Headline writing: How to write web headlines that catch search engine spiders

by Shawn Smith on April 10, 2008

tiny spiders on a web in a garden - Flickr photo by tinyfrotlet

Image by tinyfroglet

Welcome to the third post in a series about headline writing for web content producers. This series will cover best practices for writing web headlines for people, search engines and social media.


The traffic on your website may be great, but it can improve by a HUGE MARGIN by helping it appeal to search engines. Many people use news aggregators, such as Google News, to keep up on news in their local area . This can serve as a major traffic boon for your site if your content is appealing to search engines. One way to start is by writing headlines that will appeal to search engines. Here’s how to start:

  • Be clear and concise. Remember this one? Search engines like to-the-point headlines too!
  • Plan headlines for searchers. What would people using search engines have to type into Google to find your story? With the huge amount of traffic possible from search engines, think about what keyword phrases to include in your headlines that may match what people are searching for.
  • Include appropriate keywords and keyword phrases. Every word in a headline must have a purpose. If it isn’t making the story clearer, then it should be dropped. Most people will only see your headlines, nothing else. Give them a reason to click by including key words/phrases they may have been searching for.
  • Include FULL NAMES of people and places where applicable. If the story concerns a specific town, mention that town in the headline. If it concerns specific people or a company, make sure they are mentioned in the headline if possible. (e.g. GM chief Rick Wagoner: Truck Plant coming to Ann Arbor)
  • Include DATELINES : Full names of places (Good: Baseball coach Thomas Clark a hit in Swartz Creek; Bad: Local baseball coach a hit.)
  • Keep headlines under 65 charactersthat mean short! This is the amount of text that will show up in Google search results. Anything else will be missed. Note: Headlines can be longer, but because Google won’t read any more than 65 characters, it’s important to get the message and important keywords across in the first few words.

Simple rules right? Writing headlines that search engines will like isn’t the craziest of sciences. Writing headlines for people is a little bit more tough and social media may be even trickier.

Bonus! Check out this video of DetNews.com web editor Leslie Rotan talking about some things to remember when writing headlines for the web. She hits on many of the same points that I’ve talked about in this headline writing series. Great job to Sue Burzynski Bullard for putting it together.

Do you have any tips for writing search-engine friendly headlines? Share them please!