCC “matters” / >0.05 = it may not

YMMV on PCC and p-values, but probably not much.

Dependent Variable (y): “Views

Medium reports stats on “Views,” “Reads,” and “Fans.” Reads and Fans are influenced by the piece itself (content), but “Views” is more purely influenced by the title (in addition to some other factors like image, writer reputation, shares, etc., but let’s just stay focused on title for now, ?) Of the 3 stats, “Views” is the “cleanest” for analyzing title effectiveness.

Independent Variables (x): [The Bullshit Tips People Mention]

I ran analysis on several things. Let’s walk through these one by one…


PART I — WHAT PEOPLE THINK MATTERS

Hint: a lot of shit that actually doesn’t.

Read most any article on “HoW tO wRiTe A gOoD bLoG tItLe” and it’ll include a lot of the same HoT tIpS.

But what ACTUALLY matters? Almost none of them.

1. TITLE LENGTH

What they say: “6–7 words!”
What I found:
Pearson 0.116, 0.012 — NOT CORRELATED

People love to point out:

Which begs the question:

Because guess what: it’s 6–7. Making this “average” totally useless.

My top 10 posts (by views) ranged in title length from 4 words (“Good Love Is Boring”) to 12 words (“8 Things I Learned Reading 50 Books A Year For 7 Years”), and of all 470+, I had titles as short 2 and as long as 16.

Maybe longer titles “don’t get read,” or get cut off in search results/social media/feeds, but

2. “HOW TO,” “WHY,” etc. (i.e., “interrogative words”)

What “they” say: “use them!”
What I found: Pearson 0.041, 0.374 — NOT CORRELATED

Only 2 of my top 10 posts (by views) had “interrogative” words in the title — “How to *really* know you’re in love” and “How To Get Over Someone You Never Dated.” There were only 6 in the top 20, and 124 (26%) total.

3. NUMBERS! (“TOP TEN,” etc.)

What “they” say: “use them!”
What I found: Pearson 0.083, 0.071 — NOT CORRELATED.

Only 2 of my top 10 posts (by views) had numbers in the title — “8 Things I Learned Reading 50 Books A Year For 7 Years,” and “The Only 3 Things I Need In A Partner.” There were 3 in the top 20, and

4. ADJECTIVES

What “they” say: “use them!”
What I found: Pearson: -0.009, 0.845 — NOT CORRELATED

Only 2 of my top 10 posts (by views) had adjectives in the title —“The Most Important Thing In A Relationship,” and “Good love is ‘boring.’” There were 6 in the top 20, and 155 (33%) total.

Note: people don’t internalize adjectives as “Adjectives.” For example, we read “happy” the same as “happiness,” even though one’s an adjective and the other a noun. It’s not about “the part of speech;” it’s about .

5. Oh, wait — we meant “POWER” WORDS!

What “they” say: “use them!”
What I found: What the hell as a “power word?” I mean, I get the concept, but what and what is included?

Answer: knows. Bc it’s a bogus, deliberately-ambiguous phrase meant to stand for “anything that elicits emotion!” It means .

As such, I couldn’t use PCC here. But I run both my and ten titles through CoSchedule’s “headline analyzer,” which gives a “percent” score for “power” words (among others.)

CoSchedule’s analyzer gave SIX of my a score of “0%” on “power words,” and the average across all ten was 11%. (And my ten got the same score.)

Yet people love emphasizing “power words.” Ryan McCready wrote,

This doesn’t mean the “recommends” are actually to them.

i.e., how many articles have “power” words?? (Answer: )

6. ALLITERATION

e.g., “Ways In Which We Warp Attraction”

What “they” say: “use it!”
What I found: Pearson: -0.023, 0.703 — NOT CORRELATED

(But also? Dawg, …)

7. PLAY ON WORDS AND DOUBLE MEANINGS

What “they” say: “use it!”
What I found: I doubt I do this enough to even provide an accurate data set.

(That’s my excuse. Let’s move on.)

8. ACTIVE VOICE

e.g., “you achieve success” vs “the success achieved by you”

What “they” say: “use it!”
What I found: I didn’t analyze this. This is “Writing 101.”

Unless you’re writing “at arm’s length,” or about some kind of cutesy story in which the object is the subject (e.g., “Mr. Christmas Cookie Tin sure was getting tired of being felt up by grandma!”), then active voice is typically what you use (tho that’s auxiliary/passive. bc lol, curveballs!)

9. TITLE CASE (i.e., “In This Way” vs “In this way”)

My old pieces use sentence case, but now most all my pieces use title.

