Statue with dayglow behind

The 5 Commandments for Writing Titles That Get the Clicks

It doesn’t matter where you publish your story, the title determines if readers click on it. If they don’t click, it doesn’t matter how good your story is.

This is a guide for any writer who publishes stories online that competes with other stories on a webpage. I will use Medium as an example. This is not a guide for search engine optimized titles. Writing titles for a site like Medium requires a different technique then writing headlines elsewhere.

This isn’t the same information you’ve heard by writers trying to make a quick buck. I am Hogan Torah. I’ve published over 700 stories on Medium during the past 5 years. I’m a member of the comma club. Meaning my partner payments statements have commas. Google me, I autofill.

Maybe you’ve read my Sharethrough Headline Analyzer guide. If you haven’t, you should. Sharethough’s analyzer helps me after I write my headline. I will be using my headlines with over 10,000 clicks as examples.

Commandments, right.

After 40 days Hogan Torah came out of the Comma Club where the algorithm had given unto to him 5 commandments for his followers to follow when writing headlines. 

And Hogan said unto them, 

“Sup. Here’s the 5 headline commandments.”

Thou shall not use first person in your title

Avoid using the first-person pronouns I, my, me, us and we. Instead use third person pronouns like You, your, and they.

Never start your title with I.

The best thing to do is stay away from pronouns entirely.

Nobody cares about what you did or what you think. Medium wants personal stories, but they don’t want stories about you talking about yourself. There’s a difference.

If you want to get boosted focus on how what happened made you feel, what you learned, and leave the reader with something to take away from your story that stays with them.

This is what I consider to be my best title.

My working title for this story was Getting Hired to Work the Swing Shift at Blue Cross in Customer Service. It scored an 88. Minutes before the publication posted it, it came to me. The title scores 100 in engagement with under a 50 impression score.

It looks like clickbait, but every word I use for the title is part of the story. There’s 1 adjective, 1 verb, 1 article. Everything else is a noun as it should be. This is as close to a perfect title as I’ve written.

The story wasn’t boosted but it’s title helped it earn 15k clicks and counting.

Thow shalt not use AI

AI is great at certain things and terrible at others. Every currently available AI chatbot I’ve used is terrible at writing Medium style titles.

I’m as good as anyone at prompting AI. I’ve wasted hours trying to find a prompt to get a decent headline out of the big AI chatbots. It writes 4-word titles with a colon in the middle. It can’t do it. AI can be used to give you ideas for a title.

As of March of 2024 there’s no AI I’ve used that can write a Medium title, regardless of the prompt. All of them suck. They can’t even write bad Medium titles.

Medium requires longer titles. 55 to 80 characters is ideal. Keeping that in mind you should use as many words as you need in the space you have to sell your story. Paint a picture using the best words. AI sucks at titles.

Thy title explains what the story is about

It doesn’t matter if it scores a hundred on the Sharethrough analyzer if the title doesn’t tell people what they are about to read. I see so many stories in my feed that don’t tell me what they’re about.

“Lone House on the Hill”

This scores a 67 on Sharethrough but it’s a terrible title. What happens to it? Is it about the people inside it? Is it a personal story? Fiction thriller? Erotica? I don’t know. A lone house on a hill by itself does not do it for me.”

“My family lived in a lone house on the hill when my brother died.”

I know what this is about, but the title is down to a 62. Let’s remove first person and be more detailed about what’s going to happen. Are we doing the loss or the grief that follows?

“He was Bleeding Out and Heard The Lost Ambulance Sirens Getting Further Away”

Now I’m clicking. 85 on Sharethrough. People want to know what they’re going to read. Clarity may not matter to your regular readers, but you won’t gain new ones. You want to write a title that makes readers curious to learn more, not one that makes them wonder what it’s about.

Most writing experts say your title should be short and punchy. For SEO optimization, yes. For Medium, you want descriptive. Use as many words as necessary. Punchy is fine.

You’re not spoiling anything by reveling the climax or the resolution, they’re going to want to hear the story. How it happened is more important than what happens in a story.

My best friend dated Warren Buffett’s granddaughter. A story about her or them would have gotten a couple of hundred clicks. The real story is what I witnessed of her family dynamic how Warren Buffet treats his family. It’s my most viewed story with 48k views. It’s in need of rewrite and so is the title. I could convey that it’s a look behind the public persona of Buffett better.

You get one title to entice prospective readers to click. It doesn’t matter if you wrote the greatest story ever. If your title doesn’t make people want to click on it, it won’t be clicked on by anyone besides your followers.

Thou shall not find good title for your bad idea

Did you know the Sharethrough headline analyzer can tell you if the idea for your story is good?

I recommend writing your headline as the first step of your workflow. If you want to make money for writing but you can’t get your title above a 70, you shouldn’t write the story because it’s likely to flop. If you’re okay with that, go ahead and write.

I get asked by writers who have read my Sharethough guide why they can’t get a score over 70 on a headline for a certain story?

The answer is that the topic of their story is low interest. Maybe it’s been done to death, maybe interest has waned, or maybe your idea just sucks. Either way, you should try another angle to approach the subject. If that doesn’t work, pick another topic to write about.

One day I randomly thought of the infamous cow tools Far Side Comic. I thought maybe this would be a low effort story I could make a few bucks from. When the title scored a perfect hundred, I upgraded my expectations to a couple of bucks.

My story about a one panel newspaper comic earned 10k Views.

Thow shalt learn what a good title looks like

I start by thinking up titles in my head. After 700 hundred stories I’ve tested enough titles with the headline analyzer to guess my score within a few points.

Recently Medium has added an option to view the top 10 stories for a month, a year, or all time. You can find the top 10 stories for a topic or tag in its archive page.

To see the top 10 stories in a tag on Medium, find the page for the tag you want to see using search or explore topics. At the bottom of the tag page, click “See more stories.” Change the dropdown from oldest to 10 most read.

Example of the 10 most read of a tag on Medium
Screen capture from Medium

Look at the top 10 titles in topics you want to write about. Change the month and year and look at all the topics. Get a feel for the titles. What do they all have in common? What angles are writers using to approach it? Study the stories that worked.

Here’s more stories of mine with over 10k internal views you can learn from.

There are exceptions to every rule. This story earned over $3,000. It’s my only story with over 5k views that uses first person pronouns.

20k views. This is just a list of 6 weird movies I like. Packaging is everything.


Satire works. I published this 2 hours after Musk announced he was buying Twitter. Timing is everything sometimes.

When brainstorming isn’t working and looking at the top 10 isn’t helping the tool I use to get title ideas is the SumoMe Kick-Ass Headline Generator.

Does SumoMe’s headline generator kick ass? It does.

It’s very simple. No AI. It’s got a few blank text boxes to write a few words text about what you’re writing about. SumoMe plugs your answers into titles schemas that you can test on Sharethough.

I have the best results using SumoMe when I combine it’s headline suggestions to make my own.

My time is valuable. I don’t want to spend hours on something that’s not going to reward me for the time I spent. If it’s a quick little humor piece it’s fine. But I’m not writing a long high effort story like this if I couldn’t score over an 80.

The first year I was I on Medium I tried using shock headlines and click bait to get traction. I got a few more clicks but they didn’t stay long. The algorithm likely labeled my account spam. It was long, tedious slog out of obscurity while learning what worked.

Medium requires a different headline strategy than a newspaper, blog, or Reddit post. You’re competing for the attention of someone browsing. They are looking for a story to click. Be the story they choose. Pick compelling topics with a broad appeal, create headlines that entice the reader to click and learn the story and then give it to them.