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Bold and Epic SEO Titles: What Makes One, What Breaks One?

Having trouble coming up with a catchy title for your new online content? Want something compelling yet well optimized to improve your on-page SEO?

Watch out! You can easily over-optimize your title and kill the traffic!

This article will show you how to keep your titles simple, informative, and compelling so that both users and ranking algorithms will love them!

Basic facts about good titles

The title is undoubtedly one of the most important ranking factors for Google: what you put inside the <title> and <title/> tags is critical for search engines to understand what your website is about.

But more importantly – it is critical for your potential user or future customer to understand what your site is about and that he or she should choose it from all the search results which means that all psychological tricks are allowed (even dirty ones)!

Let’s imagine a scale where on the left we have titles that are well optimized for SEO and on the right titles that are compelling (at least in theory):

I’m not sure about you, but I wouldn’t click any of them – the titles on the left are boring and the ones on the right look somewhat too sensational and spammy.

This is exactly why creating titles for online content is tricky!

Hitting that sweet spot may be pretty difficult at the beginning, but you have to try. 

Let’s not forget about common sense: not all content is made to become a huge, viral hit. Maybe it’s not the best idea to try really hard to create a catchy headline for a short post about quick cash loans, the best lawn mowers, or something similar – in most such cases a well-optimized, Google-friendly title should be enough.

But if your topic is trending and/or really interesting, the article well-researched and written and you feel it has great value – you should probably try to make it as appealing to users as possible.

A few tips for SEO title optimization

In general, good titles should be short.

Why?

  • Google typically shows only the first 60-70 letters of a title before cutting it short because of the 512-pixel width limit for every result in SERP. You can read more about it here and also check if your title will be “cut” by Google or not. Remember that Google can always rewrite your title according to a specific query.

57 symbols in the title here…

…but only 44 here.

  • Perhaps the most important function of titles is to be displayed on top of your browser or in the browser’s tabs, next to the favicon. There’s usually not much space there, so shorter titles provide a better browsing experience.
  • A title is also always displayed when your content gets shared on social media – and they also have limited space. Therefore the same rule as in the first point applies.

Plenty of space left here – good job Elephate! 

Every title should theoretically contain a keyword you are trying to rank for (although that probably won’t be always possible, e.g. when you’re trying to rank for a very specific, niche long-tail keyword). Try to create a title with this keyword as the first word, or at least keep it as close to the front as possible. According to MOZ this will allow you to rank slightly better.

If you have already built some brand awareness put your name at the end of every title – some users will click your result just because they know you.  

LinkedIn is a highly trusted website, so it’s a good strategy for them.

One of the most important features of a good title is accuracy: you don’t want to mislead your readers, so always create a title relevant to the content. Irrelevancy is a clear sign that your website is untrustworthy and probably spammy, both for Google and users. 

Generally, it’s hard to over-optimize titles from a technical point of view (unless you stuff lots and lots of keywords there, but you’re not from the year 2008, right?). However, it’s easy to forget or neglect this simple set of rules that provide better user experience and better on-page SEO, therefore better position in SERP’s.

How to create titles compelling to people and why it’s important

On-page SEO is important, sure, but there are also important ranking factors that are based on human actions, such as click-through rate, time spent, user engagement, etc.

The titles that follow all the rules drawn up in the previous paragraph can still be boring and considered not-click-worthy by your potential audience. 

How to attract and interest your potential users with engaging headlines? In other words: how to optimize titles for humans? 

Emotions

People often act emotionally when online, so they are more likely to click something like “You’ll NEVER believe what this crazy cat did!” even if those people are generally indifferent to cats. 

One of the simplest – but overused – methods to boost performance is playing on a wide range of emotions – both positive and negative. This is most frequently expressed in titles, as they are the first (and often only) part of the content that comes into view. 

Emotional headlines work especially well on social media.

Some of the most commonly used emotions for “luring” people are:

  • disbelief
  • hope
  • anger
  • frustration
  • passion
  • anxiety
  • vanity
  • joy
  • sentiment

This list, however, doesn’t cover all the possibilities or even a small portion of them. It’s always up to a copywriter or content marketer to choose the right word that will trigger an emotional response from the target group. 

Remember – what works for one niche won’t always work for another! 

Plutchik’s wheel of emotions – all of these could be used for crafting great title!

