Search engine optimization (SEO) helps you rank in the search results, and SEO-friendly content that works for the algorithm is essential to making this happen. But to improve your click-through rate and attract more site visitors, you need compelling headlines.
In terms of SEO-friendly content, the most common view on headlines is that they should incorporate the focus keyword. But it’s important to remember that headlines are also the only opportunity to create an impactful impression.
According to Copyblogger, only eight out of 10 people will read a headline, and only two of them will read the content. Therefore, focusing only on the SEO component of headlines is not enough. Headlines must also encourage desired actions, such as clicking and sharing.
In this article
• What Is Click-Through Rate?
• What Is a Good Click-Through Rate for Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP)?
• What Are Title Tags and Headlines?
• 4 SEO Best Practices for Title Tags
• 10 Tips to Optimize Headlines for Higher Click-Through Rates
• Why Does Google Change Title Tags on SERPs?
What Is Click-Through Rate?
Click-through rate (CTR) measures the number of clicks a link gets from the number of total impressions.
Each time a link appears counts for one impression on search results pages. A click-through rate, meanwhile, is the percentage of impressions that resulted in a click, expressed as:
• CTR = Clicks/Impressions
So if a link had 1,000 impressions with one user clicking, the CTR would be 0.1 percent (1 / 1,000).
CTR matters because it indicates the effectiveness of title tags in search engine results pages (SERPs). So knowing what is a good click-through rate is essential to distinguish between high and low CTRs.
• High CTR means that the title matches the user search intent and is compelling enough, so more people are clicking.
• Low CTR means not as many people click despite seeing the title tag. Either it is not enticing or does not match their intent.
Factors that affect CTR are:
• User search intent
• Search position or ranking
• Title tag
• Meta description
• URL slug
• Exposure in search snippets
SEO content writing services, for example, create content that ranks high in search results. They also track and analyze performance metrics to see how to improve SEO for more organic traffic.
What Is A Good Click-Through Rate For Google SERP?
There is no use knowing what is click-through rate if there are no baseline metrics, such as the average organic CTR of search results.
Backlinko analyzed over five million search results to understand organic CTR better. Some of the key findings are:
• Top-ranking links have the highest CTR at 31.73 percent.
• Many users tend to click on the first search position, which explains why there is a significant dropoff in CTR for the second search position.
• The first search position has 10 times higher CTR than the tenth search position.
Backlinko’s analysis of Google organic CTR can be used as a reference to distinguish high or low CTR averages. Rather than one baseline unit, the organic CTR rate should be relative to the search ranking position.
For example, links that ranked first should have an average CTR of 31.7 percent. A higher actual CTR means the title tag is performing exceptionally well. But if it is lower, the link is underperforming. Therefore, some changes in the title tag might be needed to improve the CTR. To this end, performing A/B testing to compare variations of title tags helps determine which one performs better.
What Are Title Tags And Headlines?
Content writers refer to the name of an article either as “title” or “headline.” But to be precise, there is a distinction between these two terms.
The screengrab shows the search results for “SEO agency.” As you can see, the names of the top pages or articles, called title tags, appear in blue.
Above is the screengrab of a blog post. Enclosed in the rectangular outline is the heading – the title of the article.
Most people do not differentiate between title and headline. In reality, they are separate entities, meaning they do not have to be the same.
Consider the headline of this article:
• How To Write SEO-Friendly Headlines That Drive Traffic and Clicks
There is no issue with how this headline copy appears on top of this page, but that would not be the case on search results pages.
Using a SERP snippet optimization tool, you can see that the title tag appears truncated in search results pages. Because the audience may not grasp the content, they skip your page. To solve this issue, write a separate title.
• How To Write SEO-friendly Headlines that Drive Traffic. Removing the word “and Click” reduces the number of characters.
• How To Write SEO Headlines That Drive Traffic and Clicks. Removing the word “friendly” reduces the number of characters. It also creates a variation of the focus keyword.”
• How To Write SEO Headlines With a High Click-Through Ratio. Suppose “click-through ratio” is another keyword targeted in this article. In this instance, the title contains not only a variation of the focus keyword but also another target keyword.
On WordPress, Yoast SEO and other SEO tools make it easy to define SEO-friendly title tags. You can use the default or type a new one.
