Killer headlines - the key to effective search engine optimisation

Wed, 15/02/2012 - 20:50

The latest round of updates to Google’s algorithms make content more important than ever when determining the factors that are likely to push your website to the top of the search engine rankings. Yet all too often we’re so focused on writing perfect on-page copy that we ignore the headline. And that causes a problem on two levels.

At a behavioural level human beings need firm guidance. If something’s not clearly mapped out for us, we generally don’t want to get involved. Sub editors on newspapers will tell you that the headline is the most important part of any news story. Get it wrong and your time-pressed audience will skip past your article or blog post.

Write a compelling headline and you’ll draw your audience into the story. Once there you can spellbind them with your wordsmithery and ensure that your call to action elicits the desired response.

In the old days of print media an apocryphal story was often told to new hacks: dog bites man does not sell newspapers; man bites dog does.

But when it comes to the web, humans are not the only audience we want to attract. Encouraging the search engines to index your pages is, arguably, more important. And a good headline - which incorporates keywords - is more likely to get your site ranking for those phrases, boosting your site’s visibility and getting it onto page one of the search engine return pages.

Once the site has been found, an effective headline will encourage people to read through the rest of the page. Regardless of how good the article content is, a poorly written headline will discourage interaction and could cause people leave your site before they’ve even looked at anything else.

A good headline should tell the reader what the page is about - whether it’s advice on buying a cover for your cellphone or it’s commentary on the South African economy.

Here are two versions of the cellphone / tablet cover headline:

Buy iPad covers online in South Africa.

Want to pimp your iPad? Check out the funkiest tablet and cellphone covers and accessories in SA.

So both headlines tell you what the page is about. But go on, which one are you more likely to click on? Does the first really engage you? Does it have a proposition behind it?

By starting with a question, the second heading engages the reader. They subconsciously answer it – (hmm .. yes, my iPad is cool, but everyone has one. Maybe I should pimp it.). It also uses positive and fashionable words which are likely to appeal to a mobile, status oriented audience. And as well as doing that, it tells the story. The page is about iPad covers.

So next time you set out to write a 400 word post for your blog, remember that the first 12 words are probably the most crucial!

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