Is Clever Better? Witty versus Search-Engine-Optimized Headlines

Is Clever Better? Witty versus Search-Engine-Optimized Headlines

By Brianne Carlon RushFeb 27 /2012

seo clever headlinesA good goal for headlines is to evoke emotion in some way. Whether it is amusement, curiosity, joy or sorrow, intriguing a reader is the biggest responsibility of a headline. And there have been some good ones over the past few years:

Admittedly, these are amazing headlines. They are clever, intriguing, and evoking: Shame. Humor. Inspiration. These headlines get the job done.

So what’s the problem? Well unfortunately, this only works for print. That’s right. The headlines above do not have keywords and are not optimized for SEO. So if you want headlines to be found online, do you need to strip out all the fun? When search-engine-optimization is the goal, is witty not an option?

No more puns. No more wordplay. What a sad, sad world. The Atlantic, in its article “Google Doesn’t Laugh: Saving Witty Headlines in the Age of SEO,” said it best: “The death of witty headlines on the Web is enough to make a copy editor cry.”

Benefits of optimizing a headline

By using keywords (likely search terms) in the headline, you make it easier for readers to find your content. That is a definite plus and can’t really be argued. People searching for say “the royal wedding” or “2012 world series” will definitely come across your content if the headline reads, “The Royal Wedding Top 10 Fashion Faux Pas” or “2012 World Series Tickets Going Fast.” 

Benefits of a clever headline

What a search-engine-optimized headline may fail to do is (1.) evoke emotion as mentioned above, and (2.) form a relationship with the reader. In The Atlantic article, David Plotz, editor of the online magazine Slate, said, “If you write a really clever headline that your most Slate-like readers love, and they think, 'I'm so in on this joke,' you will deepen that relationship with them.” 

But wait, you said Inbound Marketing is the New SEO!

Right you are! Inbound Marketing, and thus content, is the new SEO. Shouldn’t that mean that clever headlines are back? Well, sort of. Google frowns on keyword stuffing, and you do want to use a headline that intrigues readers to continue onto the article. So word play and puns are good.

However, you still need to get people to your content, which is where SEO comes in. So what is the right answer?

The take-away

Find a happy medium; do both! Try using a colon or hyphen to separate your efforts. According to Outbrain, a colon or hyphen in the title (which indicates a subtitle) has a 9-percent higher click-through rate than one without. So don’t give up on being clever; just add in a little SEO power, too. If it is good enough for The Atlantic, it is good enough for us.

What have been your best headlines? Let us know by leaving a comment below. 

Photo credit: Jayallen

The Author

Brianne Carlon Rush

Brianne works with Fortune 500 clients to strategize digital marketing efforts that help sales teams close deals faster. Additionally, she focuses on Kuno’s sales and marketing alignment and employee empowerment. Prior to Kuno, Brianne helped market OverDrive, the leading digital reading platform for libraries and schools, and was the youngest person to be promoted to managing editor position at MacFadden Performing Arts Media in NYC.