How to Write Compelling Headlines for Search Engines

There are so many little rules that change when you go from writing for print to writing for the Internet. One of those rules is that you have to draw your visitors electronically – with the help of search engines. Since most of us are writers and not seasoned webmasters, that can be a tricky concept.

A great way to draw more visitors to your online writing is to offer up really strong headlines. Search engines place an emphasis on headlines, because they use them to decide what your writing is about. In addition to keywords in your writing, headlines are what tells a search engine to pull your listing up when someone searches for a topic that relates to your article (or story, or whatever it is that you write).

On the level of simply appealing to a real person, headlines serve another important function in online writing: they break up the text in a way that lets the reader skim, which will draw them deeper into your writing instead of turning away and looking for something else.

Why Are Headlines Important to Search Engines?

The way that search engines find web pages is by “sending out” small programs called “spiders”. A search engine spider automatically picks up bits of text in your writing, especially headlines and keywords, and then follows links in your content to do the same thing on another page.

When you use headlines, you give the search engine spiders something to focus on. You are essentially repeating yourself, saying, “This is what my article is about …. my article is about this …”. Then, when the spider turns all the “stuff” they’ve picked up to the main search engine, or database, the search engine will use your headlines as a reference. This helps the search engine look good because they’re able to provide relevant content to a searcher, and it helps you look good because, well, you wrote the content.

Writing Headlines

Your main headline is the most important one: your title. The title of your writing should include a keyword phrase that someone looking for your topic will use, but it’s also important because it actually convinces the reader to go to your writing in the first place.

Headlines within your content serve several important functions. First, they pinpoint problems the reader may be having (the reason they came to your article in the first place) and draw them into reading your next paragraph. Secondly, when you continue using versions of your main keyword phrase in your headlines, you tell the search engines, “Yup – my article really is about this topic”. That helps you get pulled up in search results much more often, which easily means more visitors to your writing.

There are many different methods used to create strong headlines, but the ones used online are different than you would use for a newspaper article, for example. In the following three steps, we’ll cover the most common (and effective) methods for writing online headlines using the example of learning Photoshop (it’s a subject close to my heart).

Headline Writing Method One: The Question

Statements are great headlines in how-to articles, but sometimes you feel the need to make a stronger impact. When you use a question as your headline, you essentially force your reader to ask themselves that question. You make your reader think, instead of skip and skim. The question should be one that you would ask yourself about your topic.

Using my learning Photoshop example, I’ll try out 3 examples. When you are brainstorming your own examples, keep in mind that the questions you ask should be answered immediately within that headlined section:

1. Are you tired of pointless Photoshop tutorials?
2. Do you need to learn Photoshop fast?
3. Where can I get Photoshop cheap?

With these three headlines, I’ve used my keyword phrases (focusing on Photoshop) and aimed each one at a specific topic. My first headline would point toward sources of good Photoshop tutorials, my second would focus on hints and resources that give a quick crash course, and the final headline would discuss things like student pricing for Photoshop. The reader can skim through my article, pick up precisely the information they need, and like me (maybe) a little bit more because I’ve made it easy on them; in turn, it makes things that much easier on a search engine to place my work higher than the article that doesn’t use this process.

Headline Writing Method Two: The Problem

This method is closely related to “The Question” method. Often, your problem will be stated in the form of a question, but it pinpoints a specific problem rather than asking a general question.

When your headlines pose a problem to your reader, rather than immediately stating a solution, you let the reader (and search engines!) find your important information more quickly. Your headlines are also stronger because you are better able to use full keyword phrases.

Continuing with my learning Photoshop example, I might end up with the following:

1. Stop Wasting Time with the Wrong Photoshop Tools
2. Cheap Photoshop Plug-Ins Cause Low-Quality Images
3. A Better Way to use Photoshop Workspace?

In these headlines, I’ve focused on a specific problem – and I’ve still kept my eye on keywords. In the first example, I’m targeting readers who are frustrated with Photoshop’s tools, and will probably be showing them ways to make their work go more quickly. In the second example, I’ve pinpointed the problem of low-quality images and am alluding to content that talks about better quality plug-ins. The last example uses “The Problem” and “The Question” methods together – I’m asking the reader to think about whether or not there is, in fact, a better way to use Photoshop’s workspace, and I’m pinpointing the problem of the workspace all at once.

Headline Writing Method Three: The Curiosity Factor

Have you seen articles that use numbers as part of the title, or within their headlines? Of course you have – I’m using them here. The other reason you are able to remember having seen numbered headlines is that they are memorable. They give the reader a reason to keep reading – you make them curious about what the next thing might be.

Another curiosity factor that you can use is the “secret” factor. Everyone wants inside knowledge, something that they think will give them the edge on their peers within their work or hobbies. It’s human nature to want to know something other people might not know – consider the success of books like The Da Vinci Code, which is all about secrets that keep the reader moving through the story, and you’ll understand what I mean.

When you can pair both of these two together, you create really powerful headlines that make it harder not to read on:

1. 5 Insider Secrets for Photoshop Photo Editing
2. 3 Tools Photoshop Pros Don’t Want You to Know
3. Sick of Bad Photoshop Actions? 7 Tips to Remember

Take some time during the editing of your articles to make sure you’ve really used good, targeted headlines. I promise that once you get comfortable with using keyword phrases in your headlines, combined with an attention-getter, you’ll see the number of visits to your articles improve fast.

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