There are few elements of a website more important than headlines: they serve as an introduction to that particular page and often times to the site as a whole. First impressions can be powerful, so it’s important to get your headlines right. Searchers are only going to give your entry on the search engine results page (SERP) a second of the their time, so you have to be direct. Tell them exactly what your article’s about and give them a reason to click on it.
Ever since Google launched its Panda update, the search engine has been cracking down on spammy content. This has a lot of people (rightfully) afraid of abusing keywords. Google frowns upon keyword ‘stuffing’ because it’s unnatural and difficult to read. But one place where you should still use keywords is your article’s headline. What Google cares about more than anything is helping people find information as efficiently as possible – using keywords in your headlines furthers that cause. Straightforward, keyword-rich headlines are essential because they appeal to both readers and search engines.
Keywords help your headline appeal to readers by declaring unambiguously the topic of your article and speaking the same language in which they are searching. Keywords also appeal to search engine bots. From an SEO perspective, the most important part of your article are the html tags at the top of the page, especially the title tag (<title></title>). Putting keywords in your headline will do more than anything to help your article rank well for the terms people are searching for. It may sound cynical, but without keywords in your headline, there’s a strong possibility people will never even see your content. These days great content doesn’t do any good if it doesn’t rank well in the search engines.
Offer a Benefit to the Reader
Including relevant keywords in the title will help search engines know what your article is about and (hopefully) get it plenty of impressions. But how do you get readers to click on your page instead of the competition? Let them know what benefit they’ll derive from reading your article. That benefit could be information, instruction in a certain skill, a quick summary of industry news, the answer to a specific question, or just pure entertainment. Whatever it is, you need to incorporate it into your headline so searchers have a reason to click on it.
For example, “how to” headlines are popular because they clearly promise the reader a new or enhanced skill if they invest the time in reading it. Likewise list posts such as “Seven Tips for…” or “Twenty Reasons to…” promise information in an easily digestible format. Question headlines implicitly promise to answer the question stated in the headline.
Whatever you do, you need to provide readers a reason to select your article beyond mere relevance. Leave entertainment and attention-grabbing as the icing on the cake. Many people believe a headline’s number one job is to grab attention. Look no further than the latest Cosmo for an example of headlines that titillate, rendering irresistible the content between the covers – at least in theory. Other publications take a similar, albeit less tawdry, tack. The New Yorker, for example, often goes for wit and the New York Post is the master of the pun. You do want to grab people’s attention, but clever headlines don’t necessarily serve your site best – especially if you’re hoping to attract organic traffic to a business website. In fact, you’ll be lucky if it gets picked up by the search engines at all. These sorts of headlines are only effective if you have a loyal base of readers who will come to your site no matter what.
It’s okay to throw in an exciting adjective or grab people’s attention with an interesting angle, just make sure it doesn’t compromise the essential foundations of a great internet headline: relevant keywords and a promise to the reader. Focusing on these two elements will drive more relevant visitors to your site and ultimately drive increased sales.