When I first started blogging back in 2008, I had no clue what I was doing. I opened up a blog on the Blogger platform and started writing. When a reader suggested I optimize my headlines and add metadata, I was honestly perplexed. “Huh? What’s that?”
Maybe you are right now, too.
Much has changed in those twelve years, not only in my blogging life but in tech as well. Writing professionally, having my own business (since 2011), and understanding exactly what SEO (search engine optimization) means makes a huge difference in how many people see my blog posts, as well as in my Google ranking.
Most importantly, however, is getting readers to read my blog posts in the first place, and the key to that is learning how to write spectacular headlines. What you think is a spectacular headline and what Google decides is spectacular is likely quite different. Why?
- Power Words
- Providing Value or Entertainment
Let’s break it down.
Keywords/KeyPhrases In Your Headlines
I always recommend knowing exactly what your keywords and keyphrases are before even starting your blog posts. As I’ve mentioned before, knowing your branding and creating a blogging calendar will make it super easy for you to create blog posts on a regular basis.
Once you’ve decided on a keyword/keyphrase, now you get down to the business of creating your headline. Here’s what I do (and 90% of my articles are curated here on Medium):
Go over to the free CoSchedule Headline Analyzer. This is by far the best tool I’ve found to create and optimize headlines.
Let’s see it in action. I wanted the word “headlines” for this article, so I typed that in. Always have your keyword in your headline.
“How To” articles always do quite well here on Medium, so I typed that in. Using words like ‘powerful’ or ‘spectacular’ hit the emotional and psychological pathways of our brains. That was my starting point, so I typed in powerful as my adjective power word.
The goal is to get a score of 70 or above (aka, green for ‘go,’). My first try (at the bottom) turned out to be my best headline for this post. Start at the bottom and go up to see my progression below:
What I love most about this tool is it gives you all sorts of information and tips as you scroll down the page to help you get into the green zone. If you’re not taking advantage of this site, you need to get on that right now.
Every single headline you write needs this tool. Their blog is especially enlightening. In fact, here’s an entire cheat sheet of 101 catchy blog titles you can use for the next few years!
Metadata and Headlines
What is metadata exactly? It’s all that little stuff you need to do to optimize your blog posts. I truly had zero idea what that even meant back then, and it took me a while to understand it as I grew as a blogger. I learned how to optimize my blog posts and why it matters so incredibly.
I’m self-hosted and use WordPress, and I like the free Yoast plug-in, which is great in helping with SEO. (I use the free version of the plug-in and it’s fine for my needs and my clients, though they do offer a shiny paid version with more bells and whistles if you want it.)
What am I talking about? Let’s examine this piece here. My main theme is writing effective headlines, so I obviously want to use that word throughout my piece. “Headlines” is, therefore, my main keyword, so I’ll want to use it frequently, however, I want to be careful not to overuse it (aka, “keyword stuffing,”), which Google can actually count against me. It’s a balance.
Tip: Don’t over add your keyword in your article and sub-headings if it’s extraneous and makes no sense.
You’ll also want to add your keyword to your tags and meta description, as well as on the backend of any photos you share. *Note: you can’t add metadata to photos on Medium except in the caption, which is obvious and a little sketchy, however, you can add it to your tags, SEO title, and description, located under ‘More Settings.’
Here’s a visual of the last post I optimized for my own BadRedheadMedia.com blog, with guest, author Jenny Milchman. Below, on the left where you see the photo (royalty-free from Unsplash), you can see the headline which includes my keyword ‘success,’ the meta description which is what shows up on Google and also includes the word ‘success,’ the categories on the right (I don’t have a ‘Success’ category), and the tags in which I included the word, ‘success.’
When you share your blog post, and when other people share your blog post, that metadata is what will show up, kind of like a subtitle on a foreign-language film.
By adding the word ‘success’ to my headline and throughout my post, I’ve created the expectation that my post will be about this topic, which helps my readers and contributes to the consistency of my author branding. You can read more about branding here:
Why Branding Confuses You and How To Fix That Right Now
What author branding is and what it’s not isn’t clear to most writers. It’s not that complicated! Here I break it all…
From an SEO perspective, if you don’t add any metadata, the bots won’t know how to find your post. Metadata is not for your readers; it’s like kibble for hungry bots.
