Thursday, May 14, 2009

Web headlines: More title tips

One key to writing a good online headline, the SEO experts will tell you, is including the most important keywords at the very front of your title. An interesting new study from Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox breaks this concept down even further by analyzing the first 11 characters of a headline to analyze if a reader can realistically determine what a page/article is about.

The concept of this "nanocontent" study is based on the idea that readers scan online content in an f-shaped pattern, whether it's in a search engine, an RSS feed or some other aggregator, and that these links often appear out of context with no supporting information to let you know what you might find on a page. Therefore, this study suggests, the first 11 characters are the most important part of your headline.

So I couldn't help but analyze some of the headlines I've looked at today on sites I work with. For one site, today's top story read, "Private fleets like larger trucks." This headline would not likely score too well in Nielsen's study because the first 11 characters (including spaces) are "Private fle." A better headline could have read, "Truck weight limits: Private fleets prefer larger trucks," which puts "Truck weigh" at the beginning and gives the reader a much better idea what the article might be about.

Here's another example, this time from an aviation site: "DOT withdraws slot auction rule." The better option likely would have been "Slot auction rule cancelled by DOT," putting "Slot auction" at the front instead of "DOT withdra."

As the article mentions, don't get hung up on the 11 characters thing, either. I still think, as a general rule, your first two words are the most important, regardless of the number of characters, but this is something worth keeping in mind.

But Nielsen's study goes into much greater detail than I can here. I strongly suggest checking it out and the site in general. Every time I visit the site, I learn something or am reminded of important SEO concepts that I've let slip.

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