How to Write an SEO Headline [That Gets Clicks in 2021]

A famous English idiom tells us not to judge a book by its cover.

But SEO headlines tell a different story. Statistics show that, when it comes to SEO marketing, 80% of readers don’t make it past the headline of a blog post or article.

So unless you use keywords that accurately describe your content and spike an interest in the reader, it can be difficult to drive clicks that aren’t from your friends and family.

That’s why an important part of writing content as a marketer is coming up with SEO headlines that please both search engines and readers.

Now, although there’s room to be creative when writing an SEO headline, there are also a few rules, practices, and tips you can follow to help you generate great headlines that rank and drive traffic.

That’s exactly what we’ll be covering in this article, besides all of the SEO headline basics you’ll need to know. Read along to learn:

SEO Headline Basics

Every webpage or blog post has multiple headers.

The headline, main heading, or H1 tag, is the most important on-page SEO element. It’s the one sentence that summarizes the post’s topic. As such, it should include your post’s primary keyword.

As the most visible piece of content on the Google homepage, both search engine bots and readers use the headline to figure out what your post is about. Hence, no matter how valuable your content is, if it’s paired up with a mediocre headline, your click-through rate will likely be low.

How Long Should an SEO Headline Be?

For the headline to be fully visible, it should not surpass a certain length. Specifically, you should keep the headline’s length between 285 pixels to 580 pixels (from 30 to 60 characters); otherwise, it’ll be too long.

For example, a headline within the limit would show up like this:

SEO Headline within character limits

Meanwhile, a longer one would have an ellipsis in the end — like this:

SEO headline outside of character limits

Now, there’s no actual word limit for the title — you can still choose to write a longer one. It just won’t look as neat or appealing to the reader.

Pro Tip

Want to check if Google will fully display your SEO headline once the content is posted? Paste the headline in this SERP Snippet Optimization Tool to check.

What Are SEO Keywords?

The number one rule to crafting the perfect headline is keyword research. Keyword research discovers what terms people are looking up, how often each term is used, and what the search intent is.

One easy way to do keyword research is by looking at the headlines used in the top-ranking articles. You can look at the top 3-5 articles, borrow some ideas in one sheet, and voila! You already have a handful of keyword inspirations.

Alternatively, you could insert your keyword into your favorite SEO tool (Semrush, Moz, and Ahrefs are great options) and let the software do the work for you. If you want to learn more about each tool (and which one to choose), we’ve got a guide on Moz Vs SEMrush Vs Ahrefs that you can check out.

So, let’s assume you’re writing a blog post about different cooking recipes for kids. When you plug in the topic into Moz, you get up to 1,000 relevant keyword suggestions:

Keyword Research

Based upon their monthly search volume, I narrowed it down to these specific keyword phrases:

  • Easy recipes for kids: 3,382
  • Recipes for kids to make: 853
  • Kid chef recipes: 744
  • Kids cooking recipes: 638

Then, I came up with 3 possible headline alternatives:

  • “X+ Easy Recipes for Kids to Make By Themselves”
  • “Easy Cooking Recipes Kids Can Make”
  • “X+ Fun and Easy Kid Chef Recipes”

All these alternatives contain the keyword, are relevant to the topic, and demonstrate value.

It’s also important for the headline to reflect the audience and the search intent. For example, when talking about kids cooking recipes, keeping the language fun, friendly, and casual is a great approach.

But if you’re writing financial accounting topics and promoting expensive accounting software, the target audience changes. And so should your language.

Here’s what we mean by that.

Technically speaking, this is a “correct” SEO headline: “X+ Ways to Do Financial Accounting [#3 Will Surprise You].” It’s catchy and clickable, but no serious accountant will ever relate to its tone.

Alternatively, a more suitable headline to match the target audience and generate clicks would be: “Financial Accounting Guide (with X+ Business Examples).”

H2, H3, H4 Tags and Beyond

Headers are divided in order of importance, from the main heading (H1) to the lowest-level heading (H6). While the SEO headline is about the post’s topic, H2 headings separate your sections and classify the main points of your paragraphs. H3 tags further categorize and simplify the content, and so do all of the following tags, up until H6.

Here’s an example of how this hierarchical structure would manifest in a post outline:

  • H1: Remote Working: Benefits and Challenges
    • H2: 3 Key Benefits of Remote Work
      • H3: Better Work-Life Balance
      • H3: Increased Health
        • H4: Lower Risk of Depression
        • H4: Decreased Levels of Anxiety
      • H3: More Inclusivity
    • H2: 3 Concerning Challenges of Remote Work
      • H3: Isolation from the Team
      • H3: Overlap Between Personal Life
      • H3: Work Intensification

What’s important is that you incorporate all these different types of headers. You can’t simply add a headline at the top of the page and call it a day. If you do so, your content will be a block of sentences that barely shows any text structure and that’s neither accessible to search engine bots, nor is it reader-friendly.

Meanwhile, the tags organize your content, format the page, make the content easier to read, and improve your overall ranking and accessibility.

Pro Tip

Want to have the most appealing SEO content that drives traffic to your blog? Consider hiring an SEO writer - check out this guide to learn how!

Why Are SEO Headlines Important?

We already mentioned that part of writing high-quality SEO content that ranks is coming up with catchy SEO headlines.

That's because the headline is the very first impression a reader gets from your content. So, if your SEO headline doesn't grab the reader's attention - and mouse click - your efforts to rank and drive traffic to your website will go kaput.

