How to write blog headlines that drive search traffic

Content marketing is a highly viable digital marketing strategy, designed to attract and drive traffic to your website or specific landing pages.

But you could be the best writer and still not attract qualified readers (or worse, any at all). The importance of an effective, attractive headline cannot be overstated.

Think of your audiences as hunters and gatherers. They’re constantly scanning and searching online for what they need. And most of the time they don’t find it.

A good headline that catches their attention and entices them to click through to read the rest solves their problem – and creates coveted lead generation opportunities for you.

Make headline writing (and perfection) a key component of your content marketing strategy. Follow these simple rules and you’ll appeal to audiences as well as search engines.

1. Use keywords

But just one. Including keywords in your headlines is important, as major search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing will place more emphasis on the versus the content itself. It might be tempting to create a witty headline, but save it for print.

If it doesn’t contain any context about the blog’s main message, there’s a good chance it will get buried in your website – and certainly won’t be found by a search engine.

2. Appeal to emotions

According to Copyblogger, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest (sad, but true).

You have one chance to get your reader to click; using power words will help. The Headline Analyzer tool from CoSchedule recommends using a balance of common, uncommon, emotional and power words to captivate your audience. Phrases like “what happens when” and “you need to” compel readers to discover the benefit of the article.

Which brings us to…

3. Be clear – and avoid clickbait

You’re working so hard to build trust with your audience – through everything you do. Don’t ruin it with a misleading headline just to get people to read a piece of content.

Consider the headline of this article. It is direct and to the point, letting you know exactly what you’ll learn from reading the piece. Headlines that let readers know they will find a solution to their problems, learn how to do something or receive an answer to their question provide a known benefit.

A confusing or unclear headline, on the other hand, could result in a prospective reader exiting your page and moving onto the next search result because they didn’t find the information they were looking for, also known as a “bounce.” While Google may not use bounce rate as a ranking factor, it means that the user won’t be discovering any of the other great content that’s on your site, let alone converting or doing anything else there.

4. Know your audience

What type of information is your target audience likely to be searching for? The best headlines are ones your audience will find value in because they’re focused on their wants and needs.

There are formulas to help with this: (definition + guide to + action + keyword + promise). An example headline made using this guide could be: “A free guide to designing successful infographics for B2B companies“.

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5. Think in numbers

A list is often more compelling, because readers then have a clearer idea of what to expect. For example, “3 ways to attract more customers” or “5 healthy foods you should be eating for breakfast” lets readers know exactly what to expect from the article and delivers a benefit in a compelling manner. They also signal to readers whether they’re about to read a lengthy or brief article.

According to research by Outbrain, odd numbers attract on average a 20% higher click rate than even numbers, as the asymmetry makes them more likely to grab the reader’s attention.

6. Use words that captivate

In addition to strong keywords, using positive adjectives can also increase engagement. Try using words like “free,” “easy,” and “new” which generate more audience engagement. (Who doesn’t love free, easy and new information?)

Another best practice is to use phrases that suggest urgency, specificity and exclusivity, because readers want to get the “scoop” on information before anyone else.

7. Keep it short and sweet

Lastly, keeping the headline short enables your target audience to read the headline quickly, improving its chances of getting noticed before others. Email subject lines have their own specific guidelines too, but keep email in mind when crafting article headlines. If you’re sharing your blog posts via email newsletter, recipients will only see the first half of a sentence in the preview text.

The world of blogging is competitive, but search rankings make it easier for readers to find your content – and the answers they’re looking for.

Of course, the list above isn’t the holy grail of headline writing; there are additional strategies you might try in order to increase the effectiveness of your headlines, and in turn, improve your click-through rate and overall ROI. But you need to start somewhere.

Incorporate these practices into your regular blogging strategy, and you’ll start seeing more mileage from your content.

Jennifer Zottola is the Editorial Director of Stern Strategy Group.

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