4 SEO Best Practices For Title Tags
These tips on how to improve SEO-friendly titles can also apply to search engine marketing campaigns such as PPC advertising.
1. Research and Use the Right Target Keywords
Keyword research is the core of SEO. Usually, this process involves identifying a primary keyword along with variations. For titles and headlines, the priority is to use one primary keyword as the focus keyword.
The top keywords from SEO tools are typical search queries used by people. But sometimes, they can be awkward or hard to use in a sentence. For example, “digital marketing” and “Dallas.” For local SEO, using “digital marketing Dallas” in titles, especially the content, is challenging without a preposition.
Look at the title tags of the top three pages in the search results:
• Top Digital Marketing Agencies in Dallas – 2022 Reviews
• Dallas Digital Marketers | Social Media & Digital Marketing …
• Digital Marketing Services In Dallas
None of the titles used “digital marketing Dallas.” In other words, there is no need to force the use of an exact phrase match and compromise grammar.
At any rate, keyword research is necessary, and there are plenty of SEO tools that SEO content writing services and writers can use.
Free Keyword Research Tools
Independent contractors or freelance content writers often use these tools. However, while they may provide excellent results, they lack many other features found only in paid research tools.
• Google Keyword Planner
• Google Trends
• Keyword Tool
Premium Keyword Research Tools
These are the most advanced SEO keyword research tools that require a subscription. SEO content writing services and digital marketing agencies are among those who use one of these tools to track, analyze metrics and perform A/B testing.
• Moz Keyword Explorer
2. Know Audience Search Intent
Search intent, also called user intent, audient intent and keyword intent refers to the goal of users whenever they query a search engine. Google, for instance, has made great strides in understanding people’s search intent and displays results using rich snippets such as the Knowledge Panel and Answer Box. Undoubtedly, providing the needed information or answers to users has dramatically enhanced the user experience.
Generally, there are four types of search intents in target audience research:
• Navigational Intent. These are search terms used by people who already know what they want to find, such as a website, page, contact info, or location.
• Informational Intent. Most searches are informational, in which the users want to learn something. Usually, they ask questions like who, what, where, when, why and how.
• Transactional Intent. These are queries where users want to take a specific action. Purchasing is the most common intent, but it may also be other actions like submitting their email, calling or visiting a store.
• Commercial Intent. These queries fall between informational and transactional search intents. In this case, users want to research before committing to something.
In SEO, search intent is fundamental to rank in local searches. Likewise, it is also an essential element needed to increase the click-through rate of title tags. By crafting headlines matching the target user intent, more people are likely to click and visit the page.
3. Target Two Keywords
Most SEO content writing services and strategists target one primary and several secondary target keywords. So rather than limiting it to the content, headlines may also feature two keywords. Its most significant benefit is ranking in more keywords to drive more organic traffic.
There are two conditions necessary to make multiple keywords in a headline strategy work:
• The two keywords must match the topic, which is why most people would use a combination of a category or industry and a specific product, service, or field.
• The keywords must match the user search intent identified in the target audience research. Because keyword intent is not always obvious, the best thing to do is to craft a title to match the search intent.
Suppose the two keywords are “SEO tools” and “keyword research.” Each term is a topic, but the intent is vague. If combined, one can deduce the topic is about SEO keyword research tools. Yet, its purpose remains unclear. Matching the keywords with user intent, therefore, depends on phrasing the headline.
Here are two types of headlines to illustrate:
• The 7 Best SEO Tools for Keyword Research 2022. This information headline tells users they can learn more about the different SEO keyword research tools.
• The 7 Best SEO Tools for Keyword Research Under $99. By adding or changing some words, the intent changes. For instance, adding “$99” makes it a commercial investigation headline.
Google Keyword Planner helps users find new keyword ideas. It is also helpful in searching for variations of or related keywords.
KeySearch helps find Latent Semantic Indexing or LSI keywords, words and phrases similar in context and nature to the search query.
4. Limit the Title Length
On character count of title tags, here’s what Google’s Webmaster Trends Analysts John Mueller and Gary Illyes shared.
“Title tags are not ranking factors, nor do they have any recommendation on length,” Mueller said. “Title tags have a limit on a technical level,” Illyes added. “But the number is not small.
