Clear Beats Clever

Here’s a quick, rhetorical question for you; how do you like the title of this BLArticle®?  I’m assuming that it may have created a little bit of curiosity, but more importantly, I’m hoping that this title gave you a good idea of what this piece was about. Furthermore, I’m trusting that you followed that hunch to read further.  Well, that’s always what I thought would happen, but the way I title my work has been a theme that I’ve struggled with for decades.

For years, I’ve held the line, refused to give in, and have felt “Clever Beats Clear.” I’ve had publicists ask me to reconsider – fellow writers ask me to reconsider – and readers ask me to reconsider. Even my BLArticle® editor… who happens to be my wife, has asked me to reconsider.  My response has been a stubborn one: “No, I need to be true to my message, and I’m a fan of clever messages!”  I want my readers to be curious.  I want people to read a title like this clever BLArticle® from the past: “Finishing Touches,” and think, “I’m not sure where he’s going here, but I’m going along for the ride to find out!”  I just couldn’t bear the thought of replacing a title like that with something that spells out the body of the message like, “Three Surefire Ways to Handle Questions from Audiences.”  Yuk!!

My “Finishing Touches” title was a work of art; that’s why I used it, and that’s how I posted it.  I’m able to find out the statistics of exactly how many people click past the email title and short blurb in order to read the Blarticle. For those who do make that trip, I can see how long they stay for.  Unfortunately, that particular piece with the clever title, got a surprisingly low number of clicks to actually read it, but for those who did, the data show they actually stayed longer than average to read it.  See, I told you it was a good piece!  And then I started to think…

If no one reads it, what else matters? Then I thought some more.  

I’ve noticed that the clearer the title, the more visitors I have.  That applies to every BLArticle®, Pocket Sized Pep Talk, and YouTube video I post. It’s not really close.  There’s a lot of content out there, and people can only visit, read, listen or view so much for so long.  Do you know how many websites there are?  There are almost 200 million active sites, with people staying less than 15 seconds.  There are 600 million blogs, with people staying less than 96 seconds.  There are 800 million YouTube videos, with people staying less than two minutes. 

Do you see a common thread here?  There’s a lot of content out there, and not only do we need to be clear to attract audiences, we need to be clear to hold on to them. How many times have you seen an advertisement that was incredibly clever, but you had no idea what they were selling?  I fell into that same trap, but I’m working my way out of it.  You need to as well, or you run the risk of sounding like this guy, who sat down for an interview a few years ago and was quoted as saying this:

“Titles created by writers are like works of art created by artists.  One should be true to his or her thoughts, honor that artform, and not be swayed by titles simply because they attract social media views.”

I know that guy well, because that quote came from me. Come to one of my seminars, or listen to a podcast, and I promise, I’ll do my best to give you a steady dose of clever!  But the numbers don’t lie, and I’m jumping on the clear title bandwagon.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to bring myself to put out one of those, “Five Ways to ___________” (fill in the blank,) but I have adjusted my opinion and continue to remind myself that, assuming I want someone to actually see or hear what I’m creating, clear really does beat clever.

Related: Presentations: Focus on the Sauce