Compelling headlines to improve your search engine ranking

by Philip Webb on 1 October 2006

By writing headlines that actually appeal to human beings, while also improving your search engine ranking, you can greatly improve the quality of visitor that arrives at your website.

If your site attracts more relevant visitors, it stands to reason that you'll improve your conversion rates. If you have what they want there's a chance they'll buy it, if you don't then they won't. You first need to know how to use these tags technically and what to watch out for.

The technical stuff

Using the HTML heading tag around key phrases puts emphasis on the keywords. Heading tags include<h1> (the main page heading), <h2> (other headings on the page), <h3> (sub-headings of the<h2>s) and so on down as far as <h6>.

For example, <h1>search engine optimization</h1>, denotes the main page heading (and from the search engines perspective what the page is about) and works better than simply having the words ‘search engine optimization’ in an ordinary paragraph.

Why do the search engines look at the headings tags?

Search engines actively seek out the headings in your content. By using heading tags to denote the main page headings, you give the search engine something to focus on and are telling them what your page is about.

Search engines look at the heading tags as a reference so you should actually use them for headings.Don't try to fool the search engines. Don't whatever you do put all of your text into heading tags or abuse the method. The bigger search engines like Google will pick up on misuse of heading tags and at best ignore everything within them, at worst they'll blacklist you as a spammer. So stick to a simple rule, put real heading text in the heading tags and nothing more than that.

Writing headings

You need a main page heading that includes your keyword phrase, but is also good at getting site visitors to continue reading your content. What you need to do is target your audience by pinpointing their problem and tease them into reading the next paragraph. Writing the headline is the hardest part about web copy writing in my opinion, but getting it right can dramatically improve results.

Let's assume you want to be found for the keyword phrase ‘loose gem stones’. The next few steps will show you how to write a headline for an audience looking for this online.

Loose gem stones

Let's imagine you have hundreds of different types of loose gems for sale in your e-store. As a keyword phrase, ‘loose gem stones’ is good because it specifically describes what it is you have to sell. However on it's own it's a bit flat and not very interesting or inspiring. What you need to do is apply psychological triggers to your heading text.

Trigger #1 - question vs. statement trigger

When you ask a question you're forcing readers to ask themselves something. You're not simply making a statement which is forgotten immediately, you're forcing readers to think. Write 3 or 4 examples of question based headlines for your target audience. In our loose gem stones example you might get the following:

  1. Are you having difficulty finding loose gem stones?
  2. Do you need high quality loose gem stones?
  3. Are you looking for reasonably priced loose gem stones?

Now you have potentially 3 headlines with your keyword phrase in them. They're aimed at 3 different target markets:

  1. Those who can't find them
  2. Those looking for good quality
  3. Those looking for good prices

You would have to decide which one was best based on what your USP was, but that's a different article. Next, you should apply the second psychological trigger to each heading.

Trigger #2 - problem vs. solution

When you pose the problem to the target audience rather than give the solution, you make the headline even more powerful. You also target the audience far more specifically because you communicate to those who want to save time, get better quality or a cheaper price - three completely separate markets. For example:

  1. Are you tired of wasting your time trying to find loose gem stones? (Time is the problem)
  2. Is your loose gem stone supplier selling you rocks and sand? (Poor quality is the problem)
  3. Do you pay through the nose for your loose gem stones? (Price is the problem)

Now you have 3 headlings which are focusing more on the audience's problem but still with the keyword phrase as the most prominent words for the search engines.

Trigger #3 - curious vs. non-curious

By adding a curiosity factor you really get the reader hooked into reading about your offer. Numbers can be used to imply more than one reason to read on. You could use, for example, ‘3 reasons’ or ‘5 simple facts that can save you money’.

You could also use secrets to create curiosity, such as, ‘Do you know the biggest secret?’. So, you might apply this to our sample headlines like this

  1. Want to know 5 simple ways to save time finding loose gem stones?
  2. Is your loose gem stone supplier pulling these dirty tricks on you?
  3. Paying through the nose for your loose gem stones? 3 things to look out for...


Apply these methods to write powerful, targeted headlings that'll improve your search engine ranking for your target keyword phrases. You'll also be well on your way to attracting the right kind of visitor from the search engines too.

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