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.


71 thoughts on “How To: Writing Titles that Stick Like Gooey Marshmallows”

  1. Smitty says:

    The good grammar point doesn’t apply to this headline?

    1. I think he wanted to excentuate the “ooo” in “Goey” :mrgreen:
      :mrgreen:

    2. Brian Zafron says:

      You make me smile. I like you Terra.

    3. Syed Balkhi says:

      i agree i dont think grammer is necessary to be a good blogger

      1. Chetan says:

        Yep i stated the same thing in one of the other posts.. That grammar isnt everything that you should think about. Topic has to be interesting 🙂

  2. Willy says:

    Proofread your title next time.
    😆

    1. Lewis Empire says:

      I was wondering if that was a play on words. It’s even more ironic since it’s a post about titles.

      The funny thing is, JohnChow.com will probably be ranked #1 for the term “Gooey Marshmallows” within a few days! Time to find an affiliate?

      1. Graham Lutz says:

        I like “How to Writing”

        1. dcr says:

          Would have worked better if there was a colon in the title: “How to Writing: Titles that Stick Like Gooey Marshmellows.”

          But, even that is questionable.

          1. dcr says:

            Okay. “How to: Writing Titles that Stick Like Gooey Marshmellows” would have worked.

      2. Brian Zafron says:

        Hello Boys and Girls!

        Thanks for checking out the article and jotting down your responses. I really appreciate your time.

        Now. Allow me to clarify this whole title controversy for the wang-faces in the audiences (ie Blogging Experiment). I didn’t write a polished, detailed article about writing titles and then accidentally screw up the title. In what kind of demented, far-fetched world do you reside? Is it full of other wang-faces with similar wang-face ideas? Do wang-faces regularly breed with each other and produce offspring with exponentially more wang-face perspectives and behaviors? Must all humor in this abundantly wang-face world be smothered with gobs and gobs of irony, or is only a dash of irony sometimes enough? I do not know the answers to these questions because I am not a wang-face myself, though on occasion, I do admit to “acting the fool,” or even being a complete douchebag. But, to be clear, douchebags aren’t always a negative, as I point out in my guest post.

        Perhaps some of you are wondering about the distinction between a “wang-face” and a “douchebag.” Well, a wang-face spends time writing destructive, unintentionally hilarious comments in the response of a popular blog- only to be ridiculed by fellow contributors. Wangfaces, as a general rule of thumb, grow goatees to make themselves look cooler and older (ie Blogging Experiment). In fact, however, these goatees usually resemble pubic hair and make the wang-face look like even more of a wangface – not a good thing. Douchebags, on the other end of the spectrum, write interesting content and typically grow moustaches – not because the moustache makes them look cool, but just the opposite: douchebags loves moustaches for their ability to increase douchebaggery (ie Tom Selleck, Alex Trebeck, Brian Zafron).

        In closing, the title was not a mistake, but apparently, the irony was not thick enough for the wang-face population to comprehend- so we changed it. Additionally, I would like to add that John Chow is indeed a genius, and any wang-face who says otherwise should shave his goatee and stop with the hating. Also, here’s a little tip on the house: if you think you’re cool because you put a “hot girl” in your avatar, chances are that a) you’re not cool and b) the girl’s not hot.

        And finally… before you respond to this lengthy and ridiculously bazaar comment with your own “clever remarks,” I urge you to think twice and say to yourself: “Wait. Am I wang-face?”

        As a follow-up, please check out my article “How Important is Kindness to Success?” at my blog, http://www.brianzafron.com. I am not going to link to it because I am tired, and I already regret spending so much time on this comment.

        1. Fastman says:

          Dear Mr. Zafron,
          If your original title was selected purposely then why would you fall to peer pressure and change it? Why go on insulting and attacking the audience about being a wang-face and deviating off to goatee’s and moustaches? Excuse me but I thought the article content was about writing titles that stick.

          John Chow, what an embarrassment for you to have someone guest blog on your site with such childish rhetoric

        2. This guy sure is a piece of shit. Or, to use his own words, a wang-face.

          It’s one thing to brag like an asshole, but quite another thing to brag like a bitch with an Alexa ranking of 781,444. Check his stats: http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details/brianzafron.com.

          He has had a surge of traffic starting about halfway through the month. Guess he thinks that being an arrogant bitch here and on his site will get him a ton of visitors who will want to stay after they see his unique content about how cool mustaches are. So unique.

          Look, Stephen A Smith’s blog get more traffic that yours (along with my blog), so you’re going to have to keep bragging about how good you are at writing titles, not how good you are at making money online or marketing.

