This is the story of how my eyes were opened to the power and importance of titles. And if you’re reading this, congratulations because you just helped prove my point. Take a second look at this post’s title - is it “clear, descriptive, and informative”? Or is it “flashy, gimmicky, and potentially clickbait”? I’d classify it in the latter, but if I went with the former then you never would have found this post (or me).
Our story begins nearly a month ago, when I decided to sit down and write a post about my recent escapades in finding that 10% of the top million sites were dead. I spent a full day writing it up, and was really proud of my first proper blogpost written in almost a decade. I titled it descriptively and fairly as
Fun with DuckDB, curl, and the Majestic Million
Feeling proud of myself, I decided to post it first thing the next morning the Hacker News and the Programming subreddit - two places that I KNEW people would understand and appreciate the content. Here’s what happened next:
190 visitors. 0 HN upvotes. 0 Reddit upvotes. Fuck, people hated it. Was it me? Was my writing to blame? Maybe the content is actually only interesting to a weirdo like me? I was pretty bummed out, but decided that my writing was still rusty and that it must just be a bad post that nobody found valuable.
Fast forward to last week - it was a Friday morning and I just sat down with my coffee and a bagel. Something was in the air that morning and I just felt spunky. On a whim, I decided to retry posting and gave it a cursory once-over. At the last second, I decided to change the title to something a bit more flashy and tried this new title on for size
10% of the top million sites are dead
This was the core finding of my post after-all, right? But I resisted this title the first time around because it felt too catchy and clickbaity, so I had opted for the more academic title. But today was different. That everything bagel was hittin’ just right, and I submitted the newly christened post once more. This is the aftermath:
25,000 visitors! 375 HN upvotes and #1 for most of the day! 78 Reddit upvotes and #3 on r/programming too! I had never hit the HN frontpage before, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t tried in the past. The Reddit stats comparing the original-titled post vs. the new one really drives home just how large an impact this small tweak had (old title on the left, new title on the right):
The visitor numbers were pretty awesome to witness, but the fact that the post was a catalyst for serious discussion around the topics of data analysis and integrity really made my day. Yes, I received a lot of hate DMs across my online profiles (mostly calling me a hack… why do people on the internet tend to be so full of hate?), but I also received a handful of really kind notes as well. I’m choosing to focus on the nice ones. Fuck the haters.
The more surprising result from the post was in the form of human reachouts. To date, the post has driven:
- 6 job offers (aka, requests to interview)
- 2 VC inbounds (my project isn’t ready for funding yet, but it’s nice validation)
- 4 potential cofounder/partner inbounds (tbd on whether they pan out)
These are far more valuable outcomes to me than vanity traffic numbers. These can have real meaningful impact on my professional career and trajectory, yet I almost missed out.
Titles. Fucking. Matter.
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