Why? Well, how readers interact with your content has a domino effect on the search engine bots and Google algorithm.

The search engine algorithm aims to present to the user, aka reader, the most relevant and quality search results. One way it does this is by looking at user engagement with the page. So, the more clicks, shares, and interaction you get from readers, the more credibility you’ll earn and the higher you’ll rank.

The algorithm also scans keywords within the headline and the type of content inside the page. Again, the goal is to discover what the page covers and whether it matches the search intent.

Bottom line: SEO headlines as part of the SEO process are crucial in determining your website traffic.

How to Create SEO Headlines That Drive Clicks

#1: Get to the Point

Usually, readers are only looking for a concise and straightforward answer. Thus, powerful headlines use simple, direct language, and are reader-friendly. Make sure you follow this principle throughout your content, in addition to your headline.

So, if you’re going to be talking about natural remedies for headaches, title your content exactly that, rather than something generic like “ways to get rid of headaches, fast”.

Although the generic title may make the user click on the title, chances are they’ll bounce within one minute if you don’t actually provide the answer that was promised. That's why concise and straightforward content is just as important as a straightforward SEO title.

#2: Incorporate Numbers

Readers are more prone to click on SEO headlines that contain numbers - from 15% to 73% more (according to two different studies).

Why? Well, numbers show that the content will offer practical information, tangible tips, or measurable benefits.

Mind the following when incorporating numbers into your SEO headline:

  1. Start the headline with a number. This automatically signals that the content within the post will be well-structured and orderly.
  2. Use a digit (such as 5), instead of spelling out the word “five, to save characters and make it simple for the user to process.
  3. Keep it odd. Our brains subconsciously consider odd numbers as more believable and likely to be true. So, you have better chances at gaining readers when you use odd numbers in your SEO headlines.
  4. Add a gain, advantage, tip, or benefit after the number. The headline is only as good as what it offers and the number is only effective if it highlights said benefit.
  5. Include the correct number. If you promised 7 advantages, then make sure to actually give them. Readers don’t like being misled.

Here are a few good examples of incorporating numbers in your SEO headline:

  • 7+ Writing Tips that Drive Clicks & Traffic
  • 23 Easy Vegan Cookie Recipes
  • 9 Benefits of Solar Energy to the Environment
  • 3 Online Businesses You Can Start with No Money

#3: Use CTAs

A call to action or a CTA helps encourage website visitors to take a certain action. This includes using words such as ‘try,’ ‘join free,’ ‘save,’ ‘start/stop,’ ‘learn more,’ and so forth.

So, instead of saying: “The Formula to Writing an Appealing Headline,” you can alternatively go for: “Try This Formula to Quickly Write a Catchy Headline.”

#4: Invoke Emotion

An emotional headline is one that uses powerful words that can provoke readers’ emotions and thus get them to click on your content. Your goal is to make people feel something.

So, whether your content is a promotional offer for a service, shocking news everyone’s gossiping about, or a list of tips and advice, you need to convince your readers it’s something worth investing time into.

Take this headline example: “13 Blog Headline Examples that Got Us 15 Million Readers.”

It’s intriguing, right? Who doesn’t want to know thirteen headlines that can whip out millions of views?

This is the power of emotional headlines.

To create such headlines, it’s important that you incorporate emotional words.

If what you want to invoke is trust, use words such as ‘proven,’ ‘confirmed,’ ‘medical,’ ‘formula,’ or ‘official.’ If you want to trigger curiosity and excitement, then words such as ‘censored,’ ‘unbelievable,’ ‘confidential,’ ‘secret,’ and ‘hidden’ are of great use.

To trigger a happy response go for words like ‘festive,’ ‘on top of the,’ ‘bright,’ ‘amazing,’ ‘sunny,’ and so forth. You can even employ a Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) with taglines such as ‘limited offer,’ ‘don’t miss out,’ or ‘limited-time savings.’

Here are some examples of articles with emotional language that have stolen readers’ attention:

  • Watch This Amazing Footage of a Drone Flying Through an Eruptive Volcano
  • 37 Proven Sales Strategies You Need to Be Successful in 2021
  • iPhones Secretly Send Call History to Apple, Security Firm Says

Want to learn more about SEO and some of the coolest SEO tips you can use to grow your content? Head over to our guide on the 101 Best SEO Tips [To Help You Rank In 2021].

Need help with your SEO?

Let's skyrocket your traffic together!

Noel Ceta - co-founder of Apollo Digital

Key Takeaways

In today’s information-filled world, readers have millions of options. Your headline needs to provide the reader a reason to choose you over your competitors, so whatever you do, don’t leave your SEO headline to chance.

Here are some of the key points to always remember when writing your SEO headline:

  • Keep your headline between 30 and 60 characters, so that it’s fully visible on SERPs.
  • Conduct extensive keyword research to discover what people are searching for and tailor your headline and entire content around these findings.
  • Be direct and get straight to the point - readers don’t like being misled. Your headline should 100% match the content within the post.
  • Odd numbers are your new best friend: incorporate them at the beginning of your headline to make the article more tangible and practical.
  • Use CTAs when possible to encourage readers to take a certain action, such as subscribing to a membership, trying out a free trial, using a promotional code, and so on.
  • Invoke emotion, whether that’s curiosity, excitement, happiness, or shock, by including emotional language into your SEO headlines.

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