Is writing a great headline the first thing you do when preparing an article? Probably not, and if it is, then just to fill that blank spot on top of your article just like I did until a few days ago. But that is a mistake you could pay dearly unless you learn how to write one of those killer headlines that'll dominate google and social media. In fact that mistake cost me 100'000s of visits and over 3000 inlinks in just 3 weeks. All because of one dull little headline, but hey I still get 5 to 10 visits a day for my uninspired headline.
What happened? Some clever boys read my headline, improved it and got all my fame (that I honestly didn't deserve). But it made me realise one thing: Writing a good headline is the single most important thing you can do in successful online publishing. But writing it beforehand forces you to think about your content well before you write it. It tells you how appealing your content will be to your readers. And good headlines get your fabolous piece of content read - that is the most powerful instrument right at your fingertips:
- Your headline is the ultimate content test. It refines what you'll write about and thus somewhat defines the success of your article before you even write it. Don't miss that opportunity.
This article is the story about a dull headline on Condomunity, which did exceptionally well slightly transformed on Environmental Graffiti and about how the new headline improved their article on exactly the same topic. This article is the result of my research for headline writing and it will give you the means to write hugely successful online headlines and content for google, social media and for your readers too.
- Why Headlines Are Important
- Headline Writing
- Social Media Headlines: Digg, StumbleUpon etc.
- Title Tag, Headline and SEO (Writing for Google)
- Keywords and Research
- Correct Headline Writing
- Headline Inspiration and Swipe Files
- Headline Tools
- Graphical Headline Considerations
- Sources and Resources
Let's have a look at the original headline Cheap Condoms, Expensive Condoms. I simply found statistics showing 19 countries and the respective prices for a Durex Elite 12 pack. The article was pretty much what you expect, but how can you improve this headline AND the article?
This is what Environmental Graffiti turned it into: World's Most Expensive Places to Have Sex. We can clearly see the differences. The second headline speaks to everyone who reads it and exchanges the word "condom" for "sex". Additionally it begs for more information like a graphical illustration of the information that readers will enjoy. So, a good headline doesn't just draw readers in, but it also helps you to determine what to write and how to write it well.
As you can imagine there are many other things that make a headline important:
- Good headlines sell more. "We spend HOURS writing our headlines, and we often test four or five of them before we settle on one that works. But that time is always well spent. In fact, we once made one tiny tweak to one of our headlines... ... And overnight our revenues jumped by 714%" [wpdfd]
- Headlines should explain your content well. "Microcontent needs to be pearls of clarity: you get 40-60 characters to explain your macrocontent. Unless the title or subject make it absolutely clear what the page or email is about, users will never open it."
- Online headlines are often displayed out of context and are the only thing you see of an article. "As part of a list of articles, in an email program's list of incoming messages, in a search engine hitlist, or in a browser's bookmark menu or other navigation aid."
- Online the headline is highlighted and is more important than in print. "Even when a headline is displayed together with related content, the difficulty of reading online and the reduced amount of information that can be seen in a glance make it harder for users to learn enough from the surrounding data." [Jakob Nielsen]
- Your headline is a promise. "Its job is to clearly communicate the benefit that you will deliver to the reader in exchange for their valuable time. The thing about promises is, they tend to be made before being fulfilled." [Copyblogger]
- 8 of 10 people skip your content but they read your headline. "On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. This is the secret to the power of the headline, and why it so highly determines the effectiveness of the entire piece." [Copyblogger]
- Your headline is a motivator. "How you title your title has an impact on your reader. When scanning down a list of link titles or search results, in a fraction of a second your brain sifts, evaluates, and judges the content within the article based upon the title. The more specific the better. The more 'motivating', even better." [Lorelle on WordPress]
- Headlines help the reader and they help the search engines. "Headlines within your content serve several important functions. First, they pinpoint problems the reader may be having [...] and draw them into reading your next paragraph. Secondly, when you continue using versions of your main keyword phrase in your headlines, you tell the search engines, 'Yup - my article really is about this topic'. That helps you get pulled up in search results much more often, which easily means more visitors to your writing." [AC]
- Headlines help you being found. "Without the proper keywords, headlines, and the appropriate keyword density, Associated Content articles can't be found, and online articles that can't be located through popular search engines are virtually worthless." [AC]
- You've got 8 seconds to pitch. "Recent research suggests that users decide to stay or leave your site in 8 seconds or less -- in that short amount of time, headlines are the one piece of copy that users will actually read." [Conversion University]
- Your headline is like a main store window. "When people read your headline, they're not inside the store yet. They're still outside, thinking about whether to go in or not." [Michel Fortin]
- Great headlines impact your conversion rate. "The importance of good page titles and summaries goes far beyond traditional search engine optimization (SEO) and its narrow focus on getting a high GYM rating (that is, a high ranking on Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft search listings)." [Jakob Nielsen]
- Page titles/headlines differentiate yourself on search engines. "Page titles are used to draw in clicks from search results amongst many anonymous competing offers, thus they present an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the competition and qualify prospects to your offer."
- Search engines and linkers like headlines/page titles. "Since the page title is one of the few elements search engines can show searchers before sending them to your site, they place significant weight on the words in the page title. In addition, some people link to pages using their official page title as the link anchor text." [SEO Book]
- Make scanning easier. "Headlines aid in the visual task of scanning and skimming, which helps your visitors organize the information you present. Worded appropriately, they encourage your visitors to go deeper into your persuasive copy." [grokdotcom]
- The headline is the key to your entire copy/content. "If you cannot be motivated to write the article based on the headline, how is the reader going to be motivated to read it based on the headline." [Cornwall SEO]
- Seduce your readers. "The headline is read by five times as many people who read the body copy, according to David Ogilvy. The headline is what stops people in their tracks and seduces them to continue reading." [Cornwall SEO]
- Great headlines inspire. "Most bloggers start writing their post first and add a headline later - however sometimes doing it the other way around can be fun. You might not end up using the headline that you start with - but it might be enough to spark a little creativity and get the ball rolling on a blog post." [ProBlogger]
Now how can we craft such a winning headline like this?