Generally, though, the SEO best practices recommendation on title length is 50 to 70 characters. At least, this was the case some years back when they figured it was the ideal length so that titles appear in their entirety on SERPs. On Google’s SERP, though, there is a limit to how much they display before cutting off excess words. So instead of character count, they limit title tags to 600 pixels column width.
Google may also rewrite the title tag if it is excessively long. “If it fills up your screen, then probably it’s too long,” Illyes explained. “If it’s just one sentence that fits on one line or two lines, you’re not going to get a manual action for it.”
While character count may not matter to SEO, it does to the audience. Truncated title tags, in most cases, fail to provide enough context and are visually unappealing. On that basis alone, most users would not take any action.
10 Tips To Optimize Headlines For Higher Click-Through Rates
Headlines can be longer than titles, so there is more leeway in writing compelling copy that makes people click. Incorporating one or more of these elements when writing headlines can vastly improve CTR rates.
1. Be Specific and Make a Promise
It is best to keep title tags concise due to character count or length limitations. They should also carry a promise because it is human nature to want rewards.
When writing a title tag or headline, empathize with your target audience. Know what problem users are trying to solve – their search intent, and describe how the content will meet their needs – the promise of the benefits they can receive by clicking and reading the article.
Generally, people have a short attention span. The average user, for instance, spends only a few seconds speed-reading headlines in search results. If the audience sees no benefit, they skim to the following headlines.
Granted that a title tag promises the audience a benefit, there is no guarantee they will click. The reward must outweigh the time it takes to read the title tag (around two seconds) for them to take action.
Remember that titles dictate the content, which means the content must deliver on the promise. Otherwise, it harms the site’s reputation rather than building trust.
2. Write Long Headlines
Writing long headlines helps increase the target audience’s reach through increased engagements on social media. Moreover, they also help increase click-through rates.
Buzzsumo revealed in a study that the average number of words in headlines that had the most engagements on Facebook was 15 words.
HubSpot also analyzed content title length and found that headlines with eight to 12 words got the most Facebook likes, and those with 12 to 14 words got the most Twitter shares.
Backlinko analyzed over 900 million blog posts to understand the state of content marketing. One of their key findings was that headlines containing 14 to 17 words get 76.7 percent more social shares than headlines with fewer words.
Business 2 Community analyzed 100 thousand Outbrain paid link headlines and found that the average number of words is seven. Headlines with 10 to 18 words (60 to 100 characters) have the highest click-through rates.
To be clear, keep titles within the displayable space on search results, but they can be much longer for headlines. So the increase in click-through rates does not refer to the SERP but a blog and the likes.
3. Use Numbers in Title Tags
Incorporating a number into a title is one of the most often used strategies in different types of headlines because it improves the click-through rate in search rankings. Moz, for instance, analyzed headlines from Conductor Blog, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed and determined there are five ways to write high-level headlines on a topic:
|Normal||Ways to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful|
|Question||What are Ways to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful?|
|How To||How to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful|
|Number||30 Ways To Make Drinking Tea More Delightful|
|Reader-Addressing||Ways You Need to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful|
From the five types of headlines, they determined which one resonates the most with the audience.
The results showed headlines with a number that resonated with the audience the most, leaving behind reader-addressing by 15 percent. Content writers, SEO experts and agencies can take advantage by crafting title tags with numbers to increase their search results click-through rates.
Across gender groups, it also appeared that females are more predisposed to headlines featuring a number than males. Marketers could, therefore, take advantage of this data if they target the female demographic.
People perceive numbers in headline copies as the promise of something specific. But, as many have experienced, it is frustrating to open a page only to find that it lacks substance. So, by adding a number, the audience gets an assurance that they will find helpful info if they visit the page.
Numbers help writers create organized, structured content that is easy to consume. For example, site visitors can look at the numbered entries to see an overview of an entire article. Finding the needed information thus becomes more effortless.
4. Use Odd Numbers in Numerical Titles and Headlines
Instead of using a random number, it also appears that some numbers resonate with an audience more than others.
Number 10 triggered the most social shares and engagements on Facebook, followed by a series of odd numbers. This is not surprising because odd numbers convey a perception of something bigger.
