Somewhere along the line, some professional writers and content strategists decided that “SEO” was short-hand for “any style of writing I don’t like.” Even though Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird eliminated a lot of spammy writing and keyword stuffing, I still frequently see content marketers and writers decrying all headlines as “SEO” — like the following:
These types of headlines may populate your Facebook and Twitter feeds, but it’s not because they’re SEO-friendly. They’re the opposite of SEO-friendly. There are no specific keywords in that headline! An SEO-friendly headline would help people who have never read either headline find website content based on a topic search.
Sharable Headlines: Intriguing, but Not Search-Friendly
What the above headline is, is highly sharable. Its home, Upworthy, designed its headlines to provoke readers to share the content, rather than to be found by Google search. You’re supposed to see the actor — from the tv show Scandal — and ask yourself “What issue does he want people to stop denying? What is he outspoken about?” Then, you’re supposed to share the content with your friends on your social news feed. (Ostensibly, you would also watch the video before sharing the content, but data shows that there’s no correlation between socially shared content and what people actually read.)
An SEO-friendly version of this headline would read: “Scandal Actor Tony Goldwyn Speaks Out Against Racism.” But that’s not as intriguing, so it wouldn’t encourage social sharing. But, I’m sure if I searched for “Tony Goldwyn on Racism,” the article with the SEO-friendly headline would appear in Google search results. It’s specific, and it’s easy for Google to match the content of the page with the search term.
Click-bait That Capitalizes on Your Curiosity
Here’s another example, from the website Viral Nova.
The headline promises something amazing, a gallery of images that is truly mind-blowing. It will change the way you think about balloons. It will provoke you to click through to the story and check out the images on the page. (They are pretty cool.) But is it a searchable, SEO-friendly headline? Nope. It’s just sharable.
A search-friendly headline for the same story would probably read: “The Best Balloon Art from the 2014 World Balloon Convention.” Interesting, sure. But does the headline challenge the notions of what balloons can be so that you want to tell your friends about it? Not exactly.
Here’s one example of a headline for the same story that could work both search and sharing:
“Quirky Balloon Art of Mythical Proportions from the 2014 World Balloon Convention”
I recommend testing for your particular audiences before deciding on a style that works for search, social, and your business. But that’s a good baseline to start writing to harness both search and social potential.
Guidelines For Your Content Marketing
Upworthy and Viral Nova are viral-oriented digital publishers, not unlike a supermarket tabloid designed to get you to purchase a copy to see exactly what’s inside. Their business model relies readers sharing their content over and over again. Even though Facebook changed its algorithm to address “low quality content” like Upworthy, the sharable headline model is still working for them — since that’s how viral-oriented publishers get all of their traffic.
Unfortunately, most marketers can’t rely solely on a great headline to drive traffic and leads. There are many more aspects to optimizing content for both search and social, especially since Google has said that social links do not directly cause an increase in search ranking.
Creating content that is both searchable and sharable generally means taking more time to write and create content that works across channels. For most businesses, balancing searchable and sharable content is key to driving traffic and generating leads through content marketing. Often, it means writing different headlines for your website and for social media.
It’s worth the time to optimize cross-channel and write for both search and social media. In my opinion, it keeps your writing more human, more relatable, and less gimmicky. It also helps you harness potential customers from across digital channels, instead of putting all of your content eggs in one digital basket.