You will realise that it is often about using human motivators. So the use of at least one of 5 human motivators is often the key to your successful headline. "According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, human behavior is always the result of one or more of five basic needs. He listed these needs in a sequence that he refers to as 'the hierarchy of human needs'." Let's have a look at these keys:
- Target physiological needs. "Basic human needs include hunger, thirst, shelter, clothing and sex."
- Target safety and security needs. "Human need for physical, emotional and financial security."
- Target social (affiliation) needs. "Human need for love, affection, companionship and acceptance."
- Target esteem (self esteem). "Human need for achievement, recognition, attention and respect."
- Target self-actualization. "Human need to reach their full potential." [twospots]
You will realise that many of the following tips basically make use of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
- Use encouraging words to get people to read. "Engaging, powerful words draw readers in. Think: Top, Free, How, Secret, You. Think about action words that encourage people to do something." [Instigator Blog]
- Put information first. "Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F-behavior. They'll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words." [Jakob Nielsen]
- Keep in mind that teasers are tricky especially on heavy page load sites. "No teasers that try to entice people to click to find out what the story is about. Users have been burned too often on the Web to have time to wait for a page to download unless they have clear expectations for what they will get. In print, curiosity can get people to turn the page or start reading an article. Online, it's simply too painful for people to do so."
- Put names, persons or concepts first. "Make the first word an important, information-carrying one. Results in better position in alphabetized lists and facilitates scanning. For example, start with the name of the company, person, or concept discussed in an article." [Jakob Nielsen]
- Know who you are writing for. "It is about who for. The most important factor, the thing you need to work out before even thinking about a headline, is who are you writing for." [ChrisG]
- Back up headline promises and be realistic. "You might find that a more toned down version of your headline, while pulling fewer clicks, works better overall. In fact I have found more realistic headlines tend to get a greater click count as they are not dismissed off hand." [ChrisG]
- Be specific. "Specificity increases credibility because specific details are simply more believable than broad assertions. Plus, a specific headline conveys more valuable information to a potential reader, which acts to draw them magnetically into the content." [Copyblogger]
- Use odd, non-rounded numbers. "So try to be as specific as possible. Use very specific, quantifiable descriptions. For instance, use odd, non-rounded numbers instead of generalizations. Odd, non-rounded numbers are more credible and have pulled more than even or rounded numbers." [Michel Fortin]
- Have your headlines, subheads and bullets useful. "Be USEFUL to the reader, provide him with a sense of URGENCY, convey the idea that the main benefit is somehow UNIQUE and do all of the above in an ULTRA-SPECIFIC way."
- Ask yourself a few questions. "1. Does your headline offer the reader a reward for reading? 2. What specifics could you add to make your headline more intriguing and believable? 3. Does your headline trigger a strong, actionable emotion the reader already has about the subject at hand? 4. Does your headline present a proposition that will instantly get your prospect nodding his or her head? 5. Could your headline benefit from the inclusion of a proposed transaction? 6. Could you add an element of intrigue to drive the prospect into your opening copy?" [Copyblogger]
- Look at successful book titles. "Always make your title clear and make it easy for your audience to recognize they need your book. Your title and front cover is your book's number one sales tool. Short titles are best, say three to six words. John Gray didn't get much attention with his book 'What Your Mother Couldn't Tell You and What Your Father Didn't Know.' He shortened it to the now famous, 'Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus.'" [Ladywriter]
- Use the most powerful words the English language has to offer. "Money, Discovery, Save, Easy, New, Love, Health, Proven, You, Results, Guaranteed and Safety." [twospots]
- Touch topics people really care about. "Love, death, beauty, health, sex, crime, humanity, money" [SEO 2.0]
- Solve problems in magazine style. "What the headlines have in common is they all solve problems. They all make the promise that if you read the article you will gain a piece of information that will improve your life." [Cornwall SEO]
- Create a gap in your headline, close it with your content. "Using a headline that immediately conveys either a problem or a potential benefit not only makes the reader aware that there is a gap but also reinforces it in the mind.[...] Emotionally-charged headlines also help to widen those gaps. The wider the gap is, the greater the desire to close it will be."
- Communicate problems. "A headline that communicates a problem (i.e., a painful situation they feel right now, or a potentially painful one that could arise without the benefits of one's offering or without at least reading the copy) will have more emotional impact than a pleasurable one."
- Use action words that help paint vivid pictures in the mind. "The more vivid the picture is, the more compelling the headline will be.[...] Headlines that communicate something worth reading will cause people to surf deeper into your site (or read further into the letter).[...] Don't let visitors guess what they must do or what they will get from reading further. You can also tell them in the headline." [Michel Fortin]
- Focus on your readers. "This is where you can get creative and have fun with your titles or just be succinct. [...] Do keep in mind that most readers will look toward the headline to see if the content of the post is relevant to them. Make sure that your title makes sense to the reader and makes a promise about the content of the post."
- Write for search engines. "The page title should be short and to the point. Titles lengths should average between 60 and 80 characters [...]. Your keywords must be in your title, but the trick is doing this without making the headline unattractive and boring. If possible, use your key words in the beginning. Because these readers are scanning the search results for keywords they will want to see certain words pop out from the onset." [Copyblogger]
- On writing news and SEO headlines. "Avoid puns."
- And the opposite just for the readers of course: Use puns (don't expect google to honor this though). "Headlines that play on words can make a website memorable. Make sure the pun reinforces the message so it works on more than one level as a clever idea and as a sales pitch." [A List Apart]
- Don't be too short. "Rarely (almost never) use short, verb-less labels as main heads for news stories. They fail to tell the news."
- Don't pirate the lead of the story or give away the ending. "Stealing the lead means repeating it almost verbatim. You do want to make sure the headline matches the tone of the story." [No Train, No Gain]
- Be catchy. "The first job of a headline is to grab the reader's attention. It should do so appropriately and honestly, of course, but the headline is the way that you draw a reader into a story. If it doesn't grab attention, it doesn't matter what else the headline does."
