In this article, I am going to share with you the best practices, tips, and tricks to write SEO-friendly headlines for your blog posts, product pages, category pages, and any other pages that are intended to drive organic traffic from search engines.
Why Headlines are Important in SEO?
When it comes to headlines, people are not the only ones who read them to better understand your content and decide whether that’s something they are looking for or not.
Headlines are important on-page SEO factor that you should not neglect in order to write SEO-friendly content and here are 4 main reasons why headlines are important in SEO:
1. Google Uses Them to Better Understand Your Content
As already said, people are not only ones that scan your headlines, but search engines as well.
In order for Google to better understand your content, they are scanning your website content, images videos, and headlines as well.
Therefore, optimizing your headlines for SEO will help Google properly rank your web pages for the right keywords.
2. Headlines are Ranking Factor
The second reason why SEO-friendly headlines are important is that headlines are considered a ranking factor by Google.
As stated by John Mueller from Google:
Therefore, by properly optimizing your headlines you not only help Google to better understand your content, but also improve your ranking for your primary keywords.
3. Good Headlines Lower Bounce Rate and Increase Time on Page
Another reason why headlines are important in SEO is good headlines lower bounce rates and increase time on the page.
Headlines are the most prominent part of your website and 8 out of 10 people read your headline while only 2 out of 10 people read the content.
Therefore, by writing more relevant headlines to your target keyword and search intent, you will get more people to go through your content, thus spending more time on your website and less bouncing back to search for another web page.
And these are user experience metrics tracked by Google which are used when assessing your web pages for ranking and obviously the better user metrics you have, the better ranking you achieve.
4. They Provide Quick Answers
People skim, in fact around 20% of users have time to read your content, while the rest will skim through the content. This was true 20 years ago and now it’s no different. (Source)
And headlines help them to find the exact section they are looking for. Regardless of the topic, there are always parts within the content users don’t want to read and they want to read.
This can be parts of content they already know of, they are not interested in, or they just need only one bit of information so they can carry on whatever they are doing.
This is called search intent and it means the reason why users came to the search in the first place and in most situations, it is only for a small piece of information. Therefore, by using headlines, you chuck your content which allows users to scan the content and find that piece of information they need, thus you satisfied their search intent.
And this is exactly what Google is looking for if you satisfy search intent for a certain keyword, it means you have the right content so based on this Google will improve your ranking so you can satisfy more people with search intent for the searched keyword or any similar query.
Difference Between Headline and Title Tag
The main difference between the headline and title tag is that headline is located on your web page and is considered the title of your web page while the title tag is located on the search engine result pages (SERPs) and it is the blue text that works as a link to the ranking page.
In most scenarios, SEOs and webmasters keep the headline and title tag exactly the same for search engines to make it easier to understand the content and not confuse users.
However, they can differ as well.
13 Best Practices to Write SEO-Friendly Headlines
With that, let me share with you the thirteen best practices for SEO-friendly headlines:
1. Use Only H1 Heading tag Once
The first best practice for SEO-friendly headlines is to use only one H1 tag for your headline and the rest H2, H3, etc. use for your subheadlines.
According to John Mueller, Google does not have any problems with multiple H1 headings and Google uses headings to get a better understanding of your content.
The key is to have clear semantically understandable headings as it is useful in understanding any given page.
However, what’s important is to deliver a great user experience and by properly organizing and dicing your headings, just like when you write your thesis, research proposal, or any paper, it will improve the hierarchy of the content and users can clearly see the importance of each heading and the semantic relationship between them.
H1 headline is your title and is considered the most important header of your page like for every book, news, article, magazine, tv show, movie, and others, you have only one title and not multiple titles as it would confuse your users.
Therefore, using only one H1 tag is the best way to semantically specify the main headline of your page and then continue with subheadings as this would make it easier for users and even search engines to understand what your page is about.
Not only that, but it will also improve your writing and how you structure content. Remember, providing the best and most valuable content that is understandable to your audience should be your top priority and it’s the best SEO practice you can implement.
