Writer’s 101: The Perfect Heading

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The heading, the unknown creature. There are extensive studies on the question of how to create the perfect heading for your article. Particularly during these times of social media, you probably won’t find a self-proclaimed expert that does not have an opinion on that.

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Before social media, the SEO “experts” were the ones trying to drill some mathematical logic regarding your article headings into your head. A simple Google search on this topic gets you reading material for months, and makes you create checklists that don’t fit on regular loo rolls, even when writing on all four layers.

If you just started writing, it is possible that this problem will lead you straight into your first writer’s block. Although it’s actually rather simple.

In advance, I want to let you know that I’m neither a social media nor an SEO expert. However, I don’t believe there’s something like that in the first place ;) Still, I do have a degree in business administration with a focus on marketing, and a portfolio of over 10,000 written online articles. Thus, I would say that I’m not entirely clueless.

Special Case: Content Marketing

Now let’s get back to writing the perfect heading. I promised you that it would be very easy, and that’s true. But of course, it always depends on what you wish to accomplish with your article. It’s easy if you want to reach readers because the topic is dear to you, or because you have done extensive research, and want people to read and know what you found.

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It’s not that easy when you’re doing content marketing. And that’s only fair. After all, content marketing is nothing but attempted fraud. You pretend to have something useful to say. But basically, all you want to do is advertise your product or service.

Even if your article ends up being somewhat decent, and you apparently claim that it has a lot of value, the way you approached it was wrong already. You took a product and desperately tried to find content that could be fitting in some way. Fortunately, this only works on rare occasions.

Usually, the authors of these texts are the ones that collect tutorials for the perfect title like squirrels collect nuts. These guides tell you to do extensive keyword research to name your articles accordingly, or even write them according to keywords. This has nothing to do with actual blogging, journalism, or writing. If you’re one of these writers, there’s nothing for you to see here.

Usual Case: Passion For Writing

Are you running a blog due to your passion, or did you turn your hobby into a profession, like me, and try to write about topics you are interested in as much as possible? If so, relax. The perfect heading is a myth.

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You basically already know everything you need to know about the creation of a heading for your article. Turning that knowledge into a text is much easier than setting yourself apart from all the well-intended advice, and expose what it actually is: useless attempts of self-proclaimed experts to distinguish themselves by making you believe in a problem that doesn’t even exist.

The Perfect Heading: My Own Workflow

This is what my own workflow looks like. First, I do research on a topic that I’m interested in, and that I believe will be interesting to a couple of other people as well. I don’t think about clicks while choosing the topic.

Once I’ve identified a topic, I collect sources. Here, I try to find all aspects. Usually, I end up with between ten and twenty sources. Now, I soak up the material and evaluate it afterward.

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At this point, I develop a first idea for a potential heading. It can, and will, change later on, however.

“Experts” recommend finding the heading first, before working on the topic. I consider that to be nonsense. How am I supposed to determine a decent heading if I don’t even know where the topic will take me?

Now, it’s time for me to write the article and put in my evaluations. If I don’t do so, writing isn’t fun. I don’t like putting out news without my opinion. I’m sure that artificial intelligence will be able to take care of that in due time. My job will still not be in danger by then.

Once the first draft of my article is finished, I implement the subdivision. You may hear that this should be done the other way around. This way, you are supposed to be able to stick to the smart subdivision, making the text easier to write. I don’t like that. It limits me too much.

While working on the division, I sometimes end up switching and altering text passages if the logical text flow requires me to do so. Usually, I write in a way that makes sure that my article has a logical course from the start.

Now, with the divided article in front of me, I check all sources to make sure that I didn’t miss any significant aspects. Of course, I also leave out points that I consider to be irrelevant. Thus, this point is not about making sure that I listed everything up, but rather about checking essentiality.

After everything else is done, I focus on the final heading. As you can probably tell, finding one really isn’t hard anymore. Of course, I’m talking about finding a factually correct heading.

If you want to continue with the previously mentioned content marketing, you’ll try to manage the balancing act between practicality and virality. That’s not for me.

Recommendations For the Perfect Heading

Nonetheless, there are some universally valid recommendations regarding headings. The most important thing is that the heading outlines the respective topic appropriately, while not making any promises it can’t or doesn’t want to keep.

We all know the type of headlines called click bait. Although the idea is undoubtedly successful, we really don’t want to force our readers into the article with sensationalistic exaggerations, do we?

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At least from my experience, I don’t recommend doing so. You can probably imagine that there are articles among my over 10,000 ones in which I either wanted to experiment or had to adjust to the editorial policy of different customers. Some of those headings may be successful, but they are very crude. You can safely assume that readers won’t be happy to find out that the headline only peripherally suits the article. My rudest reader discussions originate from these types of articles ;) So, stay away from them.

Let me repeat myself: It’s important that the heading outlines the topic, and gives the reader a good idea of what the article will contain. This is even more important than it was ten years ago, as articles are reduced to the headline while being spread on social media. There, they don’t have any additional context. You really need to pay attention to that.

In general, I can say that people prefer articles with an explanatory headline. This often doesn’t get along with the search engine optimization, though. So if you’d usually consider “Using the Image Format WebP is This Simple” to be optimal, you should consider writing “WebP: Using Google’s Image Format is This Simple” instead, keeping the article’s ranking in the search results in mind.

Regarding SEO, I don’t care about most aspects. If possible, I always try to put the topic at the beginning of the headline, and also make sure that it re-appears in the text’s first paragraph. I also attempt to keep the heading short enough to be fully displayed in the search results. That’s because a heading that you can’t read won’t be read ;)

Well, those were my tips for the perfect headline, the way I’ve been going about it for over ten years. They don’t apply to content marketers and ad writers, although I sympathize more with ad writers than with content marketers. They write advertisements and label them as such. Content marketers also write ads, but they don’t tell you…

Dieter Petereit

Dieter Petereit is a veteran of the web with over 25 years of experience in the world of IT. As soon as Netscape became available he started to do what already at that time was called web design and has carried on ever since. Two decades ago he started writing for several online publications, some well, some lesser known. You can meet him over on Google+.

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3 Comments on "Writer’s 101: The Perfect Heading"

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Alex Plotnikov
Guest

A big tip for any writer – stay away from Buzzfeed-like headlines. These are getting pretty obnoxious. “Her boyfriend can away from the wedding. You won’t believe what she did next!” or anything of that sort. It ruins the current content landscape. Sure, people might click the link, but unless there’s really something special about your content – they’ll be disappointed, after being agitated by a headline like that. Instead, focus on the real value of your content or the problem that it solves – this way you’ll keep your audience happy.

Jason Hartley
Guest

I like how you said for SEO writing, you still focus on the main topic of the article and then keywords secondary. With experience working in SEO, I have seen over the years how Google and other search engines continue to get more and more relevant, focusing almost as a human would on the content. If your content is engaging, by NOT having a spammy title, people will like it, the search engines will tell and I am sure you can find a place in the content or headers for your keyword or two.

john
Guest

Heading is the main part of a blog and article. An attractive heading may attract audience to read your blog even if you have average content but if title is not catchy then high quality content sometimes remain unseen by user. Very useful tips are shared here.

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