- Be useful. "The best headline will tell the reader what he will get out of reading this story. [...] Whatever the story will do, it should have some use to the reader. The more useful, the better."
- Have the main point in your headline. "The headline should summarize the main point of an article. [...] If you don't get the main point, or think that there's 3 or 4 main points, the article hasn't done its job. It should be rewritten. But at any rate, find that main point and summarize it in the headline."
- Be controversial. "There's no better guarantee of catching a reader's attention than to stir up a little controversy. Be bold, dare to incite a little indignation, or get the pulse racing just a bit. Don't be moronic about it though. You don't need to incite a riot."
- Give it a break and be detached. "In print journalism, a detached editor writes the headline. The writer is too close to the story, and is biased. She thinks every word is important, every point is the main point. And no headline is good enough. If you're writing your own blog headlines, you should become detached. Write a headline, leave it for awhile, come back to it. Try to see it as an outsider would see it - someone who hasn't read your article yet."
- Find the right balance for the headline. "You need to find the middle line between being boring and being crazy. It's not always easy. '20 Ways to Write a Great Headline' is better than 'Headline Writing' but not as strong as 'Write a Perfect Headline or Your Blog Will Fail and So Will You'."
- Find the key verb for your story. "Try this exercise: find a strong verb that best fits the story. Then find other words in the story to go around the verb to form a sentence that summarizes the story. Then shorten that sentence to make a great headline."
- Always double check your headline for any mistakes before you publish. "Before you go to print with your article (or press 'Publish'), check over your headline again. Read it for spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, punctuation mistakes, factual mistakes (the headline is the worst place to make these mistakes). Make sure it makes sense, and that it does its job."
- Write your headline first. "Don't save the headline for last. It's too important, and when you're done with a post you just want to write the darn headline and be done with it. Write the headline first - this allows you to know your main point before you even start writing. Then rewrite the headline later, and give it some time to get right." [FreelanceSwitch]
- Focus on the benefits not the features. "People aren't so interested in what your product or service is. They want to know what it does. Specifically, they want to know what it'll do for THEM." [wpdfd]
- Highlight selling points. "Selling points such as low price, large selection, money-back guarantees, and so on can be quite effective when highlighted in the headline of a page. This is the first text a visitor will see, so it has much potential for a large impact." [Marketing Experiments]
- Write killer "How To" articles and headlines. "The more you focus on the benefits to the reader in your headline, the more readers you'll have. And by touching on the beneficial aspects while laying out the procedural content, you'll have more happy readers at the conclusion of the piece." [Copyblogger]
- Tell stories people can relate to. "Create a headline, title or slogan that tells a story people can immediately recognize and relate to, and they may just start telling your story for you." [Copyblogger]
- Top list lengths that perform best. "Top 7 lists actually scored a 59% success rate, as measured by Jones, compared to 39% for the traditional Top 10 compilations. [...] Top 12 lists were fairly high achievers, then, registering at a 47% success rate." [WebProNews]
- About the power of lists. "Any headline that lists a number of reasons, secrets, types, or ways will work because, once again, it makes a very specific promise of what's in store for the reader. A nice quantifiable return on attention invested goes a long way toward prompting action, and as long as you deliver with quality content, you'll have a satisfied reader." [Copyblogger]
- Don't overdo the list thing. "Don't sacrifice quality for a big headline. You could probably find a hundred or more resources for your list, but how many of them will waste your reader's time? Include only as many quality resources as you find." [ProBlogger]
- Use hot keywords like Apple and Al Jazeera (instead of Hardware and Qatar TV Channel). "People love to read stories about topics they're interested in. Some trends endure longer than others, whilst some are short lived - but if you're writing about a hot topic, be sure to drop in those keywords to whet your reader's appetite." [Modern Life]
- Reveal facts. "Website visitors are looking for information fast. The best headlines for the web immediately communicate facts. If you can feed site visitors' hunger for knowledge, you will be rewarded with more hits."
- Use quotes and testimonials. "It's not easy to gain the trust of site visitors, especially when you have only three seconds to communicate your authority. That's why messages of endorsement can make good headlines. Testimonials from respected people allow you to do that."
- Lead with popularity. "You can gain people's trust by saying how many other people have benefited from the product or service."
- Guarantee the product. "A guarantee dissolves any skepticism people may have about the reliability of the product. Guarantees can be based around customer satisfaction, results, quality, durability, strength, fixed price promises, a commitment on behalf of the company, and lowest price claims."
- Create a need and then show how the product fulfills it. "A proven way to position a product is to show how it solves a need or a problem."
- Announce the price and where to buy. "If the product is particularly good value for money, you can't go wrong with 'the three Ps': show the Product, show the Price, and show where to Purchase."
- Just state the offer. "People are always looking for a bargain, which is why the word 'Free' is another powerful word in the advertiser's lexicon. If you have a good offer to tell people about, lead with it."
- Put the product to the test. "You can 'test' the product to highlight its key features such as convenience, strength, versatility - or to show how the product compares with the competition."
- Use a case study. "Case studies prove validity by showing how people have already benefited from the product in the past. They are particularly useful for highlighting success stories, before-and-afters, or for demonstrating the versatility and universality of the product."
- Be frank. "Headlines that reveal a trade secret or confront a taboo can make the website look refreshingly honest - and therefore never fail to grab attention. Warning: this only works if your target audience welcomes the information, consciously or unconsciously."
- Take an original point-of-view. "You don't have to write in the third person. Your headlines can mimic the voice of anyone or anything that benefits from the audience using the website's product or service."
- Break expectations. "Really clever headlines incorporate an element of surprise; setting up an expectation, and presenting the message in a way that breaks it."