On top of that, it will help with SEO voice optimization as well as for screen readers to generate content more accurately from your page for people with vision disabilities.
2. Add Primary Keyword in Top Headline
The next best practice for SEO-friendly headlines is to include your primary keyword in your top headline or your H1 tag.
That’s because as already mentioned, your headline is a strong signal to Google what your page is all about.
For example, in every of my article or web page, you can see I make sure I include the primary keyword I am targeting with the content. Here’s an example of my off-page SEO activity list article.
This will help search engines to better understand your content and improve the ranking of your pages right from the beginning.
Remember, you want to make it as easy as possible for Google to understand your content, yet keep it natural for your users without any keyword stuffing or without making any sacrifice of the quality of the content.
If you want to learn more about finding keywords, check out my articles:
3. Place Keyword Towards Beginning
Another way to improve your SEO headlines is to place the primary keyword towards the beginning.
In my experience from both user and search engine standpoint, the closer the keyword is to the beginning the more relevant it’s to the users and the more weight it has with search engines.
Such example of this could be my article on how to do competitor backlink analysis.
However not always does this practice make sense and sometimes including the primary keyword in the middle can result in a better headline, such as in my article on profitable keywords, you can see the keyword is in the middle.
Thus, prioritizing the user experience can outweigh the benefit of adding keywords towards the beginning of the headline.
If you are using WordPress, check out my guide on where to put and how to add keywords in WordPress.
4. Follow the Search Intent
The next important practice to make SEO-friendly headline is to follow the search intent.
Search intent means the reason behind the searcher query, and it will help you create the right type of content, focus on the angle of the content, and even how to write your headline.
For example, if you are targeting the keyword “removing stain from wood“ you can look at the search results to see how the top-ranking pages write their own titles and headlines.
And you can see that most of the web pages use “How to” in their title, which makes perfect sense for this query.
And even you can see one is adding the primary keyword at the beginning of the title, which again makes sense to me, as perhaps there are multiple ways to clean stains from wood.
So based on this, you’ll know what type of headline and title you should write for your article as well. But of course, you want to add your own spin on it to make it unique and stand out as that could result in people choosing to click on your page rather than your competitors, don’t be a copycat!
5. Try to Add Primary keywords to Subheadlines
The next best practice for SEO-friendly headlines is to add your primary keyword in your subheadlines if possible.
As said by John Mueller:
With that, you have already added your primary keyword in the top headline to help Google better understand your content.
And not always it does make sense to add the primary keyword in the subheading without making it weird and sticking out like a sore thumb.
Therefore, in many of my articles, I only include the keyword in the headline, and I won’t repeat it in the subheading again as there is no way to do that without stuffing the keyword. (Check out in SEO how many keywords per page)
But if you can naturally include the main keyword in another subheading, then go for it. Like for example in my article on B2B Blog Strategy.
Usually, you can repeat the primary keyword, when you are explaining, what, why, and how’s for the target keyword, otherwise, it might be challenging.
So, don’t worry if you cannot add the keyword in another subheading, always keep it natural.
6. Use Headlines to Capture Featured Snippet
The next best SEO practice for SEO-friendly headlines is to use them to capture or rank for a featured snippet.
There are many different featured snippets in the search that you can try to rank for. However, the most common featured snippet that you will try to optimize for with your headline is the Paragraph featured snippet or the Knowledge Card.
This featured snippet intends to answer user questions right within the search engine result page without the need to visit any of the ranking web pages.
So, first of all, how do you find featured snippet opportunities for your target keyword?
For most, if you are using keyword research tools like SE Ranking, it shows you all the SERP features that appear for the keyword.
Once you know, what keywords have the potential to rank for the featured snippet, the next thing you need to know is what relevant question long-tail keywords variants you need to target within the content to rank for the featured snippet.
The easiest way to do that is to look at the “People also ask” box and pick the questions from there and included them within your content.
