Headlines are crucial for your SEO score and even more important for your click-through rates (CTR). Therefore you must invest the time it takes to design headlines that help you reach your target group and engage it. This post will help you find your way around the golden rules and no-goes regarding titles. It will also present you to successful headline examples and discus their elements.
Headline SEO Best Practice
Here’re the rules you must follow in order to optimize your headlines for search engines and boost your CTR:
- It’s a ground rule for headline SEO to make sure all titles describe correctly the content on your pages.
No matter how many visitors a catchy headline brings you, they’re bound to leave right away as long as they don’t find what you’ve promised. This will result in high bounce rates and poor SEO performance. So, even if it sounds better to advertise your post with a title as “What you never knew about SEO”, it will backfire if you don’t deliver. If site visitors feel you wasted their time, you can be sure that they won’t return. Be aware that bounce rates are an important SEO factor. It’s therefore better to get fewer site visitors but more engaged ones.
- Use slang, numbers (introduce lists), strong adjectives – with measure. There’re billions of web pages with content almost the same as yours, no matter what you’re writing about. In order to stand out of the crowd, you have to implement some tricks. It’s for example proven that headlines including numbers, especially the numbers 3, 5, and 7, get higher CTR than average. The same applies to headlines including strong words promising something exceptional (for example, secret, exclusive, top, amazing, success, best, worst, etc.). Don’t overdo it though! A headline with more than 1-2 strong words start sounding like spam!
- Use keywords. Remember that keywords are one of the absolute pillars of SEO and headline SEO is no different. You must include your short or long-tail keywords in the post’s title, as close to the beginning of the line as at all possible. You must, however, make sure that your headline doesn’t sound unnatural. So, if you’re optimizing for, for example, “dark chocolate mousse recipe” you should keep as close to the keyword phrase as possible, while shaping a sentence that makes sense. A possible headline optimized for this long-tail keyword is “Yummy dark chocolate mousse recipe” or “Dark chocolate mousse recipe for real sweets-lovers”. Here’re some tips on finding the perfect long-tail keywords.
- Limit yourself to 60 symbols including spaces. This is necessary as most search engines and social media cut your title at 60 symbols. While it won’t directly affect your ranking and might even attract some curious people who want to read the whole title, it’s a best practice for headline SEO to keep your titles under 60 symbols. It’s crucial to remember that words are considered increasingly less important when they’re placed further away from the beginning of the line.
- Match popular search phrases. Do your research and figure out what people ask when looking for content as yours. You can gather some data by checking your search analytics in Google Search Console or by performing search on Google. Keep an eye not only on search queries but also on the search results. Your headlines should match a popular search query as much as possible but should ideally not repeat a phrase used on 100s of other websites. You have better chances of ranking using unusual wording.
- No All Caps, exclamation marks, etc. You can either use normal sentence styling or choose to capitalize every first letter in a word. Both practices are fine with the only difference that internet users percept them differently and prefer the one or the other according to national writing standards. All Caps are, however, a no-go. It screams of spam. The same applies to exclamation marks. Using a question mark and questions in your headlines is, though, a winning practice.
- Use unique titles for each page and post with unique keywords. This is important as repeating titles or optimizing them for the same keywords is a missed opportunity to capture traffic with a different keyword. Furthermore, you risk that such a practice confuses search engines in regards to which page of your site they should return as an answer to a search query. This can often result in your pages competing with each other. In the worst case scenario search engines might decide that your site features duplicated content and punish you for it.
- Be specific. Headlines specifying the kind of offered content (study, statistics, step-by-step guides, do-it-yourself, photos, infographics, etc.) have generally higher CTR than those not mentioning it. This is explained by the fact that most of us what to find something solving a specific problem. If the title promises a solution that works for one, chances are that they will click on it. If the type of content isn’t specified, an internet user might be afraid that a certain website will simply waste their time – and skip it as a result.
- Use only one H1 on a single page. Some bloggers use H1-H6 as a form of visual formatting which often results in 2 or more H1 tags in a single post. However, you should be aware that H1 is also what tells search engines what the topic of your post it. Therefore restrain from using H1 more than once. If you absolutely need some special formatting for your section titles, use H2-H6 instead. OBS! If your WordPress theme works properly, your H1 is what you write in the field above the text field. You should therefore not use H1 in your text!
5 Examples Of Successful Headlines: Explained
- How Two Words From Facebook’s CFO Are Costing Mark Zukerberg Billions – Used by Forbes, this title implements several headline SEO tricks: you have a number, a question, a sensation (2 words costing billions!?!), and a known name (celebrity). The combination makes you wonder what happened and what the outcome will be. You are intrigued and want to check out the story. This means the headline was successfully chosen.
- 5 Horrible Traits That Push People Away – Used by Entrepreneur, this headline uses the quite effective technique of presenting lists. You have a number, a strong word (horrible), and a result that you dread (push people away). You’re intrigued to find out whether you don’t have one of those traits and you end up checking out the post. Thus, the headline was successful.
- 5 cheaper and better alternatives to Apple’s expensive Mac Book Pros – Used by Business Insider, this title introduces a list. It starts with a number and uses strong words (cheaper, better, and expensive) to catch your interest. Last but not least, if features a cult (Apple’s products). So, no matter whether you’re an Apple fan or want a cheaper alternative, you surely want to check out this list and see for yourself whether there really can be something better – and cheaper! The headline does what it should.
- Climate Change Captured In Stunning Antarctic Ice Photos – Used by National Geographic, this headline uses a bit of a different strategy. It offers an alternative view on an issue that might not be as interesting for everybody as it is for some of us. We’re promised not dry scientific data but stunning ice photos. There’s the strong word (stunning) and the promise for something exciting (ice photos). It might not be all, who’ll click on this title but it’ll for sure drive a lot of photo-loving traffic – and this makes it a success.
- The 12 Best Drugstore Products You Should Be Using Now – Used by Cosmopolitan, this headline has it all: a list, a strong word, and urgency (you should be using now) that you can’t resist. The question we all ask ourselves, are we as good as those we compare with, makes it a must to keep ajour and do the best we can to be among the best. We can’t be left behind. So you read the article. The result? Successful headline.