Three tips to write effective SEO headlines for news
In issue 06, we look at three things to consider when writing effective headlines for search.
Hello and welcome back to WTF is SEO!, a newsletter about search for news publishers. This week, it’s me, Jessie, looking at how to write great, SEO-friendly news headlines.
Writing SEO-friendly headlines
This week, we’re talking about writing SEO-friendly headlines.
What’s in a headline?
Headlines are the most important part of your story. Ninety per cent of readers will only ever read your headline. Knowing how to optimize the headline for both a search engine and a human can be a fine line, but done well, can be extremely effective.
Why are news headlines important for search?
According to David Ogilvy, “five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.” If the only thing a person is only ever going to read is your headline, you want to make it count. For both SEO and reader reasons, it’s important to spend as much time considering your headlines for search as you would for A1 placement.
A Title tag is the most important thing Google looks at to rank your page. If your Title tag is Your Headline + Your Brand (most content management systems will do this for you), then your headline, by default, is the most important thing you can control.
So even if the H1 tags don’t have a direct impact on your ranking, headlines do influence click-through rates (which does impact ranking).
Headlines tell Google the purpose of the page, and conveys to readers the context and meaning of the page. A well-written headline convinces readers to click and tell Google what your story is about.
Three tips for crafting effective SEO headlines
Here are three important tips to remember when crafting a headline for your story.
1. Headline length
Headlines should be under about 70 characters. However, on the search results page, Google will cut off a headline based on the pixel width (at 600 pixels in Google).
YES: 81% of Canadians say Canada-U.S. border should remain closed: poll 👍
NO: A new poll shows a majority of Canadians think the US-Canada should remain closed 👎
Try this: Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview: 5 bombshells from the primetime event
2. Front-load your main-focus keywords
Based on the character and pixel limits, try to front-load headlines with the main-focus key word or phrase — but don’t overload or overwhelm your headlines with target keywords. This is keyword stuffing and it’s a no-no for Google. Identify your main key search phrase and maybe one secondary key word/phrase, and get them in at the beginning of the headline.
(“To the left, to the left” - Beyoncé, secret SEO telling you where the keywords go)
When readers scan your homepage or results in search, they will often only read part of a headline. Make the most of the first few words. Focus on getting the key takeaway at the front.
YES: Data shows 54 Florida hospitals out of available ICU beds as COVID-19 cases surge 👍
NO: Some intensive care units are running out of beds 👎
3. Hacks to help your headline
Here are six helpful hacks to consider when writing a headline:
Numbers: Numbers are a concrete way to set expectations for readers (what they can expect in a story), especially if your article has clear action items or takeaways. Odd numbers seem to do better (the human brain is a mystery!), and common figures (5, 7, 9, 15, etc), are great – though something unusual (79? Why not!) can catch someone’s eye, too.
Dates: Useful for search and conveying a particular, specific moment when something will happen. People will add the date (March 11, 2021), days (Monday to Sunday), or a recency (today, now, etc) when looking for recent or current news. Use those same phrases in your headline.
Questions/W5 words: Who, what, where, when, why. These trigger words are the bedrock questions your story needs to answer, so tease that information by asking a question in the headline itself. This can help set a reader’s expectations, so be sure your story delivers whatever question you set up in the headline (otherwise this is clickbait).
Synonyms: Consider variations of a name or place, especially if you need to trim for length.
Top keywords and related keywords: Look at the phrases that send traffic to your site or story. Be sure to use those terms in related reporting.
Places: Where a story is happening. If the story is about a specific place/physical location – those words should be in the headline. Specificity is your friend here.
Bonus tip: This is less about ranking factors for the search engines and more about enticing readers (but it sure helps those click-through rates). Adding a quote or a fragment of an interview can convey emotion and further entice a reader.
YES: I want to lose weight. Should I focus on diet or exercise? 👍
NO: To get rid of excess weight, you also need to pay attention to your diet 👎
4. The most important headline hack
The most important headline hack: Write for a person. As important as headlines are for search, readers are the most important audience. Ensure headlines are descriptive of the article while considering SEO. Clarity over tricks. People first, search second.
Is the character count under 90?
Are key search terms cut off?
Would you click this headline?
If the answer to the above is yes, you’re G2G.
FUN + GAMES
Google rules. But who is next in line? What is the second-largest search engine?
EVEN MORE SEO:
New to SEO? Start with these 11 core concepts publishers need to know
RESOURCE OF THE WEEK:
Shelby recently stumbled upon Kristina Azarenko’s Chrome extension that gives you all of your on-page SEO information (aka, your headline, title tag, description, canonical URL, etc.) in an easily digestible on-site tab. Easily one of the best methods to quickly know what’s on your page. Give it a try, and be sure to give Kristina a follow.
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FUN + GAMES
The answer: YouTube
Have something you want us to explore? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
FUN + GAMES
The answer: YouTube