Optimizing Short Titles

Now that we all use devices with small screens to access content, Nielsen's article on how to write headlines, page titles, and subject lines is more important than ever before. Take a look at these two iPhone screenshots showing Podcast episodes:

Useless Podcast Titles

"Josh Clark discusses his new Boo"? What's a "Boo"? Perhaps a "book"? But a book on what topic? Do I need to know who Josh Clark is in order to decide whether I want to listen to the podcast?

These titles don't tell me anything about the podcasts. They're absolutely useless to me when I'm trying to decide what to listen to. There are perhaps a dozen people who are so incredibly interesting that I will listen to what they have to say regardless of the topic at hand.1 The people listed above don't fall into that category. In fact, I don't even know most of the people on these podcasts. I want to know what they're discussing.

Compare the titles above to these examples:

Useful Podcast Titles

By no means perfect, but at least I get a general idea of what the podcast is about.

It's not hard to create good titles that work even if only the first few characters are shown. Start with information-carrying words and use plain language, and you're 90% of the way there.

  1. Let's see, probably Ihnatko, Spolsky, Maddow, Deatherage... and I guess Welch (but only when he's really, really angry). Okay, that's not even a dozen. ↩︎

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Want to read more like this? Buy my book's second edition! Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web is now available DRM-free directly from The Pragmatic Programmers. Or you can get it on Amazon, where it's also available in Chinese and Japanese.