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17 Tips to Write Great SEO Titles & Ad Headlines (Make More $$$)

As digital marketers, we know it’s essential to stand out. 

Competition for traffic has surged. It’s crucial to attract prospects to your brand over your competitors.

You can create top-notch content that goes unnoticed if people don’t click to see it.

The first step to getting eyes on your content? 

A click-worthy title. 

A great headline compels the viewer to click through to your content.

Your headlines and ad copy must engage and entice without verging on clickbait.

How can you create click-enticing headlines without sounding scammy? 

Read on for 17 tips to write better SEO headlines and ad copy. 

1. Pose a Question (and Provide the Answer)

Internet users are interested in immediate, valuable information. This is especially true when searching for an answer to a question rather than mindlessly scrolling social media. It’s your job to make sure your brand is the one providing the answers to their questions.

By writing your article title in the form of a question, you immediately tug at your reader’s desire for an answer. After all, who wants to leave a question unanswered? 

  • Want a better method to save money? This new app is all you need.”
  • How much does your kid spend on mobile games?
  • What is the best supplement for the common cold?
  • What are the most essential SEO KPIs to monitor?”

Conversely, you might choose to title your article with the answer rather than the question — offer a solution to their implied question.

  • The most important SEO KPIs to monitor.”
  • The facts behind popular kid’s toys.”
  • The best banana bread recipe you’ll ever try.”

When you’re writing paid search ads, your content will automatically be at the top of SERPs, but that doesn’t guarantee users will click — your title must provide obvious value to assure them your content is worthy of their time. 

Your headline can use a specific long-tail keyword that aligns with your brand’s overall content strategy and SEO goals. 

These more conversational, question/answer format titles are ideal for search engines as they directly serve as a response to a query. This goes double for voice search — voice search users are more likely to phrase their queries as questions.  

2. Keep It Concise

Those extra-long clickbait titles that wrap onto multiple lines might sound enticing. But beware, the more words you use, the less likely your full title will display appropriately in search results or on social media. 

Although Google constantly updates the way SERPs show titles, character limits have always been a factor. 

Currently, Google truncates titles with the familiar ellipsis () when the title is too long. The limit for organic results is between 50-60 characters before your title gets cut off.  

When writing search ads, your character limits are predetermined: three headlines at 30 characters each and two lines of description text at 90 characters each. 

You can get some wiggle room by taking advantage of ad extensions, but you still have a limited number of words to make a good impression.

Aside from search results appearance, a concise title is more of an attention-grabber

To appeal to short attention spans, less is more.

3. Learn From the Masters

The art of writing captivating titles predates SEO, the internet, and even indoor plumbing! 

The art of the headline dates back to the first printing presses, where type was hand-set to print newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsheets. Several linguists and historians have studied “Headlinese,” with the modern-style headlines appearing around the start of the 19th century. 

In terms of advertising copy and branded content headlines, most of the masters date back to the early 20th century when pioneers of advertising paved the way to copywriting as we know it today. 

Titles of that time were as shameless as the worst clickbait you can imagine. 

In the booming consumer-powered economy before and during the Great Depression, advertising experts developed consumer enticement into a near science.

By looking at historical headlines, it’s clear that some common items have always enticed readers: active phrases, promises of interest or value have always performed well. 

You don’t have to go back centuries to study some masterful headlines. The modern masters are equally as useful.

Whether it’s question/answer titles, lists and numbers, or “Simple Tricks” and “Life Hacks,” a little company called BuzzFeed reached a market worth of 1.5 billion based on mastering the enticing headline.

While BuzzFeed may have become a ridiculed meme online, what they did worked like a charm. They pioneered the 21st Century headline, and readers have come to expect and understand the Buzzfeed headline format.  

Take the time to study their most common patterns and templates and see what conclusions you can draw from them.

4. Use Numbers and Lists

People love lists and order. 

According to OptInMonster, 36% of readers prefer list-based headlines. Using a numbered list provides structure to your article, catering to skimmers and in-depth readers alike.

The length of the list depends on the search subject. Some search terms work better with quick short lists, while other topics warrant a longer list. 

It also depends on the type of visitor you’re aiming to interest — whether it’s someone looking for a comprehensive read or a quick summary

Use odd, prime, and typological numbers since they’re more appealing. 

One of the best numbers to use is seven — it has an almost mystical presence. 

It’s the number with the most cultural significance to people of virtually all ages. If you ask a group of people to think of a number between 1 and 10, most of the group will choose 7. 

A perfect example of this is Heinz. 

The condiment brand famously named their signature sauce Heinz 57. 

The secret of the sauce? The number has no significance. Their initial marketing slogan was “57 Varieties”, but they chose the number at random to add mystery to the brand. 

If you’re having trouble choosing an exciting number, go big. Huge numbers also raise interest. People love big astounding numbers:

  • Florida man finds $157,000 in a pressure cooker.”
  • 18 puppies dressed as Disney princesses.” 
  • Google deindexed more than 3 MILLION websites following their latest update.”

5. Emotions Are More Effective Than Logic

People are more likely to act on emotion than logic. 

