Effective Ways to Write a Headline

Posted on 04 Feb 2014 by Matt Russell

The headlines within your content matter. Not just because they divide paragraphs and themes from one another. It isn’t just because many readers skim over text and glance over the headlines looking for a summary and it isn’t but because they matter in your search results. They are all factors to implementing a headline effectively and for a purpose.

The following tips may help towards engaging your readers, motivating them to read your content because you have paid attention to the headline. The tips won’t hurt towards your search page results either.

Heading Hierarchy: Prioritise Your Headlines

The title tag is one of the most important areas of markup on your page. It also gives your page a title, adds it to the snippet in the search results that is understandable for your audience and search engines. Ideally title tags should contain your focused keyword(s) and company name if applicable as the title tag is one of the first points of call. For help with your keywords, try out Google’s Keyword Planner (you’ll need a Google account to use).

What about the rest of the headings? Well, the H1 tag is usually reserved for your site name which should only occur once on each page – again with your main keyword and company name if applicable. The H2 tag is equally of importance. Where the H1 tag should only be used once, the H2 can be used anywhere that applies, though should not be used excessively and with it’s own sub-headings where required.

In summary, your title tag headline is arguably the most important in terms of SEO, but it also plays a part in what your viewers see in the search results. The H1 tag should be used for your site name with the focused keyword if relevant and practical. H2 is suitable for main headings for each page, though can be reused for breaks in subject i.e. if the page is displaying multiple blog posts. You can continue to use cascading headings from H3 – H6, though most sites do not go past H4, generally speaking.

Calculated Headline Techniques

There are some common conventions at your disposal for writing an attention grabbing headline. Beginning with a “How to…” or “10 Examples of…” –  these type of headlines usually correspond with the search terms that users are searching for on a regular basis, thus more likely to see what you have written.

For instance, one person may be searching for a way to increase their subscriptions with a search such as “How do I get more subscribers”. Typical headlines that will appeal to them in the search results may be similar to “How to get more subscribers” or “10 ways to gain new subscribers”. How about “Reasons on why you need to address subscriptions”. All of these apply to the search and chances are each of them will appeal to most visitors looking for such terms.

Using Headlines to Separate Content

One of the easiest and most effective ways to separate content with the headlines of “10 Ways to…” is to break down each step into a headline.

Sometimes your readers do not want to read the whole article you’ve provided perhaps due to time constraints or maybe they are looking for one answer in particular and ‘know the rest’. If the article in question was for a product review of a camera you could break down into the following steps (or stages) of review:

  • Product: First look at [model of camera]

  • Features: Exclusive to the [model]

  • Cost: How much does the [model] cost?

  • Verdict: In summary how does the [model] compare to others?

There are often occasions where the site visitor already knows what they want and are making comparisons to similar sites (whether it be product reviews or news articles) and are simply skipping to the areas that appeal. Making it clear where each section begins and ends will keep the visitor on your site for longer.

Targeting Headlines for a Conversion

A headline should follow through on it’s duty; gain a user’s attention, get a click through then the remaining headlines and contents drive towards a simple goal – a sale, a sign up for your newsletter, a social share or simply a comment on the content you have supplied.

If a headline isn’t compelling enough, chances are the reader will skip over your content – perhaps even click out of your site. In turn, this could affect your bounce rate.

Headlines are about persuasion. Capture your audience with an intriguing/challenging/functional headline in order for them to read the rest. Fail to do so and you may have lost them.

‘How to’ headlines are some of the most effective. You need not write the full ‘How to’ as this can be omitted though it’s implied meaning “How to Rank Higher on Google Search Results” is just as effective as “Top Form: Rank Higher on Google” in terms of appealing to readers. Search engines may differ with certain headlines so you will need to judge on ways to balance your priorities – be seen in the search results and/or appeal to your audience and get them to read your copy.

Edit, Re-edit Then Analyse

Experiment with your headlines. It’s perfectly ok to change your headline if it isn’t as successful as you intended it to be. Consider whether your headline is meeting your goals for the targeted audience, if you are including the right keywords, whether a reader will actually read your headline or likely to glance over. There are differences of opinion when it comes to the length of a headline, but keeping it relatively short, concise yet evoking a click proves to be popular for many – especially as the length of the title is much easier to share on popular social platforms such as Twitter.

One of the simplest and most effective ways of evaluating your headlines is through analytical applications such as Google Analytics. From here you can determine what works and what doesn’t. Pay attention to your bounce rate as well as the average duration a visitor spends on the page. If the bounce rate is high and the duration is low, you’ll need to address whether your headline is appropriate or not. Of course, content is paramount here as well, but if the headline isn’t drawing traffic to your site, then your copy is getting overlooked.

Fulfill the Headline With It’s Promise

Entice your readers with open headlines. Don’t summarise the conclusion in your headline – encourage your audience to read through to the conclusion. If you take a look at most magazines or newspapers, you’ll notice that a good deal of the headlines will get your attention. Not just because the size of the fonts are literally shouting at you, but because of the words used.

How many times have you read a good headline only to read the actual article and it didn’t deliver? Probably more than a fair share. When you use a headline, ensure that you keep to that promise it has made. If it begins with “10 Ways to improve your onsite SEO” make sure that you list 10 ways on how to do so. It’s ok to stray from the general theme, as long as you provide answers to your proposed question(s). A brief list of 10 items which follow on with something irrelevant will frustrate your readers. The headline works in this case as you have generated a click to the content in question.

If the content does not correlate with the promise of the headline, then in many respects, that has failed. When creating a content for your site, it’s always good practice to review your headlines to guarantee that you stay on topic and deliver.

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