- Associate the product with a connected idea, feeling, or emotion. "Metaphor is commonly used in consumer advertising, corporate-identity, and brand-building collateral. It can be particularly effective in activating an archetype that connects an emotion with the brand." [A List Apart]
- Use subtitles for different angles or topics. "If you are covering several different topics within a post, or are covering one topic from several different angles, break up the action by separating each subsection of your post with a title of its own."
- Use subtitles to improve the readability. "By using subtitles I am breaking up the action between the text and making it easer for all of you to consume all the text.[...] As a reader, if you already know some of these techniques and want to skip ahead to the one you don't know, its as easy as looking for the bold text.[...] Subheadings reinforce the content of your page when it is being indexed by a search engine." [Copyblogger]
- Don't forget to have good content to back your headline and make a good first impression. "The process of creating value in those micro-seconds is called 'stickiness'. It means the visitor has enough content to distract them for a few more seconds, so hopefully they will stick around or return. The more content and value they find in those few seconds before they leave your blog can make them think about saving your page, bookmarking it, adding it to their feed reader, or adding the page to their social bookmarking service to return at a later time." [Lorelle on WordPress]
When writing your headline keep in mind that it could possibly be picked up by social media sites. Often headlines need to be adapted to the specific services. You can see that World's Most Expensive Places to Have Sex has been changed to Oh...so that's why condoms cost so much in Ireland [pic] sfw. While this piece isn't brilliant it promises an answer (which you don't get in the text) and leaves the reader wondering. Also notice the clever insertion of the picture/thumbnail and use of humour in the description.
- The headline is even more important on social media sites. "Given that many social news sites have a voting mechanism that does not even require people to read the article to vote, the title may be far more important than the actual content of your link bait."
- Control the submitting process. "Have a friend or yourself submit your best ideas to the most authoritative and relevant social news sites. [...] Ensures your story has a title that is easy to vote for. Ensures your story is submitted at an appropriate time." [SEO Book]
- Write the headline with social media in mind. "The headline and the opening are the most important words on the page. [...] You've got to make it brain-dead easy for the content to be submitted. That means your headline and opening should be ready to submit 'as is' or with only small tweaks for the site's community." [Copyblogger]
- Additional information for digg users. "You just remove certain words that will be superfluous. You want to make your title as short as possible, because these readers don't have a lot of patience and you have mere seconds to get their attention."
- Simple word rearrangement. "I simply rearranged the title to bring 'new' to the front which immediately makes the title attractive because the people get a look at something 'breaking', 'new', 'exclusive', 'this just in'."
- Simple word omission. "You drop a few words from the actual title to create a title that isn't as restrictive as the original. By removing a few key words you can make the title appeal to a much larger audience."
- Presentation as fact and sensationalism. "I removed the question mark to make it a statement not a question. Then I added new information to the title and pushed the existing information to the end. The result is automatically sensationalized."
- Digg bait word addition. "Because it was good to begin with I opted simply to add 'Pictures' right before the title and it worked like a charm."
- Word of caution. "Of course these changes were only made to the title and in fact the summary reflected complete information so as to not make the submission inaccurate. But this is a first step in getting the reader's attention." [Copyblogger]
- Target the right audience. "By targeting a story at or slightly amending the headline and summary for the audience of social media sites, we can drive huge amounts of traffic." [SEOmoz]
- Be unique and funny. "To increase your chances of getting on Digg's homepage, try coming up with something unique and funny but don't forget to make sure it's still related to the article." [Pronet Advertising]
- Be the first one to do something. "The words 'new', 'first', and 'top' tell us that you have to be the first one to do something and do it well."
- Write about things web users are interested in. "The word 'web' is quite obviously a sign that a web-based or web-related service is more tuned to the interests of the crowd."
- Use pictures and videos to make your point. "The words 'pictures' and 'video' tell us that it is often better to use these mediums to present information in a quicker and more appealing way than just paragraphs upon paragraphs of text." [Pronet Advertising]
- Use value/curiosity headlines for StumbleUpon. "The Value/Curiosity headline formula. The two most effective ways to encourage someone to read your posts is to a) promise value that will make the time-investment worthwhile or b) make them curious. For option A, pick a headline that makes your post sound unmissable. For B, pick a headline that begs an explanation. For example: What's the scariest fish in the Amazon? Hint: It's not the Piranha. It's far, far worse (source). Another simple hack is to make your headlines really big and eye-catching, so they gather more attention." [ProBlogger]
- Use superlatives. "This point is perhaps particularly relevant to social bookmarking sites, but the use of a superlative is a good way to get clicks on your headline. In fact, it's probably the BEST way." [Modern Life]
- Get to know your target audience. "Know your audience's fetishes. Know what they love/hate and know what they talk about. Know what cliques exist within the community. Know what totems, symbols, personalities and ideas are embraced by the general populace." [DoshDosh]
- Use Cracked.com's secret formula. "'The' + (Number) + 'Most' + (Over the top adjective) + (Subject) + Of All Time (Synonyms like 'in History' or 'Ever' will also be accepted) = Popularity" [Cracked]
- Use the power of lists. "List-based content marries very well with an EN approach because without a super-strong idea, your headline will need to promise value. Lists do that by previewing the amount of value in the content. Compare 'Kung Fu Battles' with 'The Top 50 Kung Fu Battles of All Time'." [skelliewag]
- Instruct diggers to digg your article. "Digg users are busy people - do you really expect them to sit there and read all that stuff? If your article is worth Digging, cut the bullshit and say so in the headline. Trust me: the community will thank you for it." [Cracked]
- Be an active social media user yourself and be patient. Your content can be good but you still don't get the recognition you deserve. I even had/have breaking news on my blog and it didn't get the attention it deserved so far. When you're new to blogging and social media you first need to build your social media profiles and relatonships to get the attention you want.
