Simple tips to improve your headlines and help your content be found
The biggest response I ever got to a headline was more than a decade ago when I came up with:
That appeared on an internal post when I worked in-house at an internet service provider. Everyone and his brother clicked on that sucker. It worked because I had put something in front of people and enticed the click. It was clickbait before the term had been coined.
These days, clickbait doesn’t work so much. Social media algorithms – especially Facebook’s – are suppressing the display of this sort of content.
- Add keywords to your headlines
- Start your headlines with ‘How to’
- Use numbers in your headlines, especially odd numbers
- Turn your headlines into questions
- Front-load your keywords
- Sensible headlines beat scandalous ones
- How can I test my headlines?
- Let’s wrap up
Add keywords to your headlines
For me, the best headline reveals exactly what I’m going to get when I scan through the remainder of the article.
I think of the keywords people will search for when they’re sitting in front of Google. This gives me phrases that are 2 or 3 words long, and I try to include those phrases in my headlines.
When I wrote about people’s misunderstandings about sharing files and folders on Dropbox, my key phrase was ‘Dropbox sharing’.
When I wrote about advanced tips and tricks for searching Twitter, my key phrase was ‘Twitter advanced search’.
There’s no secret here: make the headline obvious enough that it sets the reader up for what follows.
Start your headlines with ‘How to’
This is a great opening when you’re explaining a process. It makes clear that you’re showing people a step-by-step way to solve whatever problem they have.
Example: How to speed up Google indexing
Use numbers in your headlines, especially odd numbers
People seem to love numbers in headlines, especially odd ones. The best number seems to be 7. Dates also work well.
Turn your headlines into questions
Try writing a headline as a question. With voice search on the rise, this could help your content be found more easily. (People might do text searches with keywords, but they’ll say a whole question when speaking to Alexa.)
Example: How long should my blog posts be?
Front-load your keywords
Put your keywords at the beginning of the headline and introduce the rest with a colon.
Sensible headlines beat scandalous ones
Writing a clear headline can help your content rank well on search engines – and that’s anything but boring.
If you want to exercise some creativity, move the inventive writing from your headline to your metadata description. That’s the text that appears along with the title and link when your content is shown in search results.
You can also do the same for preview text that appears when you share content on social media.
Good metadata descriptions and preview text will help draw readers in – and it’s better to put the clever stuff there rather than in the headline.
How do you set the metadata descriptions for your web and social posts?
If you use WordPress, the free Yoast SEO plugin makes it easy for you to set the metadata description and social preview text.
How can I test my headlines?
Try out your headlines by pasting them into the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer.
Don’t rely on this tool, though. It can be helpful but it doesn’t guarantee success or failure.
Here are some scores out of 100 reported by the tool when I tried out some headlines:
- 10 – Business blogging guide
- 29 – Twitter advanced search 2019
- 48 – Business blogging: the definitive guide
- 53 – The royal order of adjectives
- 56 – Pen portraits – understanding your ideal audience
- 59 – 3 false assumptions about Dropbox sharing
- 67 – Martin didn’t want me to show you this …
- 68 – How to find freelance work on LinkedIn
- 74 – How to improve Linkedin engagement in 2019
Let’s wrap up
Your headlines are important and aren’t something to slap on at the end once you’ve written an article.
Be careful not to write headlines that are too sensationalist. They might work in the short term to grab attention on social media, but if you want your articles to be found, a more sensible approach to using clear, keyword-focused headlines is best.
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Who wrote this?
John Espirian – the relentlessly helpful technical copywriter
I write B2B web content, blogs, user guides and case studies – all aimed at explaining how your products, services and processes work. I also offer LinkedIn profile critiquing and rewriting.
I work from home in Newport, South Wales and support the (formerly) mighty Liverpool FC 🔴⚽️