The Changing Art of Writing a Headline

If we track the progression of writing a captivating Headline; we have newspapers delivering punchy, intriguing and human-friendly Headlines ever since the days of the early Printing Press.

With the advent of google and the fact that 84% of Internet users start out by typing a search-query string into google’s Search box; over the last 10-15 years, it became paramount to write search-engine friendly Headlines.

The Turning Tides

However, over the last few years, thanks largely to Social Networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, it has become paramount to get back to writing punchy, intriguing and human-friendly Headlines.

If you have a new authority blog -chances are- most of your traffic comes from Social Networking sites.

In other words, instead of a 10 year old kid holding up a newspaper and yelling out the latest Headline, Twitter and Facebook take the role of that kid and “yell” your latest blog posts via status updates.

…And Now You’re At the Crossroads

  1. Do you continue to write search-engine friendly Headlines?
  2. Do you try to service two masters and write for both search engines AND humans?
  3. Do you try to write ONLY human-friendly Headlines?

Either path has its drawbacks and benefits and you only have to settle on one of these strategies on per-post basis. So using a search-friendly Headline in one post and human-friendly Headline in the next is perfectly acceptable strategy.

Know Your Channels

There are few drawbacks in writing a search-engine friendly Headlines. I will list a few but feel free to add your own in the comments section below.

  • Competition is fierce and cutting through the noise is an increasingly difficult proposition.
  • Google can change their algorithm and all your SEO efforts have been for not.
  • It takes 6-12 months for your SEO efforts to take effect. So its kinda slow going.

Trying to split the difference and writing a headline that is both human-friendly AND search-friendly is a difficult proposition made somewhat easy with our ability to write a Title of the post using WordPress SEO plugins while the actual Headline can be made to make more sense to a human reader.

Example:

In All-In-One-SEO plugin, the Title might say something like "Amazon Kindle for Bloggers", while the Headline of the piece is more elaborate and human friendly

While this distinction is somewhat technical, it’s definitely worth noting. Google algorithm cares greatly about the Title of the post. Adding “Why You Should Have it” would dilute the power of the page’s search rankiness. If that doesnt make sense, listen to the podcast about SEO I did with a search expert Dan Cristo.

Writing human-friendly headlines is coming back in style

While I’m a huge fan of SEO which speaks to my geeky side, I have to admit that bulk of my traffic comes from Social Networks. And I like that. I like that I don’t have to depend on google to bring traffic to my blog.

Mind you, I’m talking about authority blogs here. If you have a mini-niche blog designed to sell a product, go head-first into search-engine friendly Headline writing, but otherwise…

Otherwise, you’d be well advised to stick with punchy, intriguing and human-friendly Headlines.

Which camp do you belong to?

Do you generally write human friendly Headlines or search-engine friendly Headlines?

Or are you trying to do both?

Dino Dogan

Global Force for Badassery | Founder of Triberr | Refugee from Bosnia | Writer for Technorati | Speaker | Lousy Martial Artist | Pretty good singer/songwriter | Hi :-)

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  • Laure-Anne

    Fab subject as usual. You know how to pick ‘em.

    I was having the same conundrum exactly, so ended up with really long titles that catered both for SEO and the human eye. I have a niche blog, but the more I think about it, the more I’d like to go the ‘human eye way’. Thanks for allowing me to crystallize my thoughts on this.

    Laure-Anne

    • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

      I kinda felt a lot of us are torn this way…and I tend to take the human-friendly route as well…let the chips fall where they may :-)

  • http://www.experiate.net Paul Flanigan

    I continue to grow in belief that for authority/niche blogs, SEO is not as important as simple human word-of-mouth sharing. You will always get those who hit Google to start a search, but recommendations are stronger. For example, I discovered you through Mark Schaefer’s blog, not Google search. Chances are I never would have found you there unless I knew you by name.

    Long way of saying: I tend to believe the humanity of the headline has more impact because many (if not most) bloggers get their traffic via human interaction, not SEO.

    Thoughts?

    • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

      I think youre right Paul. And I think the overall trend is swinging back over to the humanity as opposed to SEO.

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  • Steve

    Dino,
    I have been learning the hard way just how important headlines are. For a while, I was writing for neither people or search engines, but rather just what sounded good to me. If you look at my archives, you will see almost no comments and I had very little traffic.

    I still don’t take SEO into consideration often when writing my headlines. I prefer them to stand out and hopefully grab some attention.

  • http://live-your-love.com/ Brankica U

    I am not sure what to answer cause I am wondering if the example in the picture is a job done the right or the wrong way :)

    I write SEO friendly headlines for niche sites and about 80% of visitors there are coming from the Search engines.

    When it comes to my blog, I do less SEO so in total Social media are the biggest source of traffic. However, when I single out the sources, I get Google to be the biggest traffic source on it.

    I am not so good at writing headlines that cut through flesh but I can see I am way better than a few months ago.

    Thanks for the link love :)

  • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

    Serve the humans and you’ll serve the search engines. I think the algorithm will shift to focus more on social signals and usage statistics so if you’re making humans happy, you’ll be rewarded (plus, people will be more likely to link to content they like).

    That said, that doesn’t cover the “organic search referral” angle. I think the best headline combines both. Your reference to the early newsies shouting out headlines is a good one. They used to throw in a keyword with a sexy headline to catch the reader’s ear.

    Stuff like “Extra, extra, read all about it: New York Mayor brings taxes to the Big Apple.” “New York Yankees win the pennant.” Etc.

  • http://www.itinerantentrepreneur.com/journal/ Robert Dempsey

    I see SEO moving more and more to relevancy toward humans so it’s all about writing headlines that get the clicks and leading the folks to content that delivers. That’s how I roll.

  • http://www.expatlifecoach.com/blog John Falchetto

    Human friendly, to make really SEO friendly you would need to just throw in a few keywords in the title and leave it there. I guess it works sometimes, ‘truth, lies and online profiles’ was a headline I used last week but because it sounded good not because it had any SEO weight. What do I know about SEO anyways? Nothing.

    I will keep my headlines in English as the people who read, comment and RT posts are humans not Google bots.

    Cheers Dino

  • http://twitter.com/LeoWid Leon Widrich

    great post dino, I for someone was never in the position to write SEO friendly headlines, since I completely grew up during the social media movement. But its great to reflect upon that in the future more, absolutely makes sense. –> buffered. :)

  • http://twitter.com/donpower Don Power

    Hey Dino!

    I always preferred intelligent, clever headlines over strictly SEO friendly headlines. My boss, however, prefers non ambiguous, straight ahead, SEO friendly titles.

    I thought an impassible clash was pending until he offered this simple solution:

    Use an SEO friendly, unambiguous title for the post itself.

    Then use whatever (and however many variations) of pithy, clever or ambiguous ‘headlines’ in your tweets, Facebook updates, comments, etc. as long as they don’t stray TOO far from your SEO friendly “real” post title.

    That way, you raelly do get the best of both worlds. You get SEO juice from your keyword densified headline plus you get human interest PLUS Google’s new Social Search juice from your more human friendly, clever headlines.

    Word.

    – Don

  • http://twitter.com/janetcallaway Janet Callaway

    Dino, aloha. After reading your post, I was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief as I had been struggling in an attempt to find the answer and balance. Interestingly enough, this morning I was on a Social Media Examiner chat with Dean Hunt who said: “Want to get massive attention to your content? Put a negative slant on your content. So for example, I recently wrote a blog post entitled” How to Work Really Hard and Make NO Money”.. the info was great, and useful, but it was the negative angle that made people take notice.” Thx, my friend. Enjoy a spectacular weekend. Aloha. Janet

  • http://easypublicspeaking.co.uk/ Keith Davis

    Hi Dino
    I do both.
    Initially I write a headline to catch attention.
    That hopefully brings people over to comment on my post.

    Once the comments die down, I change the headline for SEO and then leave it to be found in the future.

    Seems to work.

    For the term “Public speaking humour” one of my posts ranks 5th out of 1.5 million!
    Not bad eh.

