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The Impact of Headlines in Article: What Google Says?

How many of you in the copywriting industry give up coming up with a catchy name to the very end? You may even have a working title ready at all times, but chances are that the final version usually happens after the text is ready. This is not even a bad thing, since the titles of the articles should reflect their content. The danger here is underestimating the importance of titles for SEO, especially when titles are later updated for various reasons. Sometimes even at Google’s discretion.

Impact of Headlines in Article

The New Policy and Its Consequences

This reminds of an intense discussion that commenced in August with changes in Google’s policy of generating titles for search results. According to the announcement made at the end of the month, they introduced a new approach for determining the titles’ composition. Until then, it was largely dependent on how users formulated their queries (and titles used to change with them), but it will no longer be like that. At the same time, headlines will better reflect the content.

Google now makes a bit more prominent the text placed by webmasters within the HTML H1 tag (that’s what is displayed first when the user arrives at the landing page – not to confuse with the page title). This is also a big change because so far, search results titles have consisted of a wider set of words – not just HTML text, but article text as a whole.

However, this doesn’t mean that headlines will now be generated with the HTML text alone – what is said is that they only made it more prominent. The reason why Google decided not to stick only to what is written in HTML tags is that there’s no guarantee of its perfect reflection of the page’s content. It was originally the reason why they abandoned that idea more than a decade ago.

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How to Get Article Headlines Using Google

Soon after the announcement, Google search analyst John Mueller made a very important clarification concerning the presumed need to update titles in response to changes in their formulation in search results. Quite understandably, some may trust the new approach blindly and think that if Google chooses a certain title for search results, it’s better to rename the article correspondingly since it might be the best formulation possible. Others might think those discrepancies between how the title appears in search results and how it appears in the original article could:

  • Confuse visitors, make them suspect there’s something wrong, feel annoyed by the fact that what they see on the page is not what they’ve clicked on, name any other reason;
  • Affect rankings – for instance, because of the fact that the page is now ranked taking into account a different word composition in the title.

At least for the second part of it, John Mueller was clear, quelling all worries by assuring that with their new policy, replacing certain title fragments or even whole titles would not affect rankings at all. 

Here are common recommendations for filling the H1 tag that are worthy to remember:

  • Never use two or more H1 tags on the same page (that would be a huge mistake)
  • H1 should not duplicate the title, which denotes the page itself and is generated by the organic search. There is a common misunderstanding that the H1 and the title should be identical – no, they shouldn’t
  • Make the heading fit within one line of the page’s full-screen display
  • Make sure the tag contains only text, but no image elements or other tags
  • That includes links! If the link leads to a different page, it would simply take the reader away from the article. If it leads to the same page, search engines would see that as a traffic cheat and punish by lowering the page’s rank
  • The heading should be unique and not duplicated on other pages of the website.
  • It should also be the first thing visible to users upon landing on the page
  • Choose keywords carefully for better relevance of article headlines to their content. Getting back to the similarity between page titles and H1 headings: a good recommendation here is to use the same keywords in both cases, but H1 headings and page titles should still be different. An example: “Drawing a Tattoo: Tools, Recommendations, Warnings, Best Practice” – title, “Tools for Drawing a Tattoo on Your Own” – H1
  • At the same time, they should not be very different either because that would negatively influence users’ behavior and ratings 
  • Apart from the article’s main headlines, there may be others with a lower hierarchy: H2-H6, with H6 being the lowest. For search engine optimization, it is unacceptable to allow lower tags to precede the ones with a higher hierarchy, because web crawlers do a much longer crawling job on pages with a messed up structure. For the same reasons, it is not advised to use too many H-tags within one article, especially if it is relatively short

How Does It Fit Into the New Approach?

The summer announcement by Google provided some explanations on why they rejected the idea of getting back to using HTML text alone. That’s exactly the reason we indicated at the very beginning, meaning the slackness with which coining a title is sometimes approached. On the opposite side of it, there are also webmasters who flood their headings with keywords, making them unreadable in the false hope that more keywords mean higher rankings.

With the new policy enacted, there is no need to worry about that. Google search will use the original titles for ranking, even if they were changed later – answered John Mueller the question addressed by eager to know search engine optimizers. From his words two things follow:

  1. That’s good news for those who meticulously coined the original title, carefully choosing desired keywords to make their article headlines appear higher in search results, and
  2. There’s no need to worry about how Google actually displays it.