For example, as you can see for the keyword “b2b target audience” some of the relevant question long-tail keywords variants that can be included within the content are “what is b2b target audience”, “ how is B2B target audience determined” and even “who are the B2B customers” and “what are B2B customers looking for” are some of the variants I could use within my content to optimize for featured snippets.
And I did, as you can see in my content targeting the keyword “b2b target audience” I have included the relevant question keyword variant within to:
- Optimize and rank for the featured snippet
- Add primary keywords in my subheading to further help Google understand my content. (As I already explained.)
So, like this, you can use headlines and subheadlines to optimize for a featured snippet, and every keyword you target that have this SERP feature, you should optimize your content to rank for the featured snippet.
7. Don’t Be Afraid of Longer Headlines
Another way to make your headlines more SEO-friendly is to not be afraid of longer headlines and go against stereotypes and old-fashion SEO advice.
A lot of SEOs will advise you to keep your headlines short and sweet so they are easy to read, scan, and users can receive the information in a more concise method.
However, this is a myth.
A recent study by Backlinko shows that longer headlines are correlated with more social shares. Headlines that are 14-17 words in length generate 76.7% more social shares than short headlines.
And that same was approved by Sharethrough research that shows long headlines maximize engagement. Specifically, headlines with 21-28 words work the best.
With that, longer headlines allow you to provide more information to users and search engines about your content which this extra information may motivate people to keep reading your content.
And longer headlines can include more close terms that can “match” keyword searches on Google and on social media sites, which can drive more traffic and social shares.
Therefore, I believe experimenting with headlines regardless of at looking the length will help you drive the best results. Try A/B testing with short and longer headlines, and you will see which one works the best for the particular keyword.
8. Don’t Use Headline as a URL Slug
The next SEO-friendly headline best practice and also one of the biggest SEO mistakes you can make is to let WordPress or other CMS systems copy the headline as your URL slug.
Unfortunately, plenty of websites still keep making the mistake of having a URL slug being made from a headline.
For example, if you look at this URL you can see they exactly copy the URL from the headline with numbers in it.
This one did the same and let the year in it.
Or this one just copies the entire long headline.
All this makes it extremely hard to update the content later, what if you change the number of tips, the year of the article, or the search intent changed? All this makes it difficult to update your content and it makes your headlines and content not evergreen even if it is an evergreen topic.
So, the best practice to make SEO-friendly URL is to include only your primary keyword.
This makes it easier for Google to identify what’s your content about. According to John Mueller, keywords in URLs are small ranking factors.
And even the Backlinko study shows that short URLs tend to have a slight ranking advantage over longer URLs.
Therefore, only include your primary keyword in your URL and don’t let your CMS copy the URL slug from your headline.
For example, if you look at my article about resource link building.
Or this article about SEO keyword mapping.
You can see I am only including the primary keyword and nothing else. This makes it short and sweet and easily recognizable by Google.
Also, it will make it easy for me to update my content every year, create more evergreen content, send a strong signal to Google about what’s my page about, and easily change and modify my headlines for the best results.
9. Include Brackets in Headlines
The next SEO-friendly headline best practice is to include brackets.
According to a study from Outbrain, adding brackets to headlines can improve CTR by up to 38%. Learn more about CTR manipulation techniques.
And from my experience, I can see this can work.
Again, it does not always work, but it is another way to differentiate your content, provide more information and it can provide a sneak preview of your content.
This can help your users make the decision that your content has the answers they are looking for.
That’s why I am always trying to experiment with brackets in my headlines. A good example is this on-page SEO vs Off-page SEO article with an infographic.
As said, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but worth to try.
10. Include Numbers in Headlines
Another useful practice to improve your headline’s CTR, thus making headlines more SEO-friendly is to include numbers in headlines.
In fact, MOZ did a headlines study which found that 36% of readers preferred headlines with a number in them.
It also has been found by research “Newspaper headlines and relevance: Ad hoc concepts in ad hoc contexts” that numbers or list-style headlines often provide that optimal balance of information and ambivalence, intriguing us just enough to click, on the chance that we’ll come across something particularly relevant or exciting.
