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What You need to Know About Copywriting for SEO Part 2 - The Headline

BY Fahim Latif on 21/8/2015

Welcome back to our ongoing Copywriting for SEO series. This article will explore the components of writing the perfect headline; one that is both descriptive and useful for your site’s visitors - while also incorporating SEO techniques that will help boost your rankings. Click here for a link to part 1 which outlines the basics of copywriting for SEO.

Why Do Headlines Matter?

Headlines matter because they’re the very first call-to-action you have for your content, anywhere on the internet. A headline can entice a user to click-through and satisfy their curiosity, or it can send them elsewhere which effectively costs you an opportunity. A well written headline grabs attention, is informative, and primes a potential visitor for the content they’re about to see.

Consider this: a headline will be displayed in google search results, email titles, tweets, facebook shares and virtually everywhere else that’s important. Neil Patel and other best practice SEO experts have discovered that even the most valuable content will have low click-through rates if it is capped by a mediocre headline. 

Consider the following. Have you ever:

  • Judged a book by its title?
  • Looked through your email inbox and decided that some emails are not worth reading?
  • Performed a Google search and skipped past the first few results because the one you chose sounded more relevant to your search query?

That’s the subtle but powerful influence of headlines at work.

Start With the Headline

You’ve got a great concept you want to articulate or a story you want to tell. Its easy to get lost in the moment and start drafting that fantastic piece of content you want people to read. Resist that urge, and spend a bit of time writing a few headlines out first.

In fact, write more than a few. The often quoted advertising guru and original ‘Mad Man’ David Ogilvy famously mentioned that he writes up to 16 different headlines for a single advertisement.

This is important but is often overlooked. Remember that your headline is at least as important of your content, if not even more. Writing the content first runs the risk of bookending it with a sub-standard headline, especially when you’re under a tight deadline.

The copy in your headline is also crucial because it frames the main points you are trying to make in the body of your content. It helps maintain your focus and assists in writing an article that is consistent throughout for both a site visitor and a search engine.

When a search engine crawls your site, it compares the information in your site URL, page title, content headings (including your headline) and the content itself in deciding how relevant it is for any given combination of search keywords. Keeping your content in sync with the headline tells google that your article is highly relevant which in turn helps it rank higher for the keywords potential visitors are searching for. 

Tips and Tricks

Here are some tips and tricks on how you can optimise your headline copy:

Use keywords in moderation: Start by deciding what your target keywords are and then ensure that they’re included in your headline. Your keywords help search engines display your site to potential visitors. Consider the search terms people might use to find your content and then try a few different variations to determine what works best for what you’re trying to convey. Part 1 of this article series outlines some techniques you can use to determine your target audience and keywords.

Avoid loading your headline with too many keywords. While great for search engines, a human reader will quickly pick up on that fact. Instead, try to see if you can combine your keywords intuitively. For example, the string “<brandname> shoes” works well because it flows naturally for a human while also being optimised for the keywords “<brandname>” and “shoes” to a search engine.

Keep it short: The length of your headline should ideally be between 50 to 75 characters on average. There are multiple reasons for this, but among the most important is the fact that longer headlines will not fully display in search engine results, social media sites, email headers and the like. Try using numbers instead of spelling them out to save on the total number of characters.

Using the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer tool, it is possible to visualise what a headline will look like in search engine results or a typical email client.

Or make it longer: As counterintuitive as it may sound, there are also some benefits to having longer headlines as well. Evidence suggests that while shorter headlines display better and are great at setting the expected tone for your content, longer headlines drive more engagement and deliver greater impact. Sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy typically use longer headlines for the same reason. 

Try ‘frontloading’ your headlines: Frontloading is the practice of putting the most important information first when writing for the web. Studies show that people tend to read the first three words and the last three words in a headline while only scanning through the text in the middle. By extension, this generally means that some of the best performing headlines are only around 6 words each. If your headline is longer than 6 words, frontloading will at least ensure that the most important parts are not glossed over.

Get some feedback: The best way to find out if you have a click-worthy headline is to ask. Share your headline with your colleagues, consider their suggestions and adjust accordingly. Always remember that you want to share your content with the world, so approach writing your headline from that angle.

Learn from the past: If you’ve got access to analytics on your website, it is often worth looking at the headlines on your highest performing pages. If one leaps out at you for being exceptional it would be helpful to emulate the style and phrasing. As an added bonus, this helps maintain a consistent tone of voice across your site. If it isn’t broken, why fix it?

Use context words: Context words are a group of 1,072 words that can trigger a person’s interest and emotional response. They are broadly grouped into 4 different categories:

  • Insight words, which provide more detail (ie; closure, think, admit, inform)
  • Time words, which refers to a point in time (ie; now, soon, prior, after)
  • Space words, which provides context (ie; biggest, above, beyond)
  • Motion words, which assist in understanding where something is happening in tandem with Space words (ie; enter, replace, growing, leaping)

A full list of context words can be viewed and downloaded here. Please note that the context words list has been compiled based on data from english-speaking users only.

Use available tools: As the study of human behavior and interaction on the web matures, a number of tools have been created to help quickly optimise and improve on web content. Some in particular stand out due to ease of use but also for educational value. Try some or all of the following to determine what works best for your type of content:

Bear in mind that each tool promotes a particular style of headline writing composition and may provide different results between them for a given text string.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Do you have any tips and tricks about writing the perfect headline? Can you spot the techniques we’ve used sprinkled throughout the article? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you.


Fahim Latif
Fahim Latif
Client Success Manager

Fahim is an expert support content publisher with a strong focus in business process engineering. As a Client Success Manager, he brings a client-centric viewpoint to the table and strives to provide innovative and comprehensive solutions to problems in the digital marketing space. 

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