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Topic Titles are hard


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I can't be the only one who has this thought regarding the behavioral experience of a user on a forum.  

Has anyone ever wondered why we ask users to give a succinct forecast, projection, and summary of what they're going to post about before they post? Into a one-line phrase?  Oh, and that is search engine optimized?  That's hard.  That's very hard.  That requires a user to not only know what they plan on writing about, but to summarize and distill a future thought into a short one-line.

What we're really asking from our users when writing a new topic:

  • To forecast the entirety of what they want to write about
  • To potentially know where the conversation might go in a leading manner, before it even goes there
  • To summarize and then condense the conversation
  • To come up with a compelling and catchy one-line phrase

And we're asking for all of this in a few seconds.  Before they actually get to write about what they want to write about. 

It introduces friction.  And it requires our brains to work really hard at a time when it doesn't want to work hard.

Forums have always weighted new topics much more than posts.  (By a very unscientific assessment of paid forum posters, 1 new topic is "worth" the equivalent of 4 posts.)

Most online users can't even write clear and insightful posts.  Why are we asking them to write clear and concise topic titles, which are even harder?  And why are we asking them to write topic titles before they even make their post?  

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The titles are not for search engines only, titles are also for other users to give a brief idea on the content that is being posted. Based on the title, a user can either reply or skip because they have nothing to say. I like the titles are are in question format.

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Sorry, can't help laughing here. Users on average are focused on their question, not a clear and succinct subject useful to all. I will occasionally edit a title if it's really bad, and move to the right forum too.

Expecting SEO etc - no hope. Be happy they get something remotely useful in readable English.

My site is worldwide, and we get people posting "x for sale" as a subject. We tell them very clearly to post WHERE it is like maybe which continent? You'd think that would be useful and obvious? Nope. How about including the price in the post? Nope.

Nudge, guide, remind is all you can do.  We've been online since 1997. It's better now, but not a lot - people are people, and they will screw it up for you in every way imaginable - and some you can't. Get used to it 🙂 and enjoy the connections and helping people.

 

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Most community users are common people who do not know about SEO, however, you do not have to be SEO expert to create a SEO friendly title as long as your title contain "search terms" If a user ask "how to build followers on my Facebook page" it is already a search friendly title. Every legit question can be search friendly. As a community owner if you do not consider making titles suitable for searches how do you suppose to bring visitors and users on your site?

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I was being facetious with asking users to make SEO-optimized topic titles.  As @GrantHorizons pointed out, it's hard to even get users to make a relevant and succinct topic title.  

But it shouldn't be! We've had 20 years of forums, but zero innovation in helping users refine and improve their interaction around what is arguably one of the more important elements.  

Two  trains of thought: 

1. We give up on topic titles entirely.  Really.  Remove them. Social media allows uses to directly post their comments, you don't need a title at all.  

2. We think about ways to nudge or force users to post better topic titles either before or after. 

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Social media posts do not rank on search engines, however, they rank within the platform (internal ranking) and they use hashtags for that purpose. Social media posts are also of temporary nature, you don't expect people to go back to your 10 years old post and interact.  However, online communities are different, they have evergreen content and having a title that exactly describes the content will help improve visibility of the content.

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is going to be a spicy, out-there post.  🌶️

Has anyone wondered why we don't ask for topic titles AFTER we write the post?  

Wouldn't that make more sense? 🤔

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A topic title is something that I have always looked at as the start of a thread to tell potential readers what the topic is so that they know whether it would be of interest to them. 

SEO is a big thing when it comes to titles too but I have always felt getting straight to the point with the title helps you more. 

On 4/7/2024 at 3:20 AM, JoelR said:

This is going to be a spicy, out-there post.  🌶️

Has anyone wondered why we don't ask for topic titles AFTER we write the post?  

Wouldn't that make more sense? 🤔

I never thought of it this way. It would make more sense after you had written the post in question to then be asked for a title. I know from experience that I sometimes struggle to come up with a title before I have written the post. 

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I read this topic when posted and rather blew it off. But thinking about it more, and particularly after @JoelR's most recent comment, writing the title after composing the post probably makes more sense. It it how we generally write anything more thoughtful. Yeah, we might have a working title, but, usually, we end up using something which is more informed by the body of the article/blog/book/etc.

What if the title field contained the placeholder text: Please first write your post

And, the poster is prevented from adding text to the Title field until content is added to the Body field. At this point, the Title placeholder text changes to:

Please write a title which strongly relates to the content of your post.

... and they can now add a title. In most cases, since the usual flow has been interrupted and they have been prompted to compose their post, the poster will finish writing their post before returning to add a title.

We could also move the Title filed to below the Body field. Though, might some people struggle to then find it since it is not in the usual location and many more would have forgotten about adding one? Though I suppose that when the title is missing, the webpage could scroll to place the Title field to just below the 'missing title' notice.

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