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Killer Headlines: Improving SEO, Increasing Web Traffic

About 90% of Internet users turn to search engines for new information on a monthly basis.

As a business owner, you’d naturally want to use this to your advantage. You’d want to get your site on top of search results to maximize the chance of people finding you in organic searches. More importantly, you’d want people to click on your link when they find you on search results.

You may have been repeatedly told, or perhaps read in countless articles, that the key to drawing more traffic to your website is to populate it with high-quality content. While this may be mostly true, there could be one aspect of website content you may have overlooked or are taking for granted. Consider another statistic:

While 80% of Internet users will read headlines, only 20% actually read the content itself.

Perhaps the biggest reason for this is that most headlines aren’t catchy enough. They don’t tell users, “Hey! We’ve got the information you’re looking for.” Even if your content does have the kind of information a user is searching for, if your headline doesn’t say so, he’s likely to move on down the search results until he finds a headline that does just that.

Jack Kelly, a character in the Disney movie Newsies, said, “Headlines don’t sell papes. Newsies sell papes.” Unfortunately, as indicated by the above statistic, this claim is far from the truth where content marketing is concerned. In the world of online marketing, headlines DO sell. They sell content and they sell brands. It would be foolish of you to continue taking them for granted.

When you create your headlines, you have to make sure not only that they’re good enough for Google to reward with high rankings, but also that they’re attractive and informative enough for people to actually click on them and read your content. Here are a few tips on how to accomplish that:

1. Rely on the preferred search terms of your target audience.

When people check search results, they’ll be looking for headlines that most closely resemble the terms they typed into the search box. This makes it only logical for you to fashion your content marketing strategy such that it relies heavily on your target audience’s preferred search terms. This means you’ll have to spend a considerable amount of time and effort into researching the kind of terms your target audience would use when conducting online searches. This is why the most successful content marketing campaigns typically begin with extensive keyword research.

2. Use social media posts to check which keywords you should use in your headlines.

Most people are on social media these days, so there’s a good chance your target audience is there on a regular basis as well. This is therefore one of the best places to test your headlines. Post headlines for pieces of content yet to be published as a sort of teaser to the content and then see which ones get the most number of Likes, Retweets, and positive comments. Use those that are very popular and then analyze what you can do with the ones that didn’t get a good reception from your audience.

Target Audience for Social Media

Your target audience will likely be on social media, so it makes sense to use social platforms as a venue for testing the effectiveness of your headlines.

Do they need to be rewritten? Do you need to use different keywords? Do you need to reformat the headlines? Make the necessary adjustments once you determine what needs to be done.

3. Write your headline before writing your content.

There are those who may advise you to create your content first before making a corresponding headline. For the purposes of content marketing, however, it is often a good idea to write your headlines before you start working on your content. This generally serves three purposes. First, it helps ensure that you’re focused on the topic the content is supposed to revolve around. Second, it helps ensure that your keywords are prioritized even as you let your creativity flow naturally. Third, it helps ensure that all the work you put into content creation pays off in terms of search rankings and web traffic.

Since the goal is to get people to click on your link when they see your headline, you may be tempted to write click-bait headlines. Don’t. Google isn’t likely to appreciate that. What you need to do instead is focus on creating killer headlines with solid keywords your target audience is likely to use as search terms. Among the best types of headlines are “how to” headlines, list post headlines, and question headlines.

4. Channel emotions when creating your headlines.

Dr. Hakim Chishti, an expert on natural healing, has found that emotional language leads to very predictable responses from people. This means that when you create a headline that targets strong emotions, regardless of whether those emotions are positive or negative, you are more likely to get good results. Other research, however, has proven that headlines targeted at conveying strong positive emotions generally perform better than those that convey negative emotions.

Considering all these, it is therefore a good idea for you to create headlines that are meant to evoke “sunshine and rainbows” kind of emotions in your target audience. Positive headlines also have the added advantage of being shared more extensively than content with negative headlines; all the more reason for you to start developing “feel-good” headlines.

5. Make sure your headlines are just the right length.

Try doing a Google search and you’ll see that some headlines are cut off, leaving you wondering as to what it says in full. In most cases, a user won’t bother to find out. He will simply choose from the results with clear and complete headlines, and then click one of those. This is why you need to take the length of your headlines into serious consideration. As a general rule, it is best to keep headlines at about 55 characters, as this is the average length that has been found to get the most number of click-throughs.

Length of Headlines

The length of your headlines in terms of number of characters and number of words is an important factor in ensuring their effectiveness.

You could go a bit lower or higher than 55 characters, but keep in mind that Google only accommodates up to 60 characters before the rest of your headline is cut off and replaced by an ellipsis. Other than the number of characters, you may also want to consider the number of words in your headlines. There are varying opinions as to what the ideal word count is for headlines. In general, though, headlines with 6 to 7 words give you the best results. If you have to go beyond 7, try to limit word count to a maximum of 10.

Bonus tip: The first three and the last three words in your headlines are crucial because there’s a higher probability of users reading these words than of them reading the words in the middle. It therefore pays to have your keywords in these key positions within your headline.

6. Review the word balance in your headlines.

Whatever topic you’re covering and whatever type of headline you’ve chosen to write, it is important to have a good balance among common words, uncommon words, emotional words, and power words. Such balance helps you get the attention you want from your intended audience.

Common words, as the term suggests, are words people use all the time (e.g. how, about, the, a, and, etc.). They should comprise 20-30% of your headlines. Uncommon words provide your headlines with the kind of substance that grabs attention. Examples are awesome, right, here, and social, among others. These words should comprise 10-20% of your headlines.

As mentioned earlier, words that speak to the emotions are the ones that convince people to click through to your site. These words also encourage readers to share your content. A good headline contains 10-15% emotional words (e.g. blissful, danger, confessions, valuable, etc.). Power words also incite action the way emotional words do. However, they are a bit more extraordinary than emotional words. Examples are no questions asked, you need to know, make you, etc. The best headlines contain at least one power word.

7. Review and rewrite your headlines.

Anyone who has ever worked as a writer or has writing as a component of their work, no matter how small, will understand how important it is to double-check and even triple-check their own work. And this includes the headlines. After you written the content itself, revisit the headline to see what parts of it you can improve, if any. Is there a better way to phrase it? There are tools like CoSchedule and Yoast that you can use to see how good your headlines are for SEO ranking.

Headlines are there to convince Google and other search engines to give you good rankings. Additionally, they are there to entice your target audience to click on your link and read your content. By keeping the above tips in mind, you can make sure your headlines serve the purposes for which they are written in the first place. You work hard to create the kind of content your audience will enjoy and want to share with others. Make sure those efforts pay off by creating killer headlines to complement your killer content.

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