In one study, researchers found that it takes the brain longer to process odd numbers. Terence Hines, who experimented, called it the “odd effect.” Because it took 20 percent longer to react to odd numbers than even numbers, he theorized that odd numbers are thought-provoking.
Atishay Goyal, a product designer, once polled 185 people from different countries, cultures and religions to find out which number between one to 10 they liked most.
|Number||Percentage of Respondents|
5. Add the Year in SEO Headlines and Titles
Here is a screengrab of the results for the search query “best SEO strategies.” There are two points of discussion here – the freshness of content and the use of year in title tags.
Updating old content is one of the best SEO practices that Google values. While minor changes do not affect rankings, significant changes can improve crawl frequency and the average rankings of keywords in the content.
In the example search results, notice Google pulled and displayed the publication dates of six of the top 10 pages, ranging from 2020 to 2022. The four others most likely had significant updates or changes in the last two years. One can thus easily see that Google values the freshness of content.
As for the use of year in the title tags, John Mueller of Google said adding month and year on title tags does not affect rankings. Yet, the results show otherwise, with eight top 10 titles containing the year “2022.”
It may not help SEO rankings, but there are still reasons to add dates in title tags:
• Some content needs dates in title tags. For example, a page that shows the currency exchange date for the day.
• Using numbers, as discussed in another section, helps increase click-through rates.
• Specific topics, especially listicles, can use dates to let users know their recency. Users generally favor newer content, so they are more likely to click on 2022 than previous years.
Note: Including a year in the title tag is okay because you can change it in the future. Slugs are different, so you do not want to add them to the post URL.
6. Ask Questions
Question title tags help increase the click-through rate by making the audience consider possible answers. In particular, open-ended questions can awaken curiosity and trigger the need to satisfy it by clicking and reading the content.
Questions are also helpful in latent semantic indexing (latent semantic analysis). Google, for instance, analyzes a set of content to determine the co-occurrence of groups of words that provide more insight into a topic.
This process, called semantic SEO, is one of the best SEO practices in which the goal is to optimize the content for a topic instead of a keyword. Creating more meaningful content and topical depth helps crawlers understand the article and may result in higher rankings.
7. Evoke Emotions Using Power Words
Emotional headlines evoke feelings using power or trigger words to get more people to read the SEO-friendly content.
In 2015, Jacques A. Wainberg investigated how headlines influence the cognitive and emotional calculus of people who read them. He concluded that the “few words transmitted with some fanfare provoke in readers (subtly and unconsciously) aspirations and desires.”
SEO keyword researchers and writers can reference the Theory of Emotion developed by Robert Plutchik.
Plutchik’s Wheel of Eight Emotions pairs emotions in four dyads:
|Primary Dyad||One petal apart||Love – Joy + Trust|
|Secondary Dyad||Two petals apart||Envy = Sadness + Anger|
|Tertiary Dyad||Three petals apart||Shame = Fear + DIsgust|
|Opposite Emotions||Four petals apart||Anticipation and Surprise|
Incorporating power words in the title can improve click-through rates substantially. Adding a single emotional word, for instance, can sometimes mean the difference between low and high organic traffic. So it is no surprise that more strategists and content writers are spending more time writing title tags.
David Ogilvy, a business tycoon and generally regarded as the “father of advertising,” for instance, proposed a 50-50 rule which states that “you should spend half of the time it takes you to develop a piece of content on the headline.”
To make life easier, bookmark sites that provide a list of power words for reference:
• The 1,900+ Power Words You Need To Write Awesome Headlines
• 401+ Ridiculously Useful Power Words To Increase Conversions
8. Put Impact Words or Action Words Ahead
Some SEO strategists recommend putting keywords ahead in headlines, if possible. However, as seen from the title tags of top-ranking pages, it does not matter. One reason is that search engines like Google do not rank a page by keyword alone.
Rather than using target keywords, putting impact words ahead may help increase click-through rates. If the first words the audience reads make an impression, they are more likely to click on the link.
Consider using action words too. For example, action verbs tell people what to do, influencing the audience to respond by visiting the page.
