10 tips for writing powerful SEO headlines in 2020

If your headline doesn’t grab the reader’s attention, the article it links to may as well not exist. Lose your audience with your headline and you’ve lost them altogether.

In the tips shared below, we outline the 10 building blocks of authoritative headlines which develop AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.

  1. Accurately describe your content

The best kind of headline, to quote the old Ronseal advertising slogan, is one which does “exactly what it says on the tin”. Headlines are about indicating to the audience what they should expect when they click through. While it might seem logical to write ‘clickbait’ headlines that don’t lead to a pay-off, in the SEO world, these sorts of headlines are actively damaging to rankings.

With an exact and truthful title, people arrive at your article and read precisely what they anticipated. Page dwell time is high, and search engines begin to recognise the page as valuable. On the other hand, write an inaccurate headline or one that misleads audiences, dwell time is deemed low and search engines begin to accept that the page is of poor quality.

  1. Be specific

There are times when you might want to be deliberately elusive with title in order to generate clicks, but generally speaking, the more precise you can be, the more effective the headline. Compare the following titles as an example:

  • 5 campaign tips
  • 5 golden rules for planning an award-winning PR campaign

Headlines should at least be specific enough to make sense out of context.

  1. Adjust for length

If your title is long, search engines may shorten it by adding an ellipsis ("..."). This isn’t bad per se, but it’s a point worth considering if the headline you want to go with is unavoidably long. In a lengthier headline, earlier words should indicate what the page is about; readers need to be able to understand the headline even if the end has been sliced off.

Though ellipses can present challenges on occasions, don’t assume this is a good reason to choose excessively pithy titles. By nature these tend to be vague, and therefore, as per the previous tip, can never properly describe what the page is about.

As a rule of thumb, you should keep your titles under 60 characters long. To put it another way, if you can’t read it in one breath, it’s probably too long.

  1. Use simple, readable language

Readability is the measure of how easy a text is to understand, and the same is true of headlines. Readable titles provide clarity for the reader about what they should expect to read when they click through to your page.

Young copywriters and marketers often make the mistake of writing headlines in the style that they’re used to from university – but this is a big mistake. Academic-style titles are usually verbose and tend to be fairly opaque about what the reader can expect in the writing itself.

  1. Encourage an emotional response

It’s important to remember that you want to elicit an emotional response from search engine visitors, and words, of course, have a potent ability to evoke these. It can be helpful to think about what exact emotion you’re aiming to encourage in the typical user – whether that’s a sense of fear, surprise, FOMO, joy, or something else – and using an emotive adjective that can inspire this. Some examples which come to mind include:

  • Surprising
  • Critical
  • Ultimate
  • Basic
  • Proven
  • Essential
  • Useful

Verbs are also motivating and can develop an emotional response in a similar way. Examples include:

  • Learn
  • Build
  • Discover
  • Explore
  • Get
  • Read
  1. Use numbers

Numbers are useful because our brains are highly receptive to them and people love learning in sets. Numbers organise a post in digestible chunks for the reader and imply that there is valuable, concise content if readers click through. Listicle formatting also makes posts easy to skim-read and helps readers to focus on points that they find particularly interesting.

Multiples of 5 or 10 work well. Using numerical rather alphabetical – i.e ‘5’, rather than ‘Five’ – can help to further shorten headlines.

  1. Use keywords

Keywords are what most people think of when they think ‘SEO’, and certainly, they form an important aspect of quality headline-writing. The inclusion of keywords relevant to your business can help drive appropriate traffic.

However, it’s important not to become obsessed with this aspect of headline-writing. Forcing more of your favourite keywords into a headline won’t magically make it rank well, and if the keyword you’re considering doesn’t help to describe the article, it’s best left out.

  1. Work backwards from search intent

When writing a title for a post designed to rank highly on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP), you need to consider what people will be searching for. It’s generally accepted that there are four main types of search intent:

  • Informational intent – i.e. people looking for more information about a product, service, topics, or news item.
  • Navigational intent – i.e. people trying to get to a specific website.
  • Transactional intent – i.e. people trying to buy something.
  • Commercial investigation – i.e. people who want to buy in the future and are using research.

In most cases, blog page titles are written for audiences with informational intent, and in some cases, commercial investigation. Any SEO-optimised headline needs to be engineered with these intents in mind.

Examples of informational intent headlines include:

  • The Ultimate Guide to B2B Buyers in 2020
  • 3 Unique B2B Sales Strategies Proven to Win More Customers
  • 10 Pro Tips for Running an Effective PR Campaign
  • Five Things Everyone Should Know About Public Relations
  • The Ultimate Guide to Public Relations in 2020
  1. Create ‘open-loops’ 

In marketing, an open loop is any concept or idea which forces the brain to seek out some sort of conclusion – a cliffhanger, in short.

Open loop headlines, to the extent that they encourage curiosity, can be a valuable SEO tool. However, it’s important to note that the loop will need to be closed during the article itself: if you’re going to tease your readers, you need them to be satisfied with what they get in return.

All the example titles listed in the previous tip are designed to create these open loops.

  1. Be original

Originality is one of the big drivers of SEO value. Articles which are innovative, creative, and different from those which already exist on the web tend to rank highly – and the same can be said of page titles.

Online content is a saturated marketplace and has led to very similar titles. If possible, try to innovate away from what’s currently out there. Above all, avoid headlines which are exact copies of those which are already online.

How do you know if your headline has already been used? Simply, plug it into Google and enclose the headline in double quotation marks. For example: “10 tips for writing powerful SEO headlines in 2020”.

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