Emotion In Your Headlines
Once I have my headline down, I also try it on the free Advanced Marketing Institute’s Emotional Headline Analyzer. Now, this tool only looks at the emotional impact, nothing more, yet it’s a crucial test because we humans are emotional creatures.
If we aren’t moved in some way by a headline, we pass.
This is the emotional score of this headline, although yesterday I received 21.8% on this headline(it’s moody), and today I received an 11.11% and intellectual. Still, it’s worth doing just to see the score and learn about the different types of emotions certain headlines appeal to and which words appeal to us intellectually, spiritually, or are heartfelt.
So, even though my keyword for this piece is “headlines,” the overarching emotion evokes “power,” and who doesn’t want to have this mystical ability?
Writing powerful headlines isn’t magical (though my web admin always comes to me when she’s stuck). It takes work, practice, and the best tools.
There are a number of studies on the psychology of emotion and social sharing. According to CoSchedule’s Garret Moon:
“People buy (and share content) from those that they know, like, and trust. Most sharing, as it turns out, is primarily dependent on the personal relationships of your readers. The data shows that the likelihood of your content being shared has more to do with your readers' relationship with others than their relationship to you.”
Read here to learn how to write effective emotional headlines.
Power Words In Your Headlines
Power words pack a punch, right? I used an obvious power word in my headline — powerful — yet, it got your attention and you’ve clearly read this far. However, not everyone writes business-type articles, right?
Right. Doesn’t matter. You can be a baker and write, ‘This Is How To Make The Most Spectacular Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever” and get a score of 83! on the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer — just have the goods to back that cookie up.
What’s the difference between emotional words and power words?
Power Words = Emotional Words Packed with Persuasion
~ Jon Morrow (SmartBlogger)
There are seven types of power words:
- Fear Power Words
- Encouragement Power Words
- Lust Power Words
- Anger Power Words
- Greed Power Words
- Safety Power Words
- Forbidden Power Words
Read Jon’s breakdown of all these words and download a free cheat sheet of all 800 here.
Power words add pizazz to what could be an otherwise drab read, plus they hit our emotional core with the added bang of persuasion. Seducing you. Tempting you. “Eat me,” they wink sweetly at you. All you have to do is…click.
What Value (or Entertainment) Do You Provide?
If that’s not clear from the headline, people will not even click over to your site. You can’t lose them because you never had them in the first place.
When writers tell me “Yea, I’m not that concerned with the headline,” or “I don’t care about using those fancy tools (mentioned above),” I’m thinking, What!? Why? It’s like saying you aren’t going to market your books, you “just want to write.”
Well, me, too buddy, but that’s not the reality of being a working writer (regardless of how you are published). Read about my publishing journey here:
This Is What It’s Like As A Self-Published Author
The challenges and joys of publishing on your own
They’ll learn. We all learn by doing. If and when we get tired of not seeing the traffic, shares, or visibility we want, we either dig in to find out why, or we get discouraged and quit.
Don’t quit. None of the above is difficult. Sure, it’s time-consuming, yet it’s all part of this writing gig. Make it work.
Publishing isn’t only writing, just as blogging isn’t only hitting the ‘publish’ button and then sitting back, hoping all the people in the world who read blogs are somehow, automagically, going to find your blog through sparkly blue fairy lights and chocolate chip cookie dust. Right.
- 2.75 million posts are published each day on WordPress alone.
- WordPress-driven blogs account for 27% of all posts, which, logically, makes the total number of blogs per day a little bit over 10 million. This goes to show the rapid evolution of the blogging industry; just 7 years ago, in 2012, only 2 million blogs were appearing daily. (Source: HostingTribunal)
Tip: Make it obvious in your headline and at the beginning of your post exactly what type of value or entertainment you are providing to your reader, whether that’s how to write powerful headlines, how to bake the best ever chocolate chip cookie, how to braid your cat’s fur (ewww, no), whatever.
This methodology does not only apply to nonfiction authors, for you naysayers out there (oh yeah, I’ve heard it all). Remember, we brand the author, not (only) the book. Since you aren’t blogging about your book, your book, your book, blog about the keywords and keyphrases (aka, topics) that interest you, that you’re an expert in, that you want to learn more about.
Share your authentic value and knowledge to build relationships with readers.
If you do the work, I guarantee your headlines will improve, as will readership, traffic, and visibility. Once you’ve got this headline stuff down, all you need to do is write spectacular posts, optimize, and share them. Easy, right?
Good luck and as always, reach out with questions!