The way he said it, search engine optimizers may rest assured in that at least for now. No guarantees it will be that way forever, but for now, swapping out one important keyword from the title by search engines would do no harm for the page rank because that keyword would still be accounted for.

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What Are the Latest Headlines?

Does that imply there is now no need to update headlines? No, and Google strongly recommends not stopping title optimization because of the fact that search results may show headlines differently (although ranking is still based on the original ones). 

The first thing any SEO manager would probably wish to do is checking whether Google has actually replaced the original heading. Thankfully, it is possible with a number of tools recommended by Search Engine Land:

  • Ahrefs – manual checking is possible with “Site Explorer > Organic Keywords 2.0”
  • Rank Ranger – and its SEO Monitor which allows tracking historical rank positions as well as changes that have been made to the heading and accompanying site description
  • Semrush – although there is currently no specific tool for that particular task in this family of convenient instruments, Search Engine Land assures it is still possible to do
  • SISTRIX –  according to the description, changes in headlines are displayed after clicking the “Show Title Changes” button in the SERP interface

Of course, if the original article headline contained specific keywords, it is always possible to do the manual checking directly by those keywords, hoping that generated search results would contain a reference to the article by whichever title it now goes. That manual approach is understandably very exhausting. 

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Good Article Headlines and Weird Article Headlines

A bit earlier we suggested that some search engine optimizers may trust the new title policy blindly and automatically change their article headlines. But why should they, we may ask – only because it is Google? To think of, the company itself strongly recommends “experimenting” with headlines, if there indeed have been changes made to them.

Good Article Headlines

Search engine optimization takes into account numerous factors, and savvy article headlines is one of them. To remind you, Google still takes the original heading into account to evaluate the relevance of the web page. Here are some good recommendations on how to formulate it in a way even Google could be satisfied.

  1. The H1 tag should translate the main message of the article concisely and as fully as possible. Adding keywords is a must, although putting too many of them would make the heading hard to understand. For example, if the article is about oil drilling on the Northern continental shelf, choosing something like “Drilling Mineral Resources in a Form of Continental Shelf Oil in the Arctic Region Far to the North” would be seen as weird and will hardly get high rankings.
  2. Good article headlines are easily understandable and should ideally raise the interest of potential visitors from the target audience. Being too long and excessively informative is bad in a sense that: a) they don’t look pretty and b) in case of a short article piece, they may possibly hold all the information which it is about, thus leaving no further motivation for the user to click the link. Compare, for example: “Janet Yellen Says Congress Should Increase Borrowing Limits in Order to Prevent the Treasury Running Out of Cash in October” (not a good one, as it is basically all that the news is about) vs. “US Treasury Warns Its Coffers Would Be Empty By the Next Month” (at least leaves some intrigue, prompting curious readers to hit the link).
  3.  The audience should still be its target audience. Too short headings won’t do the job either because they leave too much variation. There might have been many examples in times when Arnold Schwarzenegger was the governor of California, and his name used as a keyword could mistakenly attract movie fans to news on politics (or vice versa). A more recent, to a certain extent funny phenomenon is how shares of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway react – at least, used to react – to any mentioning of the actress Anne Hathaway in the news, all because of flaws in automatic trading bots’ programmed reaction to news headlines.
  4. Using homonym words may be confusing if not for human readers, then at least for search engines trying to match articles with specific types of users’ queries. For instance, “Soothing Hard to Bear Pain with an Analgesic Drug” used as a title reflects quite a different content as compared to something like “Hunters Drug the Escaped Bear to Soothe It and Take Safely Back to the Zoo”. 

Good Article Headlines Do the Ranking Job

There are two sides of how choosing an appropriate article heading is done – a little bit of science, a little bit of art. The first “scientific” part is SEO and following strict rules to get higher rankings from Google. The company’s new policy does not necessitate regular updates in response to any changes in the title made by the search engine, but at least the fact of such changes is a reason to look deeper if there is room for improvement.

The second “creative” part starts with human comprehension of the content. No modern AI system knows how to perfectly imitate it, which is why coining catchy article headlines is still a human’s job. There are rules to follow as well, which are less technical because they aim to make the heading more understandable, concise, and informative. There may be cases sometimes when “weird” headings are added on purpose for a reason. But generally, you would naturally want your readers to know what they’re about to read.

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