And lastly, BuzzStream and Fractl’s study shows that lists-posts get the most social traction.
In plain, our brain is attracted to numbers, whether it is a list of posts or just adding a year to your headline can make your article more relevant and interesting.
For example, if you look at my top articles, you can see all my articles include numbers in them. Whether it is as a list post or just adding the current year.
Therefore, adding numbers in your headlines can improve your CTR and even social shares which both ways can improve your ranking in SERPs.
11. Write Multiple Headlines
Another tip I have for you to write more SEO-friendly headlines and generally better headlines for any of your content is to use the 20 ideas method from Brain Tracy.
Yes, you might have a good idea on the first one, but trust me, if you come up with 20 different headlines, at least one of them will be great.
Yes, that is what I am saying and doing. I produce 10-20 different headlines for each of my content. Why? Because it opens my creativity and allows me to produce the best possible headlines for my content.
And remember, the first thing your users see when they visit your web page is the headline, and if it is not good enough, it does not spark any interest, they will bounce back and leave.
Therefore, by using this method, you can be sure, you write one of the best headlines you could possibly make.
12. Try Headline Analyzer Tools
Another tip to produce SEO-friendly headlines is to try headline analyzer tools.
There are a ton of different headline analyzer tools you can use. For me I usually use these three:
Each of these tools gives you a score of your headline and ways to improve it.
For example, as you can see from MonsterInsights headline analyzer it gives you the overall score, good information about your headline, and ways to improve it.
Therefore, every time you create your headlines, run them through the headline analyzer to find ways to improve them and then decide which one is the best or run an A/B test to see which one performs the best.
However, to run the A/B test you will need some traffic, which at the beginning of publishing a new article doesn’t really happen.
13. Write Your Headline Last
And the very last best practice to write better headlines and SEO-friendly is to write your headlines last.
This is a copywriting tip, but extremely useful and since I learned this, I most of the time write my headline as a last.
Your headline should offer some promise, what your audience will receive from reading your content. However, before you give the promise, you’ll need to know what’s in your article.
Therefore, by writing your article first and then the headline, you’ll know exactly what your readers will get if they read it. Based on this, you can write a very accurate headline that delivers on the promise.
You can also create clickbait titles that still deliver on the promise and won’t upset your users.
That’s why by writing your headline last, you will know exactly what your content delivers, and then you can write powerful headlines based on the content.
Trust me, if you are struggling with the headline, this method will help you tremendously.
However, you also need to have some guidelines for what you will write about, that’s why having the first draft of a headline or the keyword that you are targeting as your first headline will help you to stay focused on your topic without sliding to different dimensions.
And of course, as I am writing my article or any content, I sometimes do get an idea on a headline and write it down. But as I already said, I usually produce around 10-20 headlines for each of my content.
When it comes to writing SEO-friendly headlines you are not only focusing on the search engine algorithm, but also on your users and it requires a healthy balance between helping search engines understand your content and writing intriguing headlines that will pull users to read your content.
Therefore, sometimes making sacrifices on the SEO part is normal in order to deliver better headlines that will pull your readers to read your content.
Remember, search engines like Google have many different ranking factors to determine what page to rank at the top and user experience metrics are part of that. Therefore, by focusing on your users, you can and will rank better, than just focusing on the SEO part, but don’t neglect the SEO as well.
Well, I hope you have learned something new. Did I forget something? Do you have some comments? Please leave them on my YouTube channel. I look forward to hearing from you.
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Also, check out our SEO hub page to find all our SEO resources.
This article was created by Eduard Dziak and may contain affiliate links. The following were used to optimize the article for the best user and search engine experience include:
- SE Ranking for keyword research and on-page SEO optimization
- Surfer SEO for SEO-friendly content creation for users and search engines.
- Jasper AI for grammar correction and information enhancement.
The article is based on the author’s own experience and knowledge, drawn from both their own work and that of their clients, to provide the latest, proven methods.