If you are writing an article, blog post, or tutorial about a feature of ASP.NET or the .NET Framework, how do you format the title? For example, say that you are writing a blog entry about grouping data using ASP.NET's ListView control. Which of these titles is most appropriate?
- Grouping Data Couldn't Be Easier!
- Group Data Using the ListView Control
- ASP.NET's ListView Control Makes Groupnig Data Easy
- Learn How to Group Data Using the ListView Control in ASP.NET 3.5
I think title (1) is the worst of the four because it provides no context. It could be a blog entry about grouping data in Excel, a look at using SQL's GROUP BY clause, or an article not even related to computers. Granted, the body of the blog post would make it crystal clear, but from an SEO perspective and when considering that the title it what appears in the search engine results, a more descriptive title would seem to be preferred.
Title (2) does a good job mentioning the feature to be discussed (grouping data) and the control to be used (the ListView). However, it still lacks context, especially if there is some other technology stack that has a control with the same name. (See the postscript below for more discussion on why noting the technology can be important.)
Title (3) mentions the goal / feature (grouping data), the control being demonstrated (the ListView), and the framework (ASP.NET), but it makes no mention of the ASP.NET version. The ListView control was added to ASP.NET version 3.5, so a developer using ASP.NET version 2.0 might not realize that this technique doesn't apply to her until she gets half way through the blog post.
That leads us to title (4), which gives a complete and thorough description. And this is the title format I've migrated to over the years. For example, my current article series on 4Guys about the ListView is titled: Using ASP.NET 3.5's ListView and DataPager Controls, with subtitles explaining what each installment of the article series covers, as in: Using ASP.NET 3.5's ListView and DataPager Controls: Grouping By a Data Field. However, over time I've found one problem with this most descriptive title: including the version number makes sense and seems like a good idea when covering some new feature in the latest version of ASP.NET, but it unnecessarily dates the article. Because ASP.NET versions are additive, the technologies present in ASP.NET 2.0 are still around in ASP.NET 3.5, which is great from a developer's perspective. But if you include the verison number in the article it makes it sound like the feature in question is now antequated or that it no longer applies to the latest version.
Take the following article title, for example: Health Monitoring in ASP.NET 2.0. Health Monitoring was introduced in ASP.NET 2.0 and does not exist in ASP.NET 1.x, hence the rationale for adding the version number in the title. But today we are using ASP.NET 3.5. Health Monitoring still exists and is still used in ASP.NET 3.5 applications, but that article title makes it sound like Health Monitoring is something specific to 2.0. I worry that someone who sees that title in Google's search results will say, “I'm using ASP.NET 3.5, so that article is not relevant to me“ and instead choose to read an article that's titled, “Learn How to Use ASP.NET's Health Monitoring“ because it makes no mention of ASP.NET 2.0.
Given all of this, I am torn between title formats (3) and (4), and I'm now leaning more to (3) than (4). Including the version number is useful when writing about a technology that will be in the next version of ASP.NET or is in the just-released version of ASP.NET, but it becomes a liability as time marches on and new versions of ASP.NET are released. Perhaps the ideal approach would be to change the title over time. That is, name the article Health Monitoring in ASP.NET 2.0 when ASP.NET 2.0 first comes out, but knock off the version number and change the title to Health Monitoring in ASP.NET when ASP.NET 3.5 is nearing release.
P.S.: Regarind title (2) and omitting the framwork context... During the ASP.NET 1.x days I wrote an 18-part article series on 4Guys titled An Extensive Examination of the DataGrid Web Control. There is also a DataGrid control that can be used in WinForms applications. Despite having the same name, the DataGrid controls in the ASP.NET and WinForms differ substantially when it comes to binding data to the control, adding paging and sorting features, and so on. Long story short, during the ASP.NET 1.x days I'd get an e-mail or two a week from WinForms developers who had questions about the WinForms DataGrid control. It was clear that some had read the article, realized that the focus was on the ASP.NET DataGrid, but asked their question anyway, hoping I could help, while others clearly did not read a word of the article. Perhaps a more descriptive title: An Extensive Examination of the ASP.NET DataGrid Web Control would have reduced the number of these e-mails.
P.S.S.: I'm sure that if you e-mail a blogger or author of an article with a question, you do so in a very courteous and kind manner and realize that you are, in essence, asking for free help from a stranger who likely has other tasks and duties that demand his attention. Moreover, I'm sure you understand if said author or blogger cannot respond to your query, or responds with a, “Sorry, I'm too busy to help,“-type message. But there are people who somehow expect that you are there to be their free, private consultant and programmer, and get surly if you don't answer their question post haste. I bring this up because writing the above aside reminded me of one of the most vitriolic e-mails I ever got from a reader was from a guy who had a question about the WinForms DataGrid control. I had explained to him that there were differences between the ASP.NET and WinForms DataGrid, and that I was not familiar with the WinForms DataGrid and therefore couldn't be of help, and got back one of the nastiest e-mails I've ever received about how they were indeed alike and that I just didn't want to help him and was being all sorts of words I don't want to write here for fear that your workplace's Internet filter will flag my site. The point is (and there is a point in here somewhere, I'm sure), is that the next time you run into one of these types of people, feel free to smack them on the back of their head for me.