One of the biggest improvements I have made in my blogging is writing better headlines. There are three critical advantages to writing better headlines:
1 – You greatly improve the chance that your post will be shared on social media sites. Think about it, we all have the attention-span of a gnat. We are bombarded by hundreds of shared links every day, and which ones get clicked? The ones with the best headlines.
2 – You greatly improve your blog’s Search Traffic. By including relevant keywords and phrases in your blog’s headline, you are helping search engines understand what your post is about, so they can show that post to people that are searching for the same topic.
3 – Learning how to write better headlines will give you a competitive edge. The bottom line is that most bloggers REALLY suck at writing great headlines. And I’m not talking about newbie bloggers only, many of the smartest and most popular bloggers in the world, write amazing posts, and horrible post titles.
Now for the big question: What does a bad headline look like?
From my own experience, my biggest problem with writing headlines was that I would focus on the post, then simply summarize the post with the headline. I see a lot of bloggers that do the same thing, their post title is only a few words, that somehow, and loosely, tie back to what they talk about in the post.
Here’s a few examples of weak headlines I found on one blog this morning:
“Santa and the mob”
“Well rounded (and the other)”
“I am here”
Notice that none of these posts really focus on specific keywords of phrases, so by itself, the headline won’t help the post stand out in search engine results. And if you saw any of these headlines whizzing by your Twitterstream, are any of them compelling enough to make you want to click that post?
Probably not. But what if I told you that Seth Godin wrote all these posts? As I said, sometimes even great bloggers struggle with writing effective headlines. Seth is so popular that he can afford to write a weak headline now and again, since people don’t read him for his headlines, they read his posts cause they are short, to the point, and make you go ‘A-Ha!’
But if you are like the rest of us, you need every advantage you can get 😉
When you are writing your headlines, ask yourself ‘How would someone find this post if they were searching for it in Google?‘ What are the relevant keywords and phrases they would search for?
For example, let’s say I want to write a post on building engagement on my blog. I am going to highlight a few ways that I use to build engagement and interaction on my blog. If I wrote a headline that merely summarized the post, it would be ‘Building Engagement On Your Blog‘.
Now think about it, how many people are going to Google ‘building engagement on a blog’? Or anything similar?
In fact, I just Googled the exact term ‘building engagement on your blog’ and there are SIX results on the entire internet. And half of them are from me! (But none as the headline!)
Think about it: When we talk about ‘building engagement’ on a blog, we are really talking about getting more comments, right? So let’s change our headline from Building Engagement On Your Blog, to Get More Comments On Your Blog.
Now if you Google that exact term, you see that there are over 200,000 results. That means if more bloggers are writing with that specific term in their headline, it’s probably because more people are searching for that term!
So let’s return to our post. The headline now at least has some Google juice, and a more search-friendly title. Plus, the title is a bit more descriptive, so it increases the chance that others will click it when they see it floating by on Twitter or Facebook.
But remember I said that I was writing about a few ways bloggers could get more comments on their blog? What if I wrote up, I dunno, say 40 ways to get more comments on your blog? Then that could become my headline!
So the post stays the same, but which headline would you be more likely to click on if you saw it on Twitter:
1 – Building Engagement On Your Blog
2 – 40 Dead Simple Ways to Get More Comments On Your Blog
Most of us would probably click #2, as it is not only more descriptive, but it makes us a promise: It’s going to give us 40 steps. Readers LOVE How-To posts that also give you numbers 😉 ’40 Ways to….’ or ‘8 tips for overcoming….’
In closing, there’s one area that you need to keep in mind: Walking the tightrope between writing a headline that’s search-friendly, and one that can be ‘too cute’. For example, the original headline to this post was going to be ‘Want to Improve Your Blogging Next Year? Write Better Headlines’. But as I started writing about Seth’s headlines, I decided to change the headline to ‘One Way You Can Be a Better Blogger Than Seth Godin’. It’s a calculated risk, as I don’t think that headline will do quite as well with search engines (What’s the keyword or phrase? ‘Better Blogger’?), but I do think this headline is a bit more interesting, and will hopefully get more clicks on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Because everyone wants to be a better blogger than Seth, right? 😉
Just remember, focus on including relevant keywords and phrases in your post’s headlines, and ask yourself ‘how would someone find this post if they were searching for it?’ If you start paying more attention to your headline-writing, you’ll be very surprised at the increase in not only search traffic, but overall traffic to your blog!
Prof. Torg says
I like your “a-ha” line. A nice analysis of one of the many features that can result in “good writing.”
Todd 'tojosan' Jordan says
I’m lousy at headers.
Had one today I haven’t used yet – Sex, Lies, and Not So Smart Phones.
Not sure if it’d be searchable. Ha.
Mack Collier says
Well maybe for smart phones, is your blog now focusing on smart phones and tech? 😉
Anne Reuss says
Ohhh! Well your headline was definitely blinged out today. When I saw it, I jerked my head and went Oo-ha! Who doesn’t want to read this? 🙂 My goal for 2012 is to make short vlogs with great headlines. Love your tips, thanks!
Mack Collier says
Anne good luck with the videos, those can really be attention-grabbing!
Definitely think this is something I need to work on next year.
I think its also worth crafting an attention grabbing headline for social shares – then to optimise it for search a week later.
tom martin says
Great helpful post here. Something I’ve been thinking about lately is how you can use the post headline to help you in Google and then use your Tweets, FB posts, G+ posts to test and push click-worthy headlines. Meaning, the headline you tweet doesn’t have to be the headline of the post.. it could be something more titillating to garner a click and then when a person comes to the post they are rewarded with good content.
Mack Collier says
Tom that’s something I have been tinkering with as well. I know when I am sharing someone else’s link, if I add something like ‘I like Tom’s thoughts here on the future of QR Codes’ that it will usually get more clicks than just sharing the headline. I guess it’s like a more personal endorsement?
For this post, every time I tweeted the title, except for one time when I tweeted something like ‘This is the one thing that helped my blogging the most in 2011’. Didn’t really see a big diff in traffic with that, but I think it’s worth playing with simply to better understand what way is best to present the post so it draws more attention.
Laura Kimball says
I love it when you share your trade secrets — and how important it is not just write great content, but make sure it’s written for people who are searching for it. Had a long conversation with someone at my office about SEO and content yesterday, so very timely post.