Let's have a look at another very important factor of your headline. Your headline is what will appear as a page title (on top of your browser) and with the search results on search engines. Often you will be able to write the headline for your blog and social media, but change the title tag for google which is a good thing (for wordpress you can use plugins like All in One SEO) because with a few minor changes you can do a hell of a good job. But let's see what the experts say to help us out:
- On the importance of title tags. "I changed my title tags on my home page to 'ProBlogger Blog Tips: Helping Bloggers Earn Money'. Just a tweak really - the inclusion of two words. I set this up and waited to see what would happen. [...] My search ranking for Google on the term 'Blog Tips' went from 65th to 10th in two or three days. On MSN I went from 40th to 1st." [ProBlogger]
- On the importance of the <h1> tag which should wrap your headline in your article. "H1 tags play a hugely important role in helping a search engine assess a web page for relevance against a search term. Secondary only to the page title tag, the H1 tag plays a vital role in your on page optimisation." [medianetrix]
- Use the power of page titles. "Page titles are the most important link between pure SEO and your human readers. Although their apparent impact on your site's pages may appear minimal, their true impact in the search engines is undeniable." [Pearsonified]
- Improve your WordPress or any CMS installation. "Title tags are arguably the most important of the on-page factors for search engine optimization ('SEO'). It blows my mind how post titles are also used as title tags by WordPress, considering that post titles should be catchy, pithy, and short-and-sweet; whereas title tags should incorporate synonyms and alternate phrases to capture additional search visibility." [netconcepts]
- Go easy on your creativity. "You can win awards with a headline like 'BASTARDS!' over a shot of the Twin Towers in flames, but in a search-engine results-page, that headline is invisible. Instead, you want a clean, informative headline that alphabetizes well (no punctuation, numbers or articles at the start), along with a totally straight, totally informative lede graf." [BoingBoing]
- Skip "the" and "a". An easy but important one. "Skip leading articles like 'the' and 'a' in email subjects and page titles (but do include them in headlines that are embedded within a page). Shorter microcontent is more scannable, and since lists are often alphabetized, you don't want your content to be listed under 'T' in a confused mess with many other pages starting with 'the'." [Jakob Nielsen]
- Make it simple and concise. "You should write simple, concise, informative headlines if you want people to click on them! Getting a story ranked by having a sub-headline designed for the engines [...] will do you no good if the link that the engines display is the clever wordy version. [...] Instead, the journalist should assume that the searcher does not have much knowledge on the subject. Thus, a simple and informative headline will make it much easier for them to decide whether the article that the search engine returns is actually relevant too them." [SEOmoz]
- Your title is what brings visitors from search engines. "The title tag is what's displayed as the link in search results - research in the US showed that it accounted for 30% of a user's decision of which result to click on."
- Put the most important keywords to the front. "If you don't put the most important bits of information towards the front of your headline, they may get cut off â€“ as engines only display around 60 characters, including spaces."
- Use plain English. "Search engines don't understand metaphors, puns, or other forms of wordplay, and people don't use them when searching for information - use plain English."
- Use full names. "When writing headlines and body copy, you should use full names of people, places, companies, & products - avoid acronyms, abbreviations & jargon." [SEOmoz]
- Incorporate keyword phrases. "It's critical that whatever your keyword research shows as being the most valuable for capturing searches gets prominently included in your title tag. It doesn't have to be the first words, but it should be the semantic and logical center of attention." [SEOmoz]
- Get the titles in <h1>. "Although most themes for WordPress get this right, make sure your post title is an <h1>, and nothing else. Your blog's name should only be an <h1> on your frontpage, and on single, post, and category pages, it should be no more than an <h3>."
- Just do it, it's the third time you read it now. "Out of the box wordpress puts the blog title in an H1 tag on every page. While this makes sense on the homepage, on individual posts, it's just bad information architecture, and shows a complete lack of understanding of SEO . The best thing to do is to put the post title in an H1 tag." [Graywolf]
- Use HeadSpace (or some of the plugins mentioned below). "I prefer to do this with HeadSpace, as that makes it very very easy. You should check your header.php though, and make sure that the code for wp_title(); contains two quotes, so it looks like this: wp_title('');." [Yoast]
- Use passive voice. "Active voice is best for most Web content, but using passive voice can let you front-load important keywords in headings, blurbs, and lead sentences. This enhances scannability and thus SEO effectiveness. [...] Users scan Web content in an F-pattern, and often read only the first 2 words of a paragraph." [Jakob Nielsen]
- Use descriptive modifiers. "Sometimes it helps to add in a descriptive modifier before your core keyword. This helps ensure your page is less likely to get filtered out of the search results (and thus makes your rankings more stable) while helping you rank for additional terms."
- Each page should have a unique page title. "Page titles should be differentiated from page to page on your site. Unless limited by the size and scope of your site, it is best not to have all your page titles follow the exact same formula across your site. You also should not use the same keyword at or near the start of every page title." [SEO Book]
- Be careful with "cheap" as a keyword modifier. From experience in retail SEO, I've seen that "cheap" (as a keyword modifier) is often a low conversion rate visitor, and it may even lower the conversion rate of other visitors. Instead, I'd probably opt to put it in the text of the page (and even then, relatively sparsely). [SEOmoz]
- Use good semantic structures like h1,h2,h3 etc. "A good document has headings and subheadings, because headings make it easier to determine the topic of a page. These headings can range in importance from h1 to h6. [...] Strict semanticists sometimes suggest that you should only have one h1, two h2's, 3 h3's etc. I don't agree with that, as I think it's very normal for a document to have more than two h2's [...]." [Graywolf]
- Get the keywords in various headings/subtitles. "Search engines give the words used in the various headings more weight in determining the topic of a page. The keyword your page is optimized for should appear at least once in an h1 tag, and related keywords should be used in the other headings [...]." [Dev.Opera]
- Explain your headline with your subheadings. "Add a h2 headline which is a sentence explaining your h1 headline. Example: h1 - 'SEO Services Glasgow', h2 - 'We're the first professional search engine optimisation company in Glasgow offering SEO services since 1995'." [SEOptimise]
- You can optimize for multiple word order search phrases. "Although it may seem obvious, you should go after the highest traffic phrase ordering first. I say this even if you're thinking the competition is stiff and you might have a better shot with some of the less high demand orderings - those will come later." [SEOmoz]
- Make a good first impression. "Generic words such as 'website home' or 'welcome to' usually should not appear in your page title. [...] Ensure your page title differentiates your site from competing sites." [SEO Book]
- Brand your title tags to increase traffic. "Use the title of your site or brand at the beginning or end of every title tag to help searchers know where they're going and to increase return visits. [...] You'll find that users will go further down the rankings to click on a "trusted" brand."