Curiosity 

Of all the emotions, curiosity is perhaps the most important for online marketing. Is that why I decided to discuss it in a separate paragraph? Let’s find out!

It’s really simple to understand – you have to make users curious about your content. The way to do that is to create a title that will make people want to see what it’s all about. 

A few universal tips for creating intriguing titles:

  • Ask a question in the title. Of course, you must provide the answer in the content. The question can be rhetorical but don’t make it sound too sensational as you can fall under Betteridge’s law of headlines.
  • Make the title look like an unfinished sentence.
  • Surprise the user with unpopular statements – something that goes against common knowledge or is controversial or is obviously false. A great example is here.
  • Make sure that you don’t reveal EVERYTHING in your title.

Reflect value

If you’re doing Content Marketing right, then your post most probably provides great value. What you need to do is to make sure that value is reflected in the title so users know straight away what they can get out of it. 

If you create your content for a specific group of people it’s a good idea to address them in your title whenever possible, e.g. “Tips about titles for SEO experts.”

Numbers!

People love lists. All kinds of lists. There are several reasons why.

This works especially well online, so don’t be afraid to come up with interesting lists and always reflect this your title. 

Sometimes you can even trick users’ minds with a title that looks like a list, but it’s not,  e.g. “Two simple methods to keep your car clean” – see what I did there?

Just look at the Google results for “what makes a title compelling”!

Note: however, you don’t want to ONLY have lists on your blog.

Stand out from the crowd

Depending on a given platform and the kind of audience and niche, you may want your title to stand out from the other content in the niche. 

  • Use exclamation marks! This will make your message stronger!
  • Don’t be afraid to write SOME IMPORTANT PARTS of title in CAPS, but only if you feel it suits your brand.
  • Use sophisticated language. 
  • Sometimes exaggerate a little bit, maybe even brag in the title.

Over-optimization?

Is it even possible to over-optimize a title from the user’s point of view? 

I’d say it is. 

  • “This common fruit heals diabetes INSTANTLY!”
  • “Watch this crazy video before it gets banned!”
  • “Texas mom earns 50000$ a day! Learn how NOW!”
  • “Teenager ashamed professional athletes with one simple trick!”
  • “Regain your hair in 3 weeks WITHOUT surgery!”

You surely recognize this “kind” of title. They are typical for native advertising. Their sole purpose is to generate traffic at all costs (please notice how those titles make use of everything I wrote above, all at the same time). Although they often fail to deliver quality content, the popularity of these ads speaks for itself. For now.

I believe this form of marketing will slowly dwindle because people are getting smarter, more conscious about their online activities, and tired of worthless native ads – that’s one of the reasons why the numbers of adblocked devices grow steadily.

Even those unfamiliar with AdBlock or similar software will eventually become blind to them like they became blind to banners.

Therefore, I suggest you make use of all the tips found above but just one at a time. You don’t want any of your users to mistake your quality content with spammy native ads.

Useful tools

There are several tools that can make the whole process a lot easier. But remember, no tool can come up with a better title than a skilled human (yet). 

  • http://coschedule.com/headline-analyzer – This great tool analyzes your title in several ways: word balance, grammar construction, keyword use, length, and emotional meaning. Then it gives you a grade. If it’s low, you’ll also get tips on how to improve it. I got an A+.
    You can also preview what it looks like in Google. Really handy!
  • http://www.aminstitute.com/headline/index.htm – Headline Analyzer breaks down your title for EMV (Emotional Marketing Value) score.
    The higher the better, although don’t worry if your scores are low in the beginning – in my opinion, it takes a very skilled, native copywriter to reach the suggested ratio of 30-40% emotional words in a title.
  • http://www.contentrow.com/tools/link-bait-title-generator – Linkbait title generator is a great tool with a tendency to exaggerate, just as the name suggests.
    You can, of course, take your title directly from it but my advice would be to create something original with its help.
    Also: “Why you should give up sex and devote your life to SEO titles.”
  • https://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo/ – Yoast is a great WordPress plugin that measures overall SEO score for every post. As the title is an important part of it, it’ll also give you some hints on how to improve your title. Really useful.

Summary

Titles are an essential part of SEO – both from a person’s perspective and a search engine’s. Knowing how to create interesting or provocative titles can boost your conversions but it’s important not to overdo it as that is the domain of ad spammers. Don’t forget to use tools that will help you in the process!

Published
  • 29 August 2019
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Piotr

See all articles by Piotr Mikulski

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