Countless studies on decision-making have shown people are primarily irrational and more interested in something that pulls at their emotional strings.

Emotions like shock, anger, desire, greed, fear, pain, etc., might seem like poor choices due to their negativity. However, they’re quite effective at sparking people to action, so we rarely read “good” headlines. 

In your ad copy and SEO content headlines, targeting a customer’s pain points is one of the oldest tricks in the book. 

Don’t you hate it when…” or “I bet you could use a better…” are perfect examples.

In marketing headlines, you can take advantage of negative emotions to get users to engage with your content: 

  • You may lose as much as $5,000 a year by making this mistake.”
  • 7 shocking facts about the influence of Big Pharma.”
  • Don’t lose your chance to work abroad in the most coveted job on the planet.
  • Are your peers at Google making more money than you? A leak reveals

On the other hand, a positive range of emotions — comfort, hope, love, and empathy can be powerful triggers as well. They act as an essential and refreshing contrast to the overly negatively saturated titles. As a result, they stand out: 

  • This Great Dane and rescue kitten are best friends.”
  • A skeptic’s tale: She never thought she would find love.”
  • How a 78-year-old proved his doctors wrong.”

Proceed with caution — this is the point where we are in danger of venturing into the clickbait realm. How you use this principle will determine if your titles are emotionally appealing to or emotionally manipulating your audience.  

6. Invoke Curiosity and Mystery

Almost all title types rely on this principle to some extent. We’re curious creatures by nature. So a title that evokes one of these sensations intensely will have a good chance of drawing readers in. 

  • What this waiter did in his free time shocked his boss.”
  • Here is how I increased my CTR by 512% within a month.”
  • 104-year-old woman shares her secret to a long life.”

These examples use sensationalism and curiosity without directly addressing the reader and without stepping into the clickbait realm. 

7. Exaggerate Effectively

It never hurts to play up the power of your content in your headline, even if it means getting a little hyperbolic. We can all spot an exaggerated title, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

Terms such as “incredible”, “amazing”, “ultimate”, and “game-changing” are exaggerations that tend to work.  

Like most headline tips, don’t take it too far

An exaggerated title will have a hard time delivering the title’s promise, so make sure you have value behind the title. We all suspect that a “new and unbelievable weight-loss method” probably isn’t truly unbelievable, so you risk creating skepticism right from the start.

If you choose this route of using adjectives like unique, incredible, or mind-blowing, you’d better deliver something that will justify that title. Otherwise, you risk damaging your brand and losing trust in your headings in the future.

8. Don’t Be Afraid of an Edgy Title

This approach should also fit your brand. If you brand your business as a regal snooker hall for gentlemen, then using edgy titles and content is probably not the right approach.

But if you’re trying to project a wild and fearless image, edgier titles will help attract your target audience.

The S- or F-bomb might be inflammatory, but if you incorporate them correctly, you’ll rank for those controversial search terms and gain organic traffic. 

Don’t be afraid to spark some mild controversy if you think it’ll help people see your content (more than mild and you risk brand damage):

  • 5 tips on how to improve your bullshit detector.”
  • How I stopped giving a shit and got my dream girl.”
  • 7 ways to kick ass at SEO.”

Adding a bit of edge to your headlines can humanize your brand — it sounds more conversational and frank. 

The effectiveness of using these words depends on your niche. 

Some fields are more forgiving than others to such tactics. In a highly professional B2B space, you may alienate your audience if you drop a swear word. Other younger, more progressive verticals (like digital marketing) may roll their eyes if they have to hear about one more “badass growth hack.” 

9. Be the “Most Likely to Succeed

Remember those superlatives in your high school yearbook? The future politician or scientist won “Most Likely to Succeed”, and that kid with the ponytail won “Best Hair”?

There’s no reason your brand can’t claim a superlative now and then.

Superlative terms you can use in your headlines and ad copy include The Best, The Most, The Cheapest, The Top, and The Easiest.

Since these are subjective terms, you need to provide a convincing case in your content to justify your claim. You can’t satisfy everyone since everyone’s “best” is different, but if you convince most, it’s good enough.

10. Solve a Problem

Offer a solution to a problem, struggle, or pain. If you offer the answer simply and quickly, then bonus points for you. 

The core of many products and services is to solve some kind of problem, provide a solution for a struggle, and optimize life somehow. People actively search for concrete answers, or they might not even realize they have a problem or a struggle until you hit that nerve with a sharp title.

  • 10 tricks you can do TODAY to {insert anything here that fits}”
  • Feeling tired all the time? 7 easy life-hacks to boost your energy.”
  • These 4 simple solutions will help you save money.”
  • 5 foolproof methods to lose weight.”

11. Trust and Verify

Unverified claims and fake news constantly inundate us. Anyone can publish anything online and claim it as fact — making readers skeptical and slow to trust. 

Appealing to scientific authority and research in your title helps combat this skepticism. It gives an aura of credibility because, ultimately, people mostly trust science, especially when it supports their search bias.

Even dogma supporters and pseudoscience lovers are thrilled when research pops up that might be spun to support one of their claims — even if only by arbitrary correlation.