- Target longer phrases if they're relevant. "When choosing what keywords to include in a title tag, I often like to use as many as are completely relevant to the page at hand, while remaining accurate and descriptive. [...] However, if you have a separate landing page for 'Skiing accessories' than for 'equipment,' then you shouldn't include one term in the other's title - you'll be cannibalizing your rankings by forcing the engines to choose which page on your site is more relevant."
- Use a divider. "When splitting up the brand from the descriptive, I like to use the '|' symbol (aka the pipe bar). Others choose the arrow '>' or hyphen '-' and both work well. At times, however, I've found it useful to use the arrow or hyphen inside a title tag, as with a title like 'SEOmoz | Articles > Keyword Research - A Beginner's Guide' hence my love of the pipe bar."
- Test your title tags and focus on clickthrough & conversion rates. "If you've got a market that is relatively stable in search volume week-to-week, you can do some testing with your title tags and improve the clickthrough. Watch your analytics and, if it makes sense, buy search ads on the page as well - even if it's just for a week or two, it can make a huge difference in the long run."
- Target searcher intent in your title tags. "If the intent is browsing or research-based, a more descriptive title tag is appropriate. If you're reasonably sure the intent is a purchase, download or other action, make it clear in your title that this function can be performed at your site."
- Repeat the title tag in the headline. "Users who go to a page from the SERPs will have the expectation of finding the title they clicked - deliver and you've fulfilled that obligation. Users will be more likely to stay on a page they're reasonably certain fits their intended goal or query." [SEOmoz]
- Sometimes write for emotion and spreading ideas. "If you can spread a great idea that other people will link to and reference, then that is a good thing. Sometimes you can get keywords in great article headlines, but if making the title keyword rich means that few people will link to it, then I suggest choosing to go with the story that spreads over the story that ranks. You could always go back and change the title later after the story spreads."
- About hyphens, acronyms and apostrophes. "Most search engines treat hyphens and apostrophes as a space. E-mail is seen as being slightly different than email. If a word is split by a hyphen or apostrophe then you should check to see which version is used more frequently and optimize for whatever versions are commonly searched upon."
- Don't forget to localize. "Make sure that if you are not from the country of your target market, you know what words are commonly used to describe the products or services you are promoting there. It is important that your copy sounds local when targeting local markets." [SEO Book]
When you want to be found online you'll have to do some research. You'll want to know what keywords people are using when searching for something you write about. But you might also want to know how you can improve your headlines and titles so they perform best for you. Here's where World's Most Expensive Places to Have Sex performs worse than Cheap Condoms, Expensive Condoms. That title was clearly written for readers and social media, not really for search engines and long term google referrals. That's what we'll look at right now:
- On the importance of keywords. "Keywords matter, because when you speak the language of the audience, you attract more readers, more links, more Diggs, more social bookmarks, and yes - more relevant search traffic." [Copyblogger]
- What words and phrases would you search for? "Check which version of a phrase gets more searches (using the free keyword tools provided by Google or Yahoo!). See what kind of information the engines return on a particular search term - if it's not the same as the content you're creating, don't use that phrase." [SEOmoz]
- Don't make it too wordy. "Headlines must contain the main keywords or phrases that best describe the piece and preferably nothing more. Don't make your headlines too wordy." [AC]
- Use different (key)words. "Don't use the same initial keywords in your headline and summary. You have 4 words to make your point, so use 4 different words."
- Repeat only the most important keywords. "Avoid repeating any headline words in the summary, except for the most important one or two keywords. You can repeat these halfway through the summary to reinforce them for people who scanned past them in the headline." [Jakob Nielsen]
- Tweak the titles slightly. "The format, order, and word selection of the words in your page title should be (at least slightly) different than the words in your meta description and on page headers."
- Use your brand. "If you have a strong brand you may want to place it at the end of your page title. If you have one of the leading trusted Internet brands (Amazon, eBay, etc.) then it might make sense to place your brand at the start of the page title. In most cases the page title should still be more focused on the page copy and searcher's intent than on your brand." [SEO Book]
- Write and test several versions. "Challenge yourself to write the best headline possible. Don't just go with your first attempt. Write that down, then do 3 or 4 more tries. Test each headline by saying it out loud. Look over these guidelines and see if any of them will help the headline. Say it out loud to your spouse or best friend or your mom. Which one catches their attention? Sometimes a clever headline will sound confusing to others." [FreelanceSwitch]
- Methods of headline testing. "Be aware of your testing options. Basic A/B testing and multivariate testing allow different levels of flexibility and specificity [...]. A/B testing allows you to focus exclusively on headlines, while multivariate testing allows you to test other page elements simultaneously." [Marketing Experiments]
- Obey the cardinal rule of SEO blogging and run keyword research on every post title. "Visit your favorite keyword traffic estimator tool - Google, Wordtracker, KW Discovery. [...] Choose the keyword or phrase most central to your blog post's title and enter it into the keyword suggestion tool. [...] Take the results and modify your title intelligently. You might even consider adding the popular search terms that are returned to the post's body content (just once or twice is all it takes)." [SEOmoz]
- Kewyord selection. "Each page on your site can be targeted for a few different keyword phrases. Typically I like to just do about one to two primary phrases and, at most, two to three secondary phrases. Many secondary phrases simply consist of a primary keyword + a related keyword modifier."
