How to Craft a Headline That Gets More Clicks

Marketing professional writes a clickable headline on a laptop.
You’ve poured blood, sweat and tears into that article, and your creativity level is currently on empty. You’d like to have a catchy headline, but thinking of any more words is hurting your brain.

I get it. But now is not the time to skimp on the details. Because the headline can be the difference between a click and a scroll. Here, I’ll share the latest research on creating headlines that work, along with SEO best practices and tips to get more clicks. In this article:

The Latest Research on Headlines: What Works

What makes a headline successful? There is no winning formula that will provoke clicks and increase traffic to your article every time. Still, we can learn from large-scale studies on what works in terms of headline type and length.

Headline Type

Which types of headlines — questions, how-to, etc. — get the most views? Semrush research analyzed more than a million articles picked from domains with a blog section that had from 30,000 up to 500,000 sessions. This research found that out of the following types of headlines:

  • Questions
  • Guides
  • Lists
  • How-to
  • Other

… the list-focused headlines got the most page views, followed by how-to headlines.

Headline data from SEMrush.

Headline Length

How long should your headline be? Semrush data showed that 10- to 13-word headlines drove twice as much traffic as shorter headlines that were less than seven words. Headlines with 14-plus words also performed well.

h1 data from SEMrush.

Other research by BuzzSumo analyzed more than 100 million headlines across social media. This study found the ideal headline to be 11 words — which is consistent with the sweet spot in the Semrush findings.

Chart from BuzzSumo showing most common length of most shared headlines across Facebook and Twitter.

This data is helpful, but what about SEO considerations? How do those factor into crafting a headline? I’ll cover that next.

SEO Considerations for Headlines

When you are writing content for SEO, what do we mean by “headline”?

Normally, you think of a headline as the words that appear large across the top of a page. On most webpages, that’s actually the Heading 1 tag.

But when you’re talking about attracting clicks from a search results page, it’s the HTML title tag that you’re really interested in optimizing. Your page’s title tag tends to be what appears in a search result as the clickable headline.

Now, Google may revise your title tag for SERPs. For example, lately Google has been spotted replacing title tags with Heading 1 tags. However, according to Google, the HTML title tag is used as the clickable SERP headline more than 80% of the time.

Regardless, for SEO purposes, a page’s title tag is what you should focus on optimizing since it usually serves as the headline for your snippet in the search engine results page. Here’s an example:

Screenshot of HTML code for BruceClay.com homepage.
Screenshot of HTML code for BruceClay.com homepage
Search engine results listing for the BruceClay.com homepage.
Search engine results listing for the BruceClay.com homepage

The distinction doesn’t have to be significant. The Heading 1 that you write for your articles will often be the same or similar as your title tag. In both places though, you need your headline to appeal to both search engines and potential visitors to the site.

Here are some best practices to help you create good headlines for your title tags that will help make your webpage more relevant for a search and get more clicks …

Title Tag Length

A title tag should be within the range of 6 to 12 words. Google cuts off a title displayed in search results after roughly 60 to 70 characters including spaces on desktop, and on mobile it’s a bit longer — about 77 characters (but it depends on the width of the characters).

(Related: What Are Meta Tags? Why Are They Important to SEO? How Do You Create Them?)

This aligns with some of the research mentioned in the previous section showing that headlines with 10 to 13 words performed best. However, Backlinko conducted some research on title tag length and found that title tags between 15 to 40 characters have the highest CTR (8.6% higher).

To put that into perspective, the following title tag looks short, right? It has 35 characters and only seven words:

Example of title tag "What length should my title tag be?"

Switching focus to Google recommendations, in its SEO Starter Guide, Google touches on the length of the title tag, saying:

Titles can be both short and informative. If the title is too long or otherwise deemed less relevant, Google may show only a portion of it or one that’s automatically generated in the search result. Google may also show different titles depending on the user’s query or device used for searching.

The takeaway: Keep your headline descriptive of the page and generally within the character count guideline.

Custom Title Tag Length

While the large-scale studies mentioned in this article along with known SEO best practices can be helpful for putting you on the right path when it comes to headlines, getting customized data for each article you write is even better.

That is why I want to mention our WordPress plugin. But first, remember that every search engine query produces a unique set of search results. For example, the top search results for “how to change an oil filter” and “how to do advanced technical SEO” will have different average title tag lengths.

So, wouldn’t it be good if you could know what title tag length to aim for based on the winning search results? The answer here is yes, because the way that SEO works is to be least imperfect compared to your competition. This means doing everything the top-ranked webpages are doing, and doing some things a little better.

Screenshot of custom SEO data from the Bruce Clay WP SEO plugin.

If you’re interested in learning more about this custom SEO data, you can check out the Bruce Clay WP SEO plugin.

The bottom line here: Use best practices to guide your headline creation but refine your execution with custom data.

Title Tag Contents

Now that I’ve covered how many words or characters to put in your title tag, let’s turn our focus to what you should actually say. There are a zillion articles with tips on how to write a catchy headline, and no doubt you can glean a lot of creative ideas from them. That’s not my goal here. Instead, I’m going to fill in the gaps with headline-writing tips from an SEO perspective.

Remember that the title tag has more than one function, so you want it to be descriptive and compelling to search engines and users:

  • The title tag serves as the first bit of information your webpage gives to the search engine spiders that visit it. This helps them quickly determine the relevance of a webpage to a query (of course, it’s not the only thing that helps determine relevance, but it’s important).
  • The title tag is usually the first impression you give to potential visitors in the search results. A good title tag will entice readers to click through and drive more traffic to your article.

Google recommends in its SEO Starter Guide that title tags be unique and accurate. It’s true — you do not want your title tags to be a duplicate of any other page’s title, nor to be left blank. Either scenario can cause problems for your rankings and click-through rates.

Google goes on to say:

Choose a title that reads naturally and effectively communicates the topic of the page’s content.

Here, Google wants to ensure you do not stuff your title tag with keywords, and that you think in terms of article headlines when it comes to creating title tag content. As mentioned earlier, in many cases, you can use your article title (or some version of it) as the title tag content.

Speaking of keywords, you want to make sure you include your most important keyword(s) in your title tag. More research from Backlinko shows that most organic result titles on Google’s first page contain keywords that are an exact or partial match of that search.

A final word about title tags: No amount of preparation can guarantee the title tag that you craft will be the one that displays in the search results. As I said, sometimes Google switches things up for a variety of reasons, and you can read more about that here.

Creating Good Headlines for Searchers and Search Engines

You’ve spent all that time creating a quality article, don’t skimp on creating a great headline. After all, it’s the headline that can be responsible for driving clicks and traffic to your website.

If you want to get more clicks, you need to consider everything that goes into a headline, including the latest research, SEO best practices and even the custom data you can get with SEO tools.

Interested in better optimizing your web content to earn more traffic from search? We provide a variety of SEO services and can also provide SEO content. For more information, contact us for a free consultation.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay, Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn and other social networks from Bruce's author page.
Comments (3)
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3 Replies to “How to Craft a Headline That Gets More Clicks”

All good stuff – thanks Bruce – nice to see a refresher like this :-)

Just amazing, really a great effort, Now a days People open while reading a eye-catching headline to read a post or buy a product.

A useful article. A properly constructed page title containing keywords is an excellent power for SEO. Recently I discovered by using a TDF meter that using a separator not necessarily has a positive effect on the title’s functionality. Additionally, a title that has a more natural form of a natural sentence can be more user-friendly. I think so.

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