  • Get better sleep with these 4 scientifically proven methods
  • The methods brain experts use to improve their sleep
  • New research confirms that alligators cause floods
  • NASA finds the solution to balding on the moon

Of course, as with all other suggestions, you’d better back up your claim in your content. Cite your sources in your article — preferably near the introduction to maintain credibility beyond the headline.

12. Offer Exclusivity

People love an underdog method or product that subverts or cheats “the system” or the powers that be. They want to be “in” on a secret the “industry” hates or doesn’t want to be known.

It’s even better if your brand has the exclusive insider information that helps them meet their goals, solve their problems, and improve the way they live and work. 

Trainers/doctors hate this quick 6-pack abs method!” is a classic example that we’ve all seen used. 

This particular format has become a meme making fun of clickbait, but the idea behind it is still sound:

  • 3 strategies to legally ‘cheat’ Google
  • 4 tips to improve your SEO performance that actually work
  • What your bank doesn’t want you to know about investments

You can also tease an exclusive discount or promotion, especially in ad copy:

  • Money-saving tricks and exclusive savings
  • Restaurant leaks secret menu
  • 10% off for insiders”  

13. Stay on Trend

Some words pack a bigger punch because they’re hyped and used as part of a current trend. They grab extra attention thanks to their relevance.

Examples of that are “fake news”, “Big Pharma”, “life hack”, etc.

Trends are constantly evolving, so keep an eye on news headlines and social media to know what people are talking about and how your brand can align itself to the action. 

If you’re using a trending topic, be sure to publish your content in a timely manner. Trends come and go at the speed of light. Posting a meme or blog even a few days after it initially started trending can make your brand look dated. 

If you’re not sure how to align to a specific trend, create one. 

The search for novel content is one of the major driving forces behind internet marketing. People are always on the lookout for the newest thing, and you can promise it in your headlines. 

  • A new drug promises to reverse the effects of dementia
  • The complete guide to the 2021 job market” 

14. Include Keywords in Your Title

The most important thing about writing SEO headlines? Making sure they’re optimized. 

Don’t forget to formulate your titles around your target keyword. Titles hold SEO value and many of the titles you’ll see on the first page of the SERP will feature your searched term.

Google’s contextual algorithms are becoming more and more sophisticated. 

If you’re targeting an SEO phrase that is worded strangely (“Paris-London travel tips” or “Adidas ultra boost buy”), your title should still be grammatically correct. 

15. Track Your Titles

You’ve done your homework and come up with some solid titles for your web pages to be featured on Google.

 Now comes one of the most important things to do: track them to make sure they appear as you intended.

It’s essential to understand what searchers see and how your articles are performing.

If your titles aren’t displaying correctly, it could directly impact your SEO performance. 

ProRankTracker automatically displays titles as they appear on the SERP along with rankings data (like its organic position on Google). As you make changes to the article and the SEO headline, you’ll be able to see how that title displays. 

 

If you want to put this to the test, start tracking your URLs with a free trial of ProRankTracker

16. Would You Click?

Follow your gut — you understand your content better than anyone. Before you publish, step back and think about it. 

Would you click your headline? 

Analyze your own online behavior. The moment you click a title, stop and think — what made you click this title over all others? 

Was the phrasing bland, but it matched precisely what you were looking for? Was it expressed in a way that made it sound intriguing and promising? 

Titles influence our online behavior more than we realize. It’s estimated that traffic can vary by as much as 500% based on the headline.

Collect a list of 10 titles that catch your attention. 

Look for similarities between them and consider what prompted you to click.

Next, evaluate the content — was it high-quality content that encouraged you to subscribe or buy, or was it a misleading title that didn’t deliver on its promise? 

Did you gain or lose trust in the source?

Do this with your competitors, with news articles, and with content that has nothing to do with your brand. Regardless of the vertical, you might notice some commonalities between headlines. 

17. Titles Aren’t Everything

Your SEO titles and ad headlines need to be relevant to your target audience and inspire them to action. But, if you go overboard, veer into clickbait, and don’t deliver content that lives up to your title, you’ll cause more harm than good.

Your goal is to get customers and frequent visitors, not just random people who click through but leave after realizing your content doesn’t match your headline. 

This directly impacts your bounce rate — an extremely important SEO KPI that contributes to your domain authority. 

If Google notices you get many clicks, but people don’t stay to read your content, they will deem the content irrelevant and won’t advance your ranks.

Always make an honest attempt to deliver content that matches the title. Diversify and cycle your SEO titles to avoid overusing a good template. Be sure to internally link to other content that might be relevant to readers so they stay on your site longer. 

Take Your Titles to the Next Level

Once you’ve mastered SEO titles, you’ll find the same copywriting tactics can be used in multiple places. 

Digital ad copy, email subject lines, social media posts, and even traditional media like newspaper ads and billboards all work best with enticing, witty, engaging headlines. 

As you look at the performance of your SEO headlines, it helps to have a complete picture of your current performance. Take advantage of a ProRankTracker free trial to get started optimizing your title tags for SEO performance.

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