There’s a saying in the property investing market: buy the ugliest house in the best street. But when it comes to writing SEO-friendly headlines for your blog post, it’s all about having the hottest headline in a sea of blandness.
Your headline, also known as your title, is one of the most important pieces of real estate on your website because it’s one of the first things your potential clients see when your website is showing in Google.
This is why you want it to scream “pick me!” and entice the reader to click through to your website.
As a copywriter, you’re used to writing headlines that are attention-grabbing, but how do you write a click generating SEO-friendly headline?
How to write a click generating, SEO-friendly headline?
What’s the difference between a headline, page title and a H1 heading?
A page title is your headline, and for most websites, by default the H1 heading is the same as the headline/title.
The page title is the blue link that shows up on page 1 in Google, and is what Google refers to as a “title link”. Your headline/title also shows up when you share a website link on social media.
Heading tags (h-tags) refer to the structure of headings on a page. H1 and other heading tags (H2-H6) are used to define the structure of the content and to let Google and users know which are headings, which are sub-headings, and which are sub-sub-headings.
While it may seem a little confusing, remember that titles/headlines and headings are used for different purposes.
The purpose of your headline is to attract more organic clicks to your website whereas the purpose of header tags is to help bots and readers understand the structure and flow of content.
It’s a lot like the table of contents in a book and the hierarchy it follows!
How does Google treat headlines?
Did you know that much like meta descriptions, Google now chooses the title/headline that shows up for your page in Google?
So that headline you spent ages crafting might not even be the title that shows on page 1! What the…?
“Then what’s the point in spending all this time and effort on writing headlines if Google might ignore what I’ve written?”
I know, it’s frustrating that Google would choose anything else other than what you’ve written. Google can choose other prominent headings on your page, other large text that stands out like a heading or even a sentence from the page.
Google doesn’t always do this, but from what we know, it chooses the title that it believes is the best fit for the keyword query the user has typed into Google.
That doesn’t mean we should ignore our headlines- it’s important that you craft the best headline that is not only attention-grabbing but accurately describes the topic of your page, to hopefully avoid Google choosing a completely different headline.
It’s also important to structure and style your page properly- use the correct heading structures ( there should only be 1 H1 heading which should ideally be your page title), don’t use h2, h3, h4 headings for text that isn’t really a heading but that you just want to make larger (change the font size instead).
Headline writing: SEO best practice
SEO best practice is to include your primary keyword in your headline and to include it close to the start of the headline to avoid it being truncated. But SEO best practice is to also write an attention-grabbing headline that is the best fit for the keyword you’re targeting, so as to increase the click through rate
An effective headline should easily tell readers what type of content they should expect to read.
For example, a headline with numbers usually indicates a listicle-style post while a “how to” post is usually a longer post that details how to do something.
Eg: 47 blog topic ideas for a beauty business
I recommend following copywriting best practices when it comes to writing headlines. There are some great ideas in this post about things that work well in an eye-catching headline and things that should be avoided.
Do you need to include your SEO primary keyword in your headline?
No, you don’t need to include your primary keyword in your headline however Google may decide to use other headings or text from your page if it thinks your headline isn’t a good fit for the user.
When a user sees the keyword they’ve searched for in a headline, they’re more likely to click it because the keyword indicates that the page content has the answer they’re searching for. Sometimes, Google shows a better headline/title that matches what the user is searching for.
If you don’t want to use the primary keyword in your headline, then I recommend using it in other on-page SEO elements such as the URL slug, H2 heading and throughout the copy/content. You could also use a secondary keyword if that is a better fit for your headline than the primary keyword.
What happens if your headline is too long?
If your headline is too wordy, it gets truncated by Google, usually at around 60 characters. This means readers will miss the words that are showing after the truncation.
Your most important words should be near the beginning of your headline, so that if your headline is truncated, the most important stuff isn’t missed by readers.
It’s not a big deal if a headline is truncated from Google’s perspective- Google crawls your entire headline, including the part that is truncated. It’s your reader who is impacted, because they don’t see the entire headline, which means they may not click through to your website.
Can you change your headline later on without it impacting negatively on SEO?
Definitely! It’s a good idea to split test different headlines and see what impact each has on the click through rate, and then stick with the one that works best. As with most things when it comes to SEO, there’s no guarantee that rankings will or won’t increase or decrease. It’s a matter of testing and keeping an eye on your Google Search Console data.
What we typically call a headline, is referred to in SEO-world as your title, and is what shows in the search engine results page in Google. It’s an important piece of website real estate because it influences users to click through to your website.
Find a good balance between a catchy headline and one that is optimised for search engines, and you’ll probably avoid having Google rewrite your headline for you.