- Use plural keyword versions here and there. "Some search engines use stemming, but usually the search results for singular and plural search phrases are at least slightly different. In fact, Google returns different search results for searches with low value stop words in the search queries. While it is recommended that you optimize for common versions of your popular keywords, you should occasionally use other versions of those words throughout your copy." [SEO Book]
- Use these suggestions to test your headlines. You can find more details at the source. 1. Test fractions or percentages to prove your claim. 2. Test asking questions in the headline. 3. Test using emotional-laden words. 4. Test different types of formatting. 5. Test the number of words used in the headline. 6. Test using exclamation points. 7. Test using text to convey the benefits versus the features of your products or services. 8. Test self-focused (we/I) versus customer-focused text (you). 9. Test using quotations in the headline. 10. Test the reading level of the headline. [grokdotcom]
In my opinion the digg title could be capitalised properly, it just makes for easier reading and scanning. Here are some rules:
- Do capitalize al words except... "All words, except articles (the, a, an), conjunctions (and, or, for, nor), and short prepositions (of, in, on) in headings and the titles of books, plays, lectures, musical compositions, etc., including A and The if at the beginning of a title." [USC: Editorial Style Guide]
- Do capitalize. "The first word in the head should be capitalized as should all proper nouns. Most headline words appear in lower-case letters. Do not capitalize every word."
- Capitalize after a colon. "Do capitalize the first word after a colon. (In some cases, when only one word follows the colon, the word would not be capitalized. Use your best judgment.)"
- Use numbers. "Numbers often go against AP style in headlines. For example, you may start a sentence with a number and, even though that number is below 10, you do not have to spell it out."
- Careful about punctuation. "Headline punctuation is normal with two significant exceptions: Use periods for abbreviations only, and use single quotes where you would use double quotes in copy."
- Use comma instead of "and". "The comma, in addition to its normal use, can take on the work of the word 'and.' On rare occasions, the comma also can indicate the word 'but' (but, if used that way, be very, very careful, ensuring that the reader has a clear understanding that's what the comma means. The semi-colon is better for the 'but.' Even better is to use the word 'but.')" [Wonderful World of Editing]
- Don't put periods in titles. "Full stops, like their name suggests, are something that halts the eye of your reader. [...] This isn't something you want at this point in your post. Titles are all about leading your reader into your post and so anyway that you can help this flow is a bonus." [Problogger]
- Make it easy write these capitalized. "About, After, All ,Almost ,Always ,Because, Before, Between, Both, Down, Every, If, It, Its, Like, More, Most, No, Not, Other, Out, Than, That, Their, Them, There, Through, Toward, What, Who"
- Don't capitalize these words. "a, an, and, as, at, but, by, for, from, in, into, nor, of, on, or, over, per, the, to, upon, vs., with" [AnalPhilosopher]
- Capitalized keywords in search enginges. "Most major search engines are not case sensitive. Cars is typically treated the same way as cars." [SEO Book]
Now after the buzz that followed the publication of the article at Environmental Graffiti, I decided to follow up and go where the attention was. I published an improved version of my original post: The Top 7 Places to Get Pregnant. And surely enough that title (and content) was successful enough to draw some attention from StumbleUpon and was on Buzz there too. It was also a good thing that I could highlight the post on EG and possibly give it more weight because in the end it also linked to me.
But the most important thing I want you to notice, maybe even in the whole article, is how a slightly different headline takes a different angle on a piece of content and how that can change your statements, your main point, your whole article. Again compare the original, the improvement and the following up and not just the headlines this time around but also the images and the content. Take an article you'd like to follow up, try various headlines and approaches. You can use so called swipe files with endless headline suggestions (you can find many in the resources below).
- Read magazines. "If you want to get inspiration, look at the cover of magazines. Half the time they get them wrong, but sometimes you'll find a great headline. I hate it when they oversell a story, but those magazine editors sure know how to write sexy headlines. [...] But magazines know the secret of headlines: it's the headlines (and the sexy model) that sell the magazine. Same thing with your blog headlines." [FreelanceSwitch]
- Keep thinking about the headline. "Whilst continually keeping the headline in the back of my mind I mooch around magazines, newspapers, daytime TV ( they have excellent adverts), a lot of social media, IM a few people, talk to a few people." [Cornwall SEO]
- Twitter headline research. "Basically, I get a headline idea which I think worthy of the Twitter mosh pit and I throw it in. If I get feedback great, if not, the headline needs serious work. [...] Every so often I will throw one into the Twitter mosh pit and see what comes back." [Cornwall SEO]
- Read the best blogs out there. "This should go without saying, but I'll say it nonetheless - read good blogs. The successful blogs got where they are because they provide awesome content with headlines to match. And blogs that have been successful for some time have usually perfected the craft. Use them for inspiration." [FreelanceSwitch]
Mygazines is your free place to browse, share, archive and customize unlimited magazine articles uploaded by people like you. Browse and learn if you don't have the time to hit a newspaper stand or library.
- Web Economy Bullshit Generator
Click your way to headline heaven. This application uses popular words and generates humorous but mostly inspirational headlines.
- The London Evening Standard Headline Generator
This little tool mixes real Evening Standard newspaper headlines and outputs perfectly fresh attention grabbing headlines. Headline inspiration guranteed.
- Use the power of swipe files and a word of caution. "If you don't match up an appropriate headline structure with your content, you might crash and burn worse than if you just came up with a headline off the top of your head."
- Warning: [These Countries Rob Your Money When You're Buying Condoms].
- Are You [Irish and Fed Up with Paying Luxury Tax for Condoms]? [Copyblogger]
- The [Durex] Approach to [Making Good Money] [Pronet Advertising]
- Who Else Wants [to Pay less for Condoms]?
- The Secret of [Durex] [Copyblogger]
- Take Advantage [of Our Condom Price Knowledge] [chrisbloczynski]
- Magazine Style I. "Your Sexual Health: Crucial New Facts Your Gyno Forgot to Mention" - UK Condom Prices: What Durex Doesn't Tell Us
- Magazine Style II. "A Shocking Thing 68% of Chicks Do in Bed" - Shocking Truth: We Pay 400% for our Condoms [Copyblogger]
- SEO Book's Free Meta Tag Tool
This SEO Book tool automatically generates meta tags for your website <head>.