    Have a good weekend.

    • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

      Dude..thats actually a brilliant strategy. My only beef with it is that I hate going back and changing the post but there is tremendous benefit (clearly) in doing it…nice tip. Thnx :-)

  • http://benjaminlang.com Ben Lang

    Always have trouble with headlines, between keeping it catchy, making it beneficial for SEO etc. it’s always so hard…

    • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

      yup…for sure….on this website I’ve pretty much given up writing for search engines…which helped my peace of mind at least lol

  • http://twitter.com/SheilaAtwood SheilaAtwood

    Dino,

    I have been bouncing this one around too and testing it out. Especially since I stink at writing headlines. So far my best headline has been a combination of both and I had to get somebody else to write it.

    The good thing about using headlines in social media is that you can change what is they see. For example if I write the headline Content Copywriting Tricks and Tips for SEO, I and get on Twitter and say ” I bet you didn’t know this trick when you wrote your last blog post.” http://linktopost.

    I will be checking out the podcast again.

    • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

      Very interesting technique Sheila…I like it :-)

  • http://www.thesaleslion.com/ Marcus Sheridan,The Sales Lion

    Hey Dino, thanks for the great topic here. I’ve spent loads of time on this with my other business over the past 2 years and it’s the reason why my swimming pool website is the most popular blog of its kind in the entire industry.

    For me, it’s all about pleasing both masters. I always try to ‘front load’ my keywords but still manage to make it appealing to the reader. If the industry isn’t terribly competitive, it can be quite easy to show up first page for long-tail keyword phrases within an hour or so. Because the swimming pool industry is so light on good long-tail content, about 50% of my articles show up on the first page for the desired keyword by the second day….which is nice. Then again, an industry like marketing or blogging or self improvement is way, way harder, and such results are rarely attainable that quickly. But regardless, headlines, titles, and urls are huge….and mustn’t be overlooked.

    Marcus

    • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

      Ive tried pleasing both masters and I have to admit that I hate it. Maybe its because its almost impossible to make a dent in the high-competing subjects like marketing or blogging or self improvement.

      On my niche sites, its a different story…its all about search engine first and then humans…and you’re right…seams to work pretty darn good :-)

  • http://twitter.com/SheilaAtwood SheilaAtwood

    Dino,

    Had to come back and tell you how much I appreciate the the interview with Dan. There some very nice little tricks I did not know, like checking out the competitors. Flotters is under construction so I hope I heard the name right for Dans video site.

    • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

      Im glad you found it useful :-) Dan’s video site is all done and misspelled lol http://fluttrs.com

  • Anonymous

    Trying to do both since most of my traffic comes from search engines.

    • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

      I get a lot of inner-conflict trying to serve two masters. But thats just me. So I choose the one that feels right and stick with it. Different strokes, good times and welcome back Carter lol

  • http://www.3hatscommunications.com davinabrewer

    I do a combo approach, thinking a little about SEO esp. as I edit the pretty permalinks. If I have a great, clever human title I keep it, but then try to remember to use an SEO plugin to describe the post better, along with trimming down that permalink to just a few key words. I also think human another way: what would make an interesting, eye catching tweet or RT? Sometimes makes for shorter, punchier headlines w/ more clicking power. FWIW.

    • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

      Thats safe..but I find I encounter a lot of personal inner-conflict when I try to serve the SEO master. So for this blog, I’ve gone from SEO friendly, to 50/50 until I finally gave up and started writing human friendly headlines first. If it happens to be ok for SEO, its entirely by accident. Different strokes :-)

      Since authority blogs are becoming more and more socially driven, I find that human headlines are way more effective.

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  • Betsy Cross

    I don’t know any better than trying to match a title to the content. I’ll stick to that for now. But I know if I ignore the science of it for too long it’ll be like refusing to put a sail on a sailboat to take advantage of the breeze…

    • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

      We’re deploying a new version of Headline Testing Area on Triberr, which will address exactly this concern. It will be like a copywriting bootcamp for writing headlines :-)