The only reason I changed it: Medium publications did. So I followed suit just to save them the edit (and bc I figured they’d done their homework.) That’s it.

Others have mixed perspectives,

ALRIGHTY, GUY. But these “findings” are pretty wobbly, and it doesn’t mean the “performance” was actually to the “title case.”

10. MEDIUM PUBLICATIONS

Not a “title” tip, but mentioned a lot. So…

What “they” say: “use them!”
What I found: Pearson: 0.115, 0.845 — NOT CORRELATED

Sorry, Dan Moore! ❤

Four of my top 10 posts (by views) ran in publications — “How To Get Over Someone You Never Dated,” “Read This If You Think You’re An INFJ,” “Does Marriage Even Make Sense Anymore?” and “Good love is ‘boring.’” Of all 470+, 90 (~19%) were in Medium publications.

I didn’t publish in a Medium publication until my 58th post — “Why being broken up with by my boyfriend was so very traumatic and difficult for me,” (which is well beyond the recommended 6–7 words, yet was picked up by The Hit Job anyway.)

Pretty much any time a publication requests a piece (with the exception of one who spammed me and got their butts blacklisted), I submit. My percentage is “low” not because I have some Brilliant Strategy or Moral Issue, but rather because I never really care one way or the other. I’m just doin’ me.

You do you, boo boo. I know publications have been amazing for a lot of writers, not just for readership but connections. (I certainly count Dan Moore as a comrade.) Follow your own north star.


PART II — OTHER THINGS I ANALYZED

Even though they weren’t on any “hot tips” lists.

1. PROFANITY

Because I use it.

What “they” say: (they don’t.)
What I found: Pearson: 0.029, 0.529 — NOT CORRELATED

NONE of my top 10 posts (by views) had profanity in the title.
NONE of the top 20 did, either.
Only 22 (<5%) do.

2. THE WORD “LOVE”

Why? Because, again, I write about it.

What “they” say: (they don’t.)
What I found: Pearson: 0.089 — NOT CORRELATED

Two of my top 10 posts (by views) had “love” in the title — “How to *really* know you’re in love” and “Good love is ‘boring.’” 95 (19%) total also did.

3. POINT OF VIEW (FIRST, SECOND, THIRD)

What “they” say: (they don’t.)
What I found: NOT CORRELATED

Pearson correlation coefficients:
You / Your / Yours: 0.099
Me / My / Mine / I: -0.004
Our / We / Ours / Us: 0.001


PART III — WHAT *ACTUALLY* MATTERS

a.) Title success is not black and white

This is the tongue-in-cheek point of (and the reason I spent literally hours upon hours running analysis on it all.)

Yes, title matters, but like good posts,

So stop forcing arbitrary “BeSt PrAcTiCeS” where

b.) What makes a good title, then?

It’s not the shit people think.

What matters is simple. A good title…

  • Is about something people care about —it evokes emotion
  • Suggests / promises that you will say something
  • That’s it.

Want examples?

No problem! Here are my top ten titles:

And, because I love you guys, HERE ARE MY BOTTOM TEN, too!

SEE THE DIFFERENCE??

Here, I’ll help…

  1. The top posts deal with Big Topics people actually care about. (The worst titles address… well, we’re not even on some. But certainly not The Big Topics. There is farless implicit emotion.)
  2. The top posts suggest that I will share something new or provide an answer on this Big Topic. (The bottom posts… make no such promise.)

THE SUCCESS OF THESE POSTS HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH “TRICKS”

c.) The “Secret”

…to a good title is:

a.) The suggestion ()of…
b.) Somethingor onc.)

(And the secret to a good ? on b while honoring c.)

The “Secret” is:

emotion and language — the beauty of implicit feelings, needs, values, fears conveyed in the intricacies of our communication — not black and white rules…

“How to” or “numbers” or is just the way in which you — human to human.

So stop trying to strip the emotion and humanness out of something to get to “the secrets” — esp. while actually still expecting readers to feel emotion on the other end!

Skeptical?

I know some people will go on swearing these things matter. (Some have even run their own stats.) That’s fine.

But I hope that I’ve convinced at least some of you:

Not like some people act like it does.

The only thing that matters is writing about a subject people care about, and writing a title that suggests you’re giving them something of value.

(Well, and write about something that not just the reader you feel strongly about.)


“WAIT! WHAT ABOUT TIPS FOR THE REST OF A POST THO?!!!”

Wow. You sure are being a greedy little pumpkin, aren’t you?

We’ll see. Maybe a future piece.


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