- Social Poster
Yes this is somewhat against coming up with 1000 different headlines for 1000 different social media sites. If you've found the perfect headline then you can submitt it to all of the sites you're aiming at.
- Google Website Optimizer
Test different versions of your headlines. Website Optimizer automates the testing process and shows you which landing pages, headlines, and layout combinations result in the most conversions.
- Google Sets
Will tell you what Google itself considers relevant neighboring terms.
Visual search service which shows related modifiers clustered around your search.
Displays a keyword tag cloud and demonstrates the usage of this keyword and its synonyms in short context. It also offers a handy FireFox and Internet Explorer extension that displays relevant topics within Google search results.
- Keyword Map
Keyword Map shows your keyword variations either in alphabetical order or on a map.
- Urban Dictionary
Gives you a list of related slang and urban words and helps to understand your keywords' associations as well as jargon, memes, and neologisms. You can also install the Firefox plugin for Urban Dictionary.
WordCount is an artistic experiment in the way we use language. It presents the 86,800 most frequently used English words, ranked in order of commonness.
- Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer
Your headline will be analyzed and scored based on the total number of EMV (Emotional Marketing Value) words it has in relation to the total number of words it contains. This will determine the EMV score of your headline.
Enter a few words or phrases and see how often they appear on Twitter. Use this tool to track the keyword popularity in social media. If you'd like to follow real time twitter discussions I'd consider twitter search, formerly known as Summize.
- SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool
Offers rough suggested daily search volumes by market for Google, Yahoo!, and MSN.
- Wordtracker keyword suggestion tool
Is a free keyword suggestion tool by Wordtracker. They also have a more advanced paid service.
- Google AdWords Keyword Suggestion Tool
This is a google AdWords tool which will help to find or improve keyword ideas. It also allows to find keywords based on your site content and location and language based research.
- Yahoo! Keyword Phrase Term Extraction
Let's say you can't come up with a title for your piece of content or you just want to get an idea what a given text is about. This free tool allows you to extract the key meaningful terms from your piece of content.
- Google Trends
Track the seasonal search popularity for your keyword. Displayed visually.
- Google Insights for Search
The new Google Insights for Search tool lets you compare search volume patterns across specific regions, categories, and time frames. Very handy.
- The TTFTitles WordPress Plugin
This plugin lets you use images to replace the titles of your posts, thus circumventing the problem of guessing what fonts your end-users might have installed.
- HeadSpace 2
This WordPress plugin that lets you rewrite titles, meta data, the read more tag and offers uncounted more possibilities.
- SEO Title Tag
If you don't need all the power of HeadSpace you can try SEO Title Tag.
- All in One SEO Plugin
Is another SEO plugin for WordPress. It does lots of other stuff in addition to rewriting the titles.
- SEO Slugs
Keeps slugs from becoming too long and complicated.
- Font size of the headlines. "The larger the headline is, the more weight it is given to. However, if too many headlines compete for user's attention the cognitive load increases and it is becoming harder to the users to actually consider the navigation options." [Smashing Magazine]
- Use normal text in your html. "If you're using images to replace text, because you want the text to look nicer (image replacement,) make sure that you're using normal text in your HTML, and that you replace that text with images by using CSS. You have to do this because both people with visual impairments and search engines cannot read the text in your images." [Dev.Opera]
- Choose the right typography. Take a look at this showcase of headline typographic design from across the web "Typography For Headlines".
- Choose the right fonts. "Font selection for headlines on websites can be critical to achieving the right look and drawing the proper attention with the headlines." Have a look at this insightful article "50+ Fonts for Big, Bold Headlines".
- You can use a css gradient text effect. Apply a gradient to your headings for a web 2.0 style page. This is done with a png image and CSS only. Learn more from CSS Gradient Text Effect on webdesignerwall.
- 5 Sure-Fire Social Media Headline Formulas That Work
- 7 More Sure-Fire Headline Templates That Work
- 10 Sure-Fire Headline Formulas That Work
- 25 Headline Formulas That Have Plagued and Blessed Web 2.0
- 30+ Tools For The Amateur Writer
- 48 Social News Websites: A List of General and Niche Social Media Communities
- 54 Proven Headlines Templates That Sell
- 65 Headlines to Jump Start your Linkbait
- 99 Headline Techniques Revealed
- Doodles from Deviantart
- Get Your Headline Mojo Moving: 52 Idea Starters, No Excuses
- Headline Remix Madness Part 1, 2, 3
- How a Good Title and Description Can Make or Break Your Social Media Submission
- How to Write Magnetic Headlines
- Keyword Research & Suggestion Tools
- Learn How to Write Titles to Get Traffic and Links: The Ultimate Guide
- Magazine Headline Remix: Details Edition
- Online SEO Tools - the Ultimate Collection
- Optimizing WordPress Page Titles, Post Titles and Page Slugs
- Poster Web 2.0 on Flickr
- SEO Plugins for WordPress Part II
- SEO & PPC Competitive Analysis & Keyword Research Tools
- Style Guides for Headline Writing on Wikipedia
- The 100 Greatest Headlines Ever Written
- The Cosmo Headline Technique for Blogging Inspiration
- Ultimate List of Blog Heading Templates & Titles for Blogging
- Writing Effective, Attention-Getting Headlines and Titles on Your Blog
- Warning: Use These 5 Surefire Headline Formulas at Your Own Risk
I would like to close this post with a word of warning. Now that you know how to craft attention-getting headlines make sure your content matches your high quality standard headline. There is nothing more annoying than clicking on a story that is hopelessly oversold.
Special thanks go to all the clever writers I researched with this piece and I hope this lesson is as useful to you as it was to me. What's the best headline you have come up with?