          I’d love to email this comment to you–You practically beg for emails on your homepage–but, you didn’t even include an email address on your freakin contact page.

          1. Just to clarify, Stephen A Smith’s blog gets less traffic than my blog. I was just saying my blog gets more traffic than Brian’s, but I didn’t put it in the simplest terms.

        3. Dom says:

          “I didn’t write a polished, detailed article about writing titles and then accidentally screw up the title.”

          You’re quite right – you didn’t write anything of the sort. And now you’re just digging yourself a deeper hole.

      3. It’s currently ranked #5 in the Google rankings. 😉

  3. brian says:

    It’s one thing to brag about yourself if you’re a proven success in your field. Quite another to boast with no obvious expertise.
    “kick-ass” titles? please.
    This is a fluff piece. And a complete waste of my time.

  4. Teckwave says:

    Who the hell wants to waste their time with an article that’s filed under a non-grammatical title?

    LOL, Nice one Chow, you did that on purpose!

  5. Rebecca says:

    Top 3 Reasons Why I Hate Lists
    1) Enough already.
    Perhaps it is the enormous amount of reading I’ve been doing lately, or perhaps it was the RSS feed I just deleted from marketingprofs.com, but there is a proliferation of titles with the word “Top” combined with some number. Lists no longer stand out.
    2) “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
    Albert Einstein said this and I agree. Lists make some things too simple. “3 Simple Steps to Lifelong Happiness.” A more accurate title would be “An unending list of very difficult but rewarding steps to take in order to achieve some semblance of happiness during periods of your life.”
    3) I have no third reason. Two reasons are enough but it just didn’t sound right to have a list of 2 things. Sure, you can get away with “The One Thing…” and “Top 3” is okay, but just 2 doesn’t quite hold water. Too even, I suppose.

  6. Jake says:

    Stage6.com is being shut down because they say they don’t have the money to fund it anymore!!!! SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING! 😯 ❗

  7. Ebony says:

    I believe his title is fine.
    I think the “How-To” could be hyphenated, but you know, I did the same thing today with not hyphenated my kick-bum title about work-at-home scams today.

    Great writing, Brian.

    Funny.

    1. Oh, ok, well as long as you believe it then I suppose it makes up for the fact that it’s worded incorrectly. 🙄

  8. Money Blog says:

    very interesting john

    1. Syed Balkhi says:

      it wasn’t written by john

      1. Krsto says:

        :mrgreen:

        What an answer!

  9. RacerX says:

    I’ll give Brian the benefit of the doubt. He was either do a play on words, that didn’t quite work or an oops!
    The meat of the post was great newb advice though! In watching my Blog Rush it is always pulls them in!

    BTW Still time to sign-up for my RSS Email sign-up contest! You can win a great software piece!

  10. Terry Tay says:

    A mistake in the title of an article about writing good titles. Ooops :mrgreen: Or is that part of the sticky marshmallow that made me read the full article and break out the chocolate and graham to make smoores? Besides…Eye dew knot trussed my spell chequer two find awl my miss steaks.

    All kidding aside…The article definately points out some very good tips and will help everyone, myself included, write better content and titles.

    I find most of the time when I’m reading something, newspaper, magazine, articles on the web, etc., it’s usually the title that will draw me in.
    ~Terry

  11. Fastman says:

    The title is purposely wrong because hes being a douchebag

  12. natespost says:

    He may have done that for the search engines.

    1. Or because he’s a tool and didn’t bother to proof the post. 😆

  13. RacerX says:

    Yeah. I know what you mean.

  14. dcr says:

    Do long titles have to be humorous? I tend to like longish titles because they stand out. It seems most bloggers use shorter titles. I want something longer. I want to push WordPress to the limits of what it can handle! So far, it’s handled every long title I’ve thrown at it, but I will beat it one of these days.

    1. Brian Zafron says:

      Hey dcr-

      Long titles don’t necessarily have to be humorous. However, we are accustomed to short titles, especially on the Internet. And so, when we come across a title that deviates from the norm, we want to find an explanation for that deviation. In other words, we want to know why a short title wouldn’t suffice. The answer, often times, is that the title’s humor lies in the abnormal length.

      Shoot me any further questions at [email protected]

      Best,
      B

  15. I’m sorry but I just can’t take this post seriously. First of all, there’s the jacked up title that people have already mentioned. It doesn’t stop there though.

    Use Good Grammar
    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.

