How To: Writing Titles that Stick Like Gooey Marshmallows

This post was guest blogged by Brian Zafron of I Eat Web 2.0 for Breakfast.

I’ve been writing kick-ass titles since I was in kindergarten. When my childhood classmates were trying to package their feel-good, autobiographic poems with cute catchphrases like “My life is great” and “Thanks Mom and Dad,” I was churning out headlines that broke ground and established myself as a serious writer: “A Six Year Old’s Guide to Surviving a Suburban Wasteland,” “Did You Know Our Teacher Picks Her Nose?,” and a personal favorite, “Top 10 Ways To Tell If Your Mom’s A Lesbian.”

My sense for titular excellence – that’s right Mr. Giggles, I said “titular” – has only strengthened throughout the years, to a point where I can recognize a dud from a winner without a moment’s hesitation. This distinction not only indicates which articles/stories/etc. will be sticky, but it reflects, almost 100% of the time, on the quality of the content itself.

The importance of engaging yet well-written topics is mammoth in today’s web 2.0 – competition amongst bloggers is fierce and margin for error is slim.

E.B. White, famed novelist (“Charlotte’s Web”) and literary essayist (“The Elements of Style”), once said: “I don’t know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens.” Writing can obviously be a pain in the ass, as Mr. White illustrates, but getting your writing into a reader’s hands is even more difficult. Mastering titular excellence is the first step. Here are some key points:

Don’t Be a Douchebag

A great title grabs and informs the reader, but it doesn’t mislead him/her. You will not gain any ground – just the opposite actually – by misrepresenting yourself or your content. If you or your content sucks, in other words, the title is not your savior. Along these lines, don’t try to write outside yourself – speak plainly, with a vocabulary that’s comfortable and communicable.

Be a Douchebag

That’s right. Sometimes it’s totally OK to be a douchebag, although your douchebaggery must be handled with tact. A title can give an article a kick in the pants that won’t ring superficial or misleading to your reader. This depends upon a) the gap between the title and the actual content and b) the stupidity of your niche demographic. These factors are very much co-dependent.

Front Load Key Words

Place the majority of your key words to the front. Titles are inherently less dynamic when their point, their down and dirty meat, is diffused throughout a long chain of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Front loading will also help with SEO. Key words that are split far apart are not considered as related.

Additionally, make sure to keep your titles short. An exception is when a title’s long-windedness is used for humorous ends, such as: “Why Venture Capitalists Are So Full of “It,” And By “It” I Mean Horse Maneure.

Use Good Grammar

Who the hell wants to waste their time with an article that’s filed under a non-grammatical title? Although many people are TV-educated and have no grasp of the simplest grammatical tenets, most people – OK, maybe not even most people, but ME for one – can’t stand inaccurate pluralizing, a misplaced contraction, or infantile punctuation. The world has enough wangfaces disseminating their garbage, so if you can’t tell the difference between “it’s” and “its,” keep your garbage inside your home.

Use Proven Bait

Below are a few techniques that people on social news sites routinely swallow without even checking the expiration date. And believe me, I would be cool if they expired a long time ago.

  • The list. You can’t go wrong. Lists are simple, so are people. It makes sense. Think: 10 Things I hate about Christmas. 20 Way to Break Up With Your Co-Worker.
  • How To Guide. Teach the ways of world. Or just the ways around a kitchen. Whatever. Just teach. Think: How to Kill A Small Animal with a Slingshot. How to make a stripper your girlfriend.
  • Secrets. People love the inside scoop. If you can give it to them, you’re golden. Think: The secrets of zero down investing. The truth about Lindsay Lohan’s shaved vajayjay.
  • Fear Factor. Make people believe they are screwed if they don’t read your article. Think: The fallacy behind oral contraceptives. Is your child is so stupid he might have a learning disability?

When all else fails, just follow your heart and write whatever the hell you want. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get lucky. You wouldn’t be the first.