The Template

Every week, I maintain THE TEMPLATE, an award-winningWinner of the 2015 Plank Center Award (public relations org.) for commitment to mentorship. blog that's been viewed more than 1.5 million times by people all over the world. In every column, I provide step-by-step instruction to help you become a stronger communicator. Like I always say, "Write well, open doors!"

How to Write a Great Blog Post Headline

The AP has spoken. The decision is final.

After years of grammatical debate, the Associated Press, which publishes the all-powerful AP Stylebook, has decreed we no longer need to capitalize “web” and “internet.”

Until now, the topic placed writers in two camps: people who believed it should be “Web” and “Internet” at all times (because there’s only one “Web” and one “Internet”) versus those who opted for the lowercase versions. Over the years, I found myself using upper and lowercase forms because I didn’t know the proper way.

Now, I do. Thanks, AP!

I have written before about common grammar mistakes on company websites and blogs (7 Words You Need to Stop Capitalizing). This time, I want to focus on headlines for blog posts, which includes a discussion of proper capitalization.

I have come to understand online headline writing by accident. If you google “apply for a job if company isn’t hiring” you will likely find my blog post as the #1 result. My column is called “How to Apply for a Job Even If the Company Isn’t Hiring.”

Because of the #1 position on Google, the post has been viewed over 85,000 (!) times.* I beat out results from LinkedIn and Fast Company, and it’s actually become the most popular blog post on my site.

*Please understand: those 85,000+ views did not happen overnight. The column (written in January 2015) began way off the radar on Google. Over time, people found the post, shared it with friends and the information gained momentum in an organic way. Now Google believes it’s the most relevant search result for the query or ones similar to it.

I do believe, though, that a weaker headline would have limited the success of the blog post. Here are the five steps I followed to maximize impact.

1. Answer the Question

Your blog posts, as much as possible, should help people solve problems. You want to offer how-to guides, insights and instruction. Obviously, people google answers for all kinds of topics. Whatever you know best, provide the answers on your website.

In my case, I dispense practical writing instruction. That’s why I wrote an email guide to apply for a job at a company with no open positions. I thought to myself, “How would someone search this topic on Google?”

I didn’t try to be cute and clever with something like, “No Job Posting? No Problem!” Odds are, few people search those phrases on Google.

Instead, I went with a more likely string of words: How to Apply for a Job Even If the Company Isn’t Hiring

2. Put Key Terms in the URL 

Your content management system (ex: WordPress) may automatically place the words from your headline in the URL. I went with /how-to-apply-for-a-job-hiring. I could have included “not” as in “not-hiring.” Either way, my headline and URL match up well enough, and Google understands the central theme of my post.

I also made sure to put similar language in the meta description below the headline.

3. Upper and Lower Case

Google says capitalization in blog post headlines doesn’t matter. OK, upper and lowercase words may not factor into Google’s almighty search algorithm, but I believe they do play a role when people scan a list of options. If the capitalization is inconsistent, it cheapens the quality of our work.

Look at my blog headline again:

How to Apply for a Job Even If the Company Isn’t Hiring

I put in lower case every article (ex: “the”) and preposition (ex: “for”). It’s traditional news style and considered most acceptable.

Further discussion on Grammar Underground.

4. The Right Amount of Words

SEOMoz, which helps people understand search engine optimization (SEO), says Google will generally display 50-60 characters (not words) of your headline. To make sure your headline fits completely, use its title emulator tool.

Google shows my entire headline in the result — nothing is cut off. Again, I don’t know if I would be “penalized” for a longer headline, but I do know the one I have is easy to read and understand. The human element matters here too.

5. Don’t play the “stuffing” game

In the column itself, I don’t use the phrase “apply for a job even if the company isn’t hiring” like 20 different times. Google hates that. It’s inauthentic and a way to “game the system.” Instead, share your answer in a natural, organic way — like a conversation to a friend. The key terms will likely be part of your answer, anyway.

To recap, a winning blog post headline:

  1. Answers a question the way a person would search it on Google
  2. Includes key terms or phrases from the headline in the URL (and meta description)
  3. Uses standard rules of capitalization
  4. Stays within 50-60 characters so the headline is entirely visible
  5. Doesn’t “stuff” your post with the exact headline text over and over; instead, it’s conversational

Several months from now, will my post — the one you’re reading right now — become a top result for the Google search below?

How to write a great blog post headline

Time will tell. But if it reaches #1, you’ll know exactly how I did it.


Other questions on blog post headlines?

Share below!

Featured photo: Christian Schnettelker (Flickr)


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