    This sentence should use the word “I” rather than “me” where you say “but ME for one.” If you’re going to write like an arrogant ass, at least make sure you don’t fall victim to the same problems you’re mocking other people for.
    Or, as you put it, “keep your garbage inside your home.” 🙄

    1. Ben,
      All of the mistakes you’re pointing out are actually Okay in Canada… 😈

      Cheers,
      Alex.

      1. “How to Writing” is correct in Canada? What the hell kind of English are they teaching up there? Me* think that they should be a bit more strict when it comes to grammar. 🙄

        * yes, I did that on purpose to illustrate the ridiculous idea that “ME for one” would be grammatically correct.

  16. Kacper says:

    I bet it is a small kind of provocation and as evidenced, it somehow works. It focuses some attention on it. But I’m affraid that it is slightly negative attention.

    1. dcr says:

      Negative attention is still attention.

  17. serge says:

    This works well in any industry. You, Chow, are genius… You make it work.

  18. Lee says:

    to blogging experiment… you would really do well to keep your angry spirit at home.
    as for the article, and mr. chow…..i’ll take his garbage any day…it’s much more refreshing and useful.

    1. You would really do well to be able to read well enough to notice the fact that this is a GUEST POST! 😛 Mr. Chow didn’t write this one, buddy.

  19. JoNathan says:

    Once again … a great post!!

  20. Colin Boyd says:

    Some nice tips, what do you think of David Ogilvy’s books on copy writing?

    1. Brian Zafron says:

      Negative, Ghost Rider. I basically learned everything I know from two books and two books alone: the Bible and the 25th Anniversary Penthouse Anthology.

  21. jhay says:

    There maybe be a typo in the title but hey, it got us talking about it right? 😆

  22. 20+ comments on a mistake John probably made on purpose to get people talking? I say “well done”!

  23. Mohammed says:

    hello , i’m new here

    but nice tips

  24. BizGiftGuru says:

    Looks like no response from the author yet … Maybe he is still thinking which one of all the explanations for the mistake he will take 🙂

  25. Ty Brown says:

    I love a paragraph about good grammar that includes the word ‘wangface’. Poetic.

  26. Ronald Su says:

    Now this is a good post! It grabs my attention from beginning to end.
    But please fix those grammar mistakes first. :mrgreen:

  27. Syed Balkhi says:

    this title will surely stick to me like goey mashmallows 😀

  28. deejay says:

    nice article john! 😎

  29. Mike Huang says:

    Wow! This is my read of the day 🙂 Keep up the good work!

    -Mike

  30. I really like the title it actually made me want to read more of the post.

  31. Simon Lau says:

    Title was good, content was mediocre

  32. I like the article until I read the writer’s response to the comments. While I am new to the blogging world, I think in order for you to be a successful blogger you have to have a thick skin. On one of my blogs “Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People”, one reader called cursed at me and called me a douchebag. I wanted to post his comments but I chose not to because my children read my blog. My point is if you put yourself out there as an expert, then you have to be expert enough to handle criticism gracefully.

  33. Good grammar, to some extent, plays an important role. 😀

  34. Robert says:

    Lists work great. Especially with social bookmarking sites like Digg, Reddit, and Stumble Upon.

    1. dcr says:

      So do photos of half-naked women, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to bring you the kind of quality traffic you need.

    2. TheQuickBuck says:

      These sites require different title tactics than typical blog posts, in my experience. There are also trends to which stories become popular, which should be considered when submitting.

  35. having a good title determins how your readers will approach and read your posts. its just like salesletter pages, the right title can mean the difference from someone not interested enough an leaving when you could have a reader who is interested enough to read it or even get their wallets out.

  36. Amazing post!!
    Long time since I smiled looking at a blog post.

  37. Zakman says:

    John,

    Cool ideas, John, but maybe you missed something there.
    ‘How To’ is great, but sometimes ‘How Not To’ can be greater.

    For instance, everyone is bored sick reading “How to Give Up Smoking in 10 Days” So how about “How Not to Gove Up Smoking in 10 Days”?

  38. Azmanar says:

    Hi,
    Brian is only human, like John Chow is. Mistakes do happen. So, even if Brian has a giga-sized ego ( :mrgreen: ), be forgiving is better for your soul.

    I like Brian’s idea of having provocative titles in BLOGS. Makes people remember longer. But I prefer having them positive and not insulting.

    Being provocative and positive at the same time is quite challenging. Any advice ?

  39. BillyWarhol says:

    YAYYYYYY I’m a DoucheBag!!
    + Mike Huang’s Avatar is my Fave Reading of the Day!! 😆
    Peace*

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