Do Keywords in Post Titles Really Matter?

image of magnetic headlines

It’s an epic battle of biblical proportions in the blogosphere.

The search engine optimization camp says keywords are the most important aspect of a blog post title.

How else will you rank high in the results and get clicks by searchers, they say, if the right keywords are missing from the title? And right or wrong, don’t even try to get an article republished out of an article marketing directory without some sweet keywords in your headline.

On the other hand, you’ve got the purist “write for humans” camp, who collectively scoff at the notion of keyword research for headline writing.

What’s the point of search optimized post titles if no one reads (and links) in the first place? And search engine traffic isn’t really all that important to most bloggers anyway, they vehemently maintain, especially compared to high-quality referral traffic from links.

Well, here’s the verdict.

Keywords matter. But not necessarily for the reasons the SEO folks think.

Doing keyword research is a magical thing. It’s a free or low-cost window into the mind of your target audience.

Before search engines, there was no way to know the exact words that a large group of people would use when thinking about a certain topic. Oh sure, you could ask a small group of people, but anyone who has ever done focus groups will tell you that what people say in front of others is not the same as what they will really do.

So if you’re writing any type of headline, online or off, you should be doing search engine keyword research. Because any great headline should speak in the language of the audience, while wrapped up in a time-tested structure that catches attention and offers value.

But it gets better.

Any SEO pro worth listening to will tell you that you don’t go after the most popular keywords. You target the niche phrases. They may result in less traffic individually, but there’s a lot more of them, and less competition.

This is perfect for writing headlines for humans. The niche phrases are much more specific, and specificity makes for a much better headline. Further, better headlines lead to better content when you write the headline first.

Google and the other search engines really do want to reflect what’s important to people. That’s why they use links and anchor text as one of the primary determinations of relevancy.

Keywords matter, because when you speak the language of the audience, you attract more readers, more links, more retweets, more social bookmarks, and yes… more relevant search traffic. Both camps are right, for different reasons.

So… let there be momentary peace in the blogosphere.

This is the third installment in a series of posts called Magnetic Headlines.

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Comments

  1. My line of thinking is that keywords in titles only matter if the entry title is actually being placed at the front of the page’s title…

    If you look at any entry on my site, you’ll see that the titles are always at the front of the title tag.

    This, combined with the base URL and text on the page does help, but probably not as much as how the actual article is written.

  2. Brian – I’m learning so much from this series. I know that for a long time, my blog post headlines were more like the keyword phrases of a website page. I have seen a much better response with writing to the people want to come read AND talk with me.

    It’s not pulling perfectly but I think I’ve made a great deal of progress looking beyond the search engines to the people that visit. If I can get one keyword phrase in the title or in the first sentence without being BORING… I feel I’ve accomplished something.

    Thanks!

    Tammy

  3. Fullman, that’s true from an SEO perspective, and thankfully I picked up on that advice from someone (Nick Wilson, Chris Garrett or Darren Rowse, can’t remember which…) long ago.

    But regardless… keywords matter because you’re speaking back to people in their own language, no matter where those words show up in the page title display.

    Thanks Tammy, but remember.. to a certain degree we’re all figuring out this stuff as we go along, just like the rest of life. :)

  4. Brian – this series is really useful, but give me examples!!! What exactly is “keyword research”? Do you just mean going out and searching on keywords to see what you get – or is there a more structured way to do that?

    This is all new to me. Up until recently I’ve ignored keywords and titles. I’m looking forward to those templates you spoke about in the last post too!

  5. Examples are coming Ann… that’s what the rest of the series is. :)

    As for keyword research, sorry, I should have elaborated on that. It’s basically when you type in certain words and phrases that you think relate to your post topic or overall niche into a keyword suggestion tool, Here’s one you can use for free from Overture (now Yahoo Search Marketing):

    http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/

    Say you’re an attorney in Dallas, and you want to now what the hot legal needs are currently in your area. Type in “Dallas attorney” with quotes to see how many people searched specifically for those two words in that order. Now, type in Dallas Attorney without quotes and you’ll find the much more specific things people are looking for that are related to their need for a Dallas Attorney.

    Research can get much more sophisticated then that, but that’s the basic idea. Keyword research is the foundation of all search engine marketing, whether SEO or pay per click.  And the point to take away from this installment of the headline series is that keyword research is important even beyond search marketing, because you want to know the relevant language that real people use at a certain point in time with regard to certain topics.

  6. Great topic, Brian! Love the battle scene. The good news is that Google changed their algorithm in April. I’m already noticing that there’s less content spam/keyword spew and far more valuable, category-based intelligent search results coming up. Which erases the need for such furious keyword placement. I’m noticing also that Wikipedia.org speaks to Orion (the new algorithm) in its own language. You, too?

    As far as the other engines, I don’t know about them. I worship the Google Gods!

    Thanks for starting this conversation, it’s a good one!

    Dina

  7. Another element is the number of links available in your niche. For a site related to internet marketing (like this one), there are tons of sites out there looking for great articles (like yours) to link to. As a result, you’re less dependent on in-page optimization, removing the need to “write for machines.”

    But some niches, such as pre-Internet-craze products, don’t have so much link love. You might be the first person to start a content site on the topic, so there aren’t that many people to link to you. As a result, you have to think much more about in-page optimization and pulling traffic from search engines, heightening the benefits of “writing for machines.”

    Ultimately, you have to figure out where your traffic is going to come from and then optimize for that source. Sometimes, it’s to your advantage to write for humans, and sometimes, it’s to your advantage to write for machines. It depends on the niche.

  8. Valid point Jon, but even then you’re writing for humans, right? Last time I checked, search engines were primarily used by people. :)

  9. I try writing the headlines first. Then I write the post and find that the headline needs and darn good tweak. In th editing my post has gotten a stronger focus or a slightly different one. It’s rare I end up with the headline that I started with. Guess I write to find out what I’m thinking.

  10. Hi Brian

    Many thanks for this series – I’ve long been promoting the importance of headlines in my own copywriting work, and it’s great to see the subject finally coming to the fore.

  11. I hate SEO.:( Sure, put some keyword metas in your index or whatever, but trying to SEO blog posts is just a little sad.

    Beside being whipped around by the changing winds of Google’s latest algo’s, you could be setting yourself up for some major heartache down the road (as Google slowly perfects real, organic indexing.)

    After all, when we do a search, we’re not looking for the most streamlined, keyword-rich SEO-jockeyed drivel; we want the most relevant results.

    So why should we sacrifice relevance by spending cycles looking for the middle ground? Intellectual honesty, please…

    Keywords research is great, though; I agree. It’s a good source for inspiration. But a great title inspired by keywords is likely better than anything someone can contrive to integrate the two.

  12. Hey Brian, I couldn’t agree with you more. Keywords definitely matter, especially if you want to attract visitors from Search Engines. But, it’s not only about keyword density. That for sure will look spammy. It’s about mixing up phrases, hyperlinks, and KW Density.