9. Avoid or Reduce Use of Stop Words
Search engines usually ignore stop words, such as articles, prepositions, conjunctions and pronouns. In most cases, these words add little to no value to user needs, so Google and others use Natural Language Processing (NLP) to filter them.
Indexing stop words have practical benefits for search engines. Reducing stop words, which account for around a quarter of content, results in less physical storage. There are also fewer texts to analyze for matching and ranking pages with search queries and user search intents.
Table. 25 Most Common Stop Words
Avoiding stop words in titles is one of the best SEO practices because they do not add value and only take up space. As it is, headlines have a limited length, so it is better to use descriptive or emotional keywords.
Consider these queries as an example:
• Restaurants in Dallas
• Restaurants Dallas
Because the contextual meanings of the two terms are the same, using any of them as a search query would have the same results.
Incorporating the preposition “in,” however, takes up three character spaces, while removing it makes composing a sentence difficult. The solution is to use a variation, such as “Dallas restaurants,” which is easier to use and has the same contextual meaning.
There are, of course, exceptions, especially in phrase queries. For example, “Dallas to Miami” is a specific query for travel-related searches. In contrast, removing the preposition “to” dilutes the context, making it meaningless or vague.
Another exception is if a stop word is part of a name, brand, title and the likes (e.g., The Godfather, The Matrix).
Note: For URL slugs, it is better to remove stop words. Shorter URLs, in general, rank higher than long URLs in search results.
10. Use Trigrams To Drive Engagements
In linguistics, trigrams are a group of three consecutive words, syllables or letters. Based on a study conducted by Buzzsumo involving over 100 million headlines, they identified the top three-word phrases found in the headlines with the most engagements on social media.
Although social sharing is not a site visit per se, the content receives more social media exposure, resulting in more people visiting the site.
From 2019 to 2020, trigrams found in headlines with the highest engagements on Facebook are:
• of the year
• in X years
• for the first
• the first time
• one of the
From 2019 to 2020, trigrams used at the start of headlines with the highest engagements on Facebook are:
• X ways to
• X of the
• how to make
• the X best
• X reasons why
From 2019 to 2020, trigrams found in headlines with the highest engagements on Twitter are:
• the future of
• we need to
• At least X
• the end of
• of the year
From 2019 to 2020, trigrams used at the start of headlines with the highest engagements on Facebook are:
• the future of
• the x best
• the rise of
• the x most
• what is the
Image Courtesy of Yoast
Much like title tags for search engines, headlines on some social media platforms are also customizable. For example, the best way to do that is to use an SEO plugin like Yoast on WordPress. This way, one can create a headline using trigrams, for example, to drive engagement.
Why Does Google Change Title Tags On SERPs?
Google considers title tags an essential part of search results and generates alternative titles to make them easier for users to understand the content of the listed pages. Site owners also benefit because of improvements in click-through rates.
Other reasons for changing titles are:
• Title tag is not specified in the HTML markup.
• The title is not descriptive, too long, hard to read or stuffed with keywords.
• Use of repetitive “boilerplate” texts, duplicate or almost the same title with little variations on nearly all pages on a website.
In August 2021, Google updated the way it generated alternative titles. The new algorithm understands context better and places more emphasis on texts that users can see soon after arriving at a page, such as:
• The visual title or headline.
• Headings (texts set within H1, H2 and so on).
• Content that is large and predominant through the use of styles, although Google still considers other texts.
• Anchor texts or words that link to other pages.
According to Zippy, Google rewrote 61.6 percent of 80,959 titles from 2,370 sites they analyzed.
Length is one of the most common reasons why Google generates new titles. For instance, they rewrote titles with only one to five characters 96.6 percent of the time, long titles over 60 characters 75 percent of the time and over 70 characters 99.9 percent of the time.
To reiterate, Google generates alternative titles to make them more readable and accessible. So be mindful of predominant texts (headings and others) and core sections of the content that Google may use to generate alternative titles in search results. Also, always follow the SEO best practices for writing title tags.
On SERPs, users see title tags, while on websites and social media, people see headings. So instead of taking them as one, it is better to distinguish between them. After all, they do not have to be the same. This way, you can write titles that help a page rank high and compel the audience to click. As for headlines, you can write them in a way that site visitors will read and share on their social networks.