ContentSecrets to Writing Engaging Titles & Content for SEO

Secrets to Writing Engaging Titles & Content for SEO

What makes a post engaging or popular? It all boils down to understanding your audience and why they are (or aren’t) reading your stuff. Learn how to turn this understanding into clickable, eye-catching titles combined with content readers crave.

SEW recently revealed the Most Engaging Posts of 2012. As a shameless plug, my article “10 Old SEO Methods You Need to Stop” ended up being among them and I proudly Tweeted and bothered my co-workers with the news and the article gained another round of attention.

Since this was the first time any of my musings had made such a list, I spent a fair amount of time going over each of the well-deserving articles. I began to notice a few patterns and thought it might be cool to review what I found and explore some of the reasons. Were there any secrets to be found?

Know Your Audience

In my years of writing here at Search Engine Watch, I have learned (often times through trial and error) what differentiates this site and its core audience from other related sites in the same space. Understanding that difference is by far the most important part about sculpting and creating content, as you are essentially learning who your audience is and why they are on your site.

At a very base level, tons of people come to Search Engine Watch to learn. But not just to learn about trends and news (although there is definitely that as well).

It seems that readers here want to learn how to implement various things. They want to validate their own actions, learn from others mistakes, and be guided through the right ways of doing things in their online marketing. This ranges from the very basic beginners to many advanced techniques and strategy, so identifying this is helpful but also gives a wide array of possibilities for topics.

Let’s set that aside for a moment and take a look at something different.

Titles: The Not-So-Secret Secret to SEO Success

I know, I know… Talking about titles in SEO – how novel! But this isn’t about optimization per se, it’s about engaging your audience.

Dedicated authors and blogs might have a certain set of readers who will just blindly read everything they publish, but to the rest of the world you have one line that has just one chance at letting people know if they should click through and read or not. That’s right, it’s your title!

Ask yourself this: If you blog, do you write your titles before or after your write your content? My guess is that 90 percent of people fall into the latter category and most spend all of about 10 seconds on it, maybe 20 if you’re directly optimizing for a keyphrase.

So, if the title is so important (on average, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline as opposed to 2 out of 10 who will read beyond the title, according to Copyblogger), why not spend some more time on it? Why not write it first and let it guide your article?

OK, now let’s look at the list of Most Engaging Posts of 2012 again and see what we can see:

Of the 10 posts:

  • 3 of them actually use the term “How To”.
  • 8 of them imply learning about something that could give a direct example at implementation.
  • 6 of them are based around a numeric list.

Amazing what you’ll find in a title beyond keyword stuffing and character count, no? So the learning/implementation component is reflected in 80 percent of the most engaging articles.

Lists. Lists? Lists!

But what about all those lists? Top 5 this and 10 tips on that.. what gives?

During an interview on NPR’s Here and Now, Alan Light, a contributor to Rolling Stone magazine, discussed their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. As you can imagine, any time a list like this is released where the findings are arbitrary opinions and not based on something as direct as sales figures, the readers go nuts. Why is that guy from Black Flag on there but Steve Vai isn’t? Steve Vai could play circles around him or whatever.

In the comments on the interview piece I saw this gem:


Lists like this one from Rolling Stone can create controversy or reassurance in one’s own beliefs and practices. That alone can help expand your engagement as people share and tell you their own opinions.

Most lists that elicit some controversy usually aren’t written with that in mind, so don’t just think that pushing people’s buttons will bump you to the top of the heap. In fact, controversial conversation (not arguing) can be a very useful tool in the learning process. I’m a large proponent of Constructive Controversy.


Top 7 Reasons for Making a List

Beyond just that, the actual logic for using lists like this actually can be even further reaching. Especially if you craft your titles first and write your article to the title, lists can be helpful in other ways by:

  • Enabling the author to use their own voice to relate an opinion instead of coming off sounding like a press release.
  • Focusing that opinion around a given direction.
  • Setting a finite goal around author article completion.
  • Stripping large amounts of fluff and clutter.
  • Providing structure and format in an easy-to-read fashion.
  • Giving the reader a timetable for reading and skimming. A checklist, if you will.
  • Focusing readers on individual points to comment on and share with others.

Now, don’t run out and just start making top lists of this or that or all your articles educational walkthroughs. There is a time and place for everything.

Mostly, the point here was to look at the trends of what drove engagement here at Search Engine Watch in 2012. Other websites will have wildly differing results so definitely examine your own results to uncover trends and determine what type of content resonates the most with your audience.


It all boils down to knowing who your audience is and why they are (or aren’t) reading your stuff. Write to the audience you have and the audience you want to have and let your first impression (your article title) be a good one.


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