How to Write Compelling SEO Headlines That Don’t Put People to Sleep

Searchers will snooze right through your listing in Google if you don’t pep up boring old SEO headlines


SEO doesn’t need to be the killer of headlines, but those who adore punchy headlines might tell you so.

Do SEO headlines tend to be a little stinkier than the old journalism templates we know and love? Sometimes, but they don’t have to be.

When long-tail keywords come into play – say, those keywords that are four or five words long – you can certainly run into some nap-worthy headlines. But there are plenty of ways to jazz them up, and here are a few ways how.

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01-how-to-write-compelling-seo-headlines-that-dont-put-people-to-sleepLet’s say your article is about picking weeds, and your keyword is “how to pick weeds.” You could leave this alone, and simply call the article “how to pick weeds” but you may find it slumps in social media, and nobody wants to click on it in search results, either.

So we add a benefit.

  • How to Pick Weeds Without Killing Your Back
  • How to Pick Weeds So Your Flower Beds Clear All Season
  • How to Pick Weeds in the Early Summer So You Don’t Have to Do It Until Fall

I could throw “how to pick weeds” into the middle if I wanted to, but we like to keep keywords at the beginning of our titles when we can, and this keyword lends to a perfect start. Not to mention, you could write all three of these articles if you wanted to.

Let’s say we have a trickier topic, something a little more dry. You’re a trade magazine for dentists with a keyword like “dental treatment plan phases.”

  • Dental Treatment Plan Phases: How to Save Teeth and Emerge the Hero
  • The 5 Dental Treatment Plan Phases Your Clients Need to Know Before They Leave Your Office
  • How to Explain Dental Treatment Plan Phases More Effectively to Risky Periodontal Patients

Using numbers in your SEO headlines


One trick used in headlines that works especially well in SEO, is Googling the keyword you want to target. If there’s a list, or lists that are ranking at the top of page one, outdo them. If their lists are 10 items long, make them 15. I can’t even tell you how many companies have tried to outrank Mequoda articles by adding just ONE more item to their list than ours, using almost identical SEO headlines. Hubspot is practically famous for this technique.

Although you can find numerous blogs online that will confirm that lists and numbers perform best in social media, and even in search, The New Yorker had a great explanation of why they do:

Whenever we’re scanning the environment for nothing in particular, our visual system is arrested by the things that don’t fit – features that suddenly change or somehow stand out from the background. A headline that is graphically salient in some way has a greater chance of capturing our eye, and in an environment where dozens of headlines and stories vie for attention, numerals break up the visual field.

In a sea of words and images, numbers simply stand out every time. And they don’t become exhaustive, like repeating “you’ll never believe” at the beginning of every SEO headline.


Another element of writing SEO headlines that perform well is surprise. Telling your story differently requires uncommon words and phrases, a technique I practice often using CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer Tool, and because just about everybody out there is telling you the 10 best ways to …

Back in 2009, researchers at the University of Athens discovered that people like headlines that are both creative and uninformative, according to the New Yorker. Examples include “THE SMELL OF CORRUPTION, THE SCENT OF TRUTH” and “FACE TO FAITH” were strong leaders. “List-style headlines often provide that optimal balance of information and ambivalence, intriguing us just enough to click, on the chance that we’ll come across something particularly relevant or exciting.”

So while the headlines above were more in-depth, the research shows that short and sweet can work too if they’re engaging.

  • 25 Insanely Awesome Cupcake Recipes
  • 101 Cupcake Recipes That Will Make You Look Like Martha Stewart
  • 51 Cupcake Recipes Better Than Your Grandmother’s Recipe

Or, get to specializing.

  • 21 Crazy Good Vegan Cupcake Recipes
  • 18 Low-Carb, Sugar-Free Cupcake Recipes for Diabetics
  • 65 Peculiar Cupcake Recipes We Love Anyway

They sure beat “10 Cupcake Recipes.” Snore. Or even “10 Great Cupcake Recipes.” Snooze button. Those might work on your fans, but in SEO, you’re in a competition for the most comprehensive, interesting, and click-worthy posts. How are you doing in the race?

And what else would you add? Leave a comment below.


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