Writing Titles for Channel 9 posts

Throughout the rest of the site, on twitter and through Google/Bing … the title of your post is the first and most important description of your content that people will see. With that in mind, here are a few tips to make the most of that space.

Length

You should include enough in your title that it is a clear description of your content, but length is a factor. When we are indexed on Google, the full text is pulled from the <title> element of the page, but only the first x characters are visible in search results. For that reason, including the entire name of your series/show as the first part of the title is really taking away from what is shown to the user on other sites.

Take this video for example

http://channel9.msdn.com/Series/Windows-Azure-Pack-Express-Installation-Walkthrough/02

The title of the series is “Windows Azure Pack: Express Installation Walkthrough”, and this is shown on every page where that video is listed (as you can see in the images below).

Series Title in the page title

In the title of the browser window

Series Titles on the post

On the page… in fact, in this case, it is listed 3 times (in addition to being in the title of the tab in the browser)

And in listings elsewhere on the site

Series name shows up in listings

Making the start of the title be the name of the series though, means that the actual specific content of this video is not visible in the title in Bing or Google. The two snippets below are how this entry shows up in these two search engines.

Bing search results

Bing

Google Search Results

Google

You can find more info on the limits for visible title length here, but in the end I would focus on putting the right info in the title, and putting the most important parts closer to the front… ideally in the first 50-60 characters.

What to say in the title

I touched on it a bit in the section above, but you should make sure your title accurately describes the content. That’s really the key, but keeping in the mind the length restrictions described above, there are some tricks to make this work well.

First, make sure you know what the point of your video is. Is it to introduce 5 features of ASP.NET 5? Awesome, then you have a lot of room to work with.

5 Things About ASP.NET 5 that will blow your mind!

In the title above, we know it is about ASP.NET 5 … and people love a numbered list of items… and there is nothing wrong with a bit of style and personality to your title (or your content!). If you can be specific, you should be. For example, if it is 5 new features, I’d say features instead of things… but sometimes it isn’t possible.

Include the product or technology you are talking about. Yes, you probably mention it in the body of the post, and in the tags, but the title is extremely important for discovery. Search engines rank it highly and it is also what they show to users, so the decision of whether or not to click is going to depend highly on that title. On that note…

Don’t do ‘clickbait’

You can search around to find out more about this term, but I’ll sum it up: Clickbait headlines are essentially a tease, they give you no real information, but hint at an amazing or interesting story just hiding behind the click. This is not helpful to anyone, even if stats show that they work. Yes, the person clicks, but if the article isn’t content they actually want to read, they just jump away seconds later. You get a page view, but no video view, and you definitely haven’t helped our customers.

For example, you could say this:

“You won’t believe what Microsoft has added to Windows 10…”

Or you could say

“New features in Windows 10”

One implies it is shocking and exciting, the other just tells me what I’ll learn if I click it.

As mentioned earlier, more specifics would be good. Windows 10 is a big product, so maybe  “New features for client applications in Windows 10” or “5 new features in Windows 10 for client applications”. A list of items, “5 hottest cars at the auto show”, is really common in both good and bad headlines online. This style of headline is so common in ‘clickbait’ that sometimes we associate it with that type of misleading content. In reality though, people love numbered lists of things, so as long as you deliver what you promise then I think you should go for it.

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