If you're doing inbound marketing right, before you start writing blogs and content, you've done your prep work to define your target personas, map their buyer's journey and brainstorm topics that align with that journey. The goal of your blog content is to primarily answer questions your personas have in the "awareness" stage of their journey — when they're seeking to learn about a challenge or situation they're experiencing and identify potential solutions.
But a key to becoming part of their journey is getting found in search. And having headlines that are search engine optimized is key to doing just that. So how do you make sure your headlines are working for you and attracting traffic to your blog through search? As someone who is often providing direction for and reviewing content, for me it boils down to proper planning and some simple tips.
Plan ahead to identify the best keywords
Once you've identified your buyer journey and brainstormed questions/topics you can write about, the next step is using keyword research tools to identify opportunities. After all, how can you optimize headlines for SEO when you don't know what keywords provide the best chance for you to be found?
There are many tools available, some paid and others free, to help you conduct this research. We've found HubSpot, Moz Pro Keyword Explorer and Google Keyword Planner/Trends to be the most useful in our experiences.
Utilize these tools to compile a list of the keywords you're targeting and use that to inform your blog's editorial calendar.
4 simple headline tweaks you can make for SEO
By doing the pre-work above, the article that crosses your desk for review should have keywords naturally incorporated into the body, headline and meta description. But if you're not careful, the headline may be written in a way that does nothing for SEO. Here are 4 simple tweaks you can make to ensure it's written for both humans and search engines:
1. Speak your prospects' language
To get found in search, think about the language your prospects will be using and match their voice. How would they describe the question/problem/situation that blog addresses? In other words, think: Siri. With voice search playing a bigger role in 2017, natural language in your headlines, content and tags will be even more important than in the past.
2. Save "catchy" for email and social media
This follows the tip above of speaking your prospects language. Prospects likely won't be searching for "Top 5" anything; rather they'll look for "How to..." "Best..." "Reviews" or "Advantages of..." Catchy or flashy can be useful for email subject lines and social media lead-ins to get your audience to click through, but for blog headlines, focus on SEO first.
3. Move keywords to the front
Moving keywords to the beginning of a headline helps search engines know what your post is about, and sometimes flipping the order of words in your headline is all it needs to give it some SEO love. For example, instead of saying "5 Tips for Improving Your Restaurant Operation," say "Improving Restaurant Operations: 5 Tips From the Pros."
4. Tighten it up
In some cases your headline might be too wordy, in others, it might be too long for the whole thing to appear on a search results page — which if you're not careful can even cut off words in an embarrassing fashion. Neither of these instances is good for SEO since the whole point of a headline is to tell the reader clearly and concisely what to expect from the article. Keep your headlines to 70 characters or fewer.
With a well thought-out keyword strategy and keeping in mind the four tips above, you can improve the optimization of your blog headlines for search. To all the content marketing strategists and editors out there, what are your thoughts? Any other tips you have to improve headlines for SEO? Please share in the comments!