Keywords v Headline Titles – The battle of the big guns

 In SEO

Improving your title tag click through rate

Over the past year or two we are consistently being told that keywords, whilst still important, are losing out in the serps over killer headlines. Some go so far as to say that when creating your page title, you don’t even need to incorporate your main keywords to rank well. It’s all about the user experience. The more dramatic/funny/controversial a title, the more people are likely to click, making it superior to traditional keyword lead content.
This is of course a scary prospect for many SEO’ers who have built whole campaigns on the back of keywords. So, do we go full throttle and change our whole approach?
In essence, Google is now performing SEO for us. It is deciding what is relevant to the searcher based on site content and user experience. Even though keywords aren’t meticulously placed into titles and content, Google can glean enough information based on content to decipher whether or not your site is a good match. The more original and informative your copy, the more likely you will be a match with your users intent….keywords or not!

Keywords v Headline Titles

So, it stands to reason that if you have great content, you need to entice people to view it. Here’s where the killer headline plays its part.
Seigemedia.com have written a great article on title tags. There are a couple of examples they use which I would like to highlight. Firstly, they have identified 5 elements which should be present in a title tag to achieve a higher click through rate – low price, freshness, brand, volume and speed.

Title Tag Priorities

Which one receives the higher click through rate

A great example put forward in their article is a comparison of car insurance companies. Whilst both offer similar price deals, only one mentions this discount in their title tag. Guess which one receives the higher click through rate?
They also recommend adding volume based keywords, i.e. 101 things to do in Florida, 7 top tips etc. etc. (Incidentally, if you introduce the number 7 into your title tag you will apparently improve your click through rate……I don’t know how true this is but hey, it’s worth a try I guess).
Rand Fishkin also touched on this subject in his Whiteboard Friday – Headline writing and title tag SEO in a clickbait world.
He gives the example of two title tags to highlight the difference a dramatic or ‘clickbait’ title can make.

Compare these two titles:

‘Battles including the Vikings’
‘The 7 most badass last stands in the history of battles’
Which one would you click on?
According to Rand, there is a balancing act when creating titles. The three elements as he sees it are:
1. Creating clickbait pieces
2. Intent of searchers
3. Your marketing goals
He stresses that it is almost impossible to consistently achieve all three elements. Sometimes you will just want to create clickbait content. This type of content is more likely to get shares on social media. Importantly, people who like this kind of content may not want to be sold to, so you may not be meeting your marketing goals short term.
However, you may write a piece which is aimed primarily at the intent of your searchers/potential customers, which will in turn achieve your marketing goals.

Quick fix?

So, as you can see, there is no quick fix. Should you go for a dramatic headline or focus on your marketing goals? A mixture of the two is most probably the most common sense solution.
Further advice from Google’s John Mueller – when asked if Google still uses title tags as a ranking factor, he replied:
“We do use it for ranking, but it’s not the most critical part of the page. So it’s not worthwhile filling it with keywords to kind of hope it works in that way. In general, we try to recognise when a title tag is stuffed with keywords because it’s also a bad user experience for users in search results.”
When asked what was critical to a page, he responded that actual on-page content is priority.

Content with Keywords v Headline Titles

So, on page content trumps title tags. This, like anything, should be taken with a pinch of salt. I’m sure we all have examples of sites which are stuffed with keywords, or more often, have shocking content, yet which consistently rank well. Google works in mysterious ways but the headline title tag is, I’m sure the way forward. I think the key is to look at your title tag less as a keyword opportunity, and more as a sales pitch. Do this and you’re halfway there.

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