Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Ballerina Syndrome, or how keyword-rich titles are better than beautiful ones

There are two kinds of bloggers in this world: those who title a blog post based on what is about ("How to cook a lamb roast", for example) and those who believe a title should be clever, arty and/or beautiful ("What to eat even if Tom Cruise invites you to dinner" - watch this old Aussie TV ad for lamb if my clever title doesn't make sense to you).

Left to my own devices I am definitely the second type of blogger. Unfortunately, however, more successful bloggers are the first type. And this is all because of search engines.

For many (perhaps most) bloggers, the way the majority of your readers find your blog is by searching for you in a search engine. In other words, if you are looking for lamb roast tips, you may type "lamb roast", "cooking a lamb roast" or even my exact title, "How to cook a lamb roast", and Google or your search engine of choice will return a bunch of web pages that it believes are closely related to that topic. It doesn't take a genius to realise which of my two original title ideas will work best here.

Lots of people find this very difficult. So do I. If you have an interest in or (worse) a love of writing, then composing a fairly bland, accurately-descriptive title just doesn't sit well. Where is our chance to be creative, to show off our cleverness? Well, not in the title I'm afraid. Not in the age of the internet!

I've made plenty of mistakes in the title realm. Just look at my travel blog's name: Not A Ballerina! What on earth does that have to do with travelling? Worse, I end up with far too many visitors who have been searching for something related to ballet (search engines aren't very good at sensing the "Not" part) - can anyone tell me why people are often searching for "hairy ballerinas"? You can read the story of how the name came about, but it doesn't make it any better - it might be a nice story, but it doesn't make the name choice any more appropriate. I'm just too sentimental to part with it (and lose followers by changing domains, and so on) after eight years of blogging there.

However, I strongly recommend that you do what I say, not what I do. In class I've dubbed this problem of wanting beautiful titles and names "Ballerina syndrome" and I don't want you to succumb. As painful as it might be to some of you, give your blog post a title that sends a clear message about what the content of the post is about, and you'll find that a lot more people come along to read it. There is room enough to be clever and witty inside a blog post; don't be tempted to go the Tom Cruise route.

Although sometimes, like me, you can try to cram everything into the one title. It's my compromise approach. But ... you know, do what I say, not what I do.


  1. I am horribly familiar with the second type of headline, but aiming to become better at the first. Sometimes basic is best!

    1. Too true - basic is best ... but it's not always the most fun, is it!

  2. Replies
    1. You're welcome Mark. As a writer you're one of the people most likely to be tripped up by this!!

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