Headlines Are For Humans, Titles Are For Robots

For good SEO, choose the right title.

As we all spend more time in social media, such as Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon or Sphinn, the ability to write catchy headlines becomes as important as it ever was. If someone skimming through a list of possible topics is intrigued by your headline, then they may dip in to find out what it’s all about. That’s why Brian Clark suggested you should be writing Magnetic Headlines. If you were using WordPress to write your blog, then you would presumably put that catchy headline in that field labelled Title. It all seems so easy, but in fact it’s a little too easy. In what follows to avoid confusion, we’ll call what appears in that WordPress Title field the Headline.

Although your Headline may be written to attract human beings, it may not work well in a search engine keyword ranking. Since the largest proportion of the traffic to your website will come via search engines, it may be worth using something that the search engine robots will find attractive. The problem is that WordPress uses the expression in that Title field in a number of different ways. It is of course used as the headline in the < H1 > heading for your blog. It is also used as the Title element in the head of your blog page. This is the text that appears in the bar across the top of the screen. If you have nominated Pretty Permalinks, then the WordPress will also use the same text to develop the URL for the post.

Creating Optimal Titles

This is where the dilemma arises. The Title in the head of the blog page is very important in search engine rankings. The URL may also have a slight effect on these rankings. Optimizing the text for search engine robots will likely produce something, which is not necessarily one of those Magnetic Headlines that was being suggested.

Luckily help is at hand from a variety of sources. For example, Stephan Spencer and his colleagues have developed SEO Title Tag 2.1.3, which allows you to specify a Title for the blog post, which can be different from the headline. A more complete solution is provided by the All in One SEO Pack PlugIn from Uberdose. This not only allows an independent title but also has a number of other useful features. Even used ‘out of the box’ with default settings the PlugIn will achieve a good part of what is needed to optimize your blog posts for the Search Engines. Katy Castro has a good description of how to use it.

Getting the Meta Description Right

An equally important element in getting search engine traffic to your blog post is the text in the Meta Description for the blog post. The All in One SEO Pack allows you to prepare a separate description for each page. If you don’t, the default is that it will take the first 155 or so characters from the start of the post and use that. That avoids a problem Google has in indexing blog posts that all have the same Meta Description. Checking your website with the Google Webmaster Tools website will tell you whether duplicate descriptions is a problem for your blog.

By writing the most engaging description of your blog post in 155 or less characters, you increase the chance that this is what Google will show in its search engine report pages (SERPs). Most such snippets are a jumble of words that Google selects to try to show that its selection may be relevant to the keyword search. A well-crafted sentence will encourage many more visitors to click through to your blog post.

Although the Keywords MetaTag is of limited value nowadays, the plug-in does allow you to specify what keywords are most appropriate. Again if you do not specify keywords, the plug-in will select keywords by default from either the categories or from any tags that post may have.

The URL Of The Blog Post

A secondary factor in the optimization of the blog post is the URL for the blog post. Selecting the Pretty Permalinks option is one important step here for a WordPress blog. Unfortunately as mentioned above, this is again derived from the Headline of the blog post. You will find the text used in the Post Slug element in the right hand column of the Edit screen. It is derived by taking the Headline of the Post, putting all letters in lower case and adding hyphens between the words. This is not something where the All in One SEO Pack PlugIn helps. However as the WordPress Codex recommends, if you want to create a more memorable URL, then you can create such a one using lower case words and hyphens. Often taking the Title you have derived for the All in One SEO Pack PlugIn and converting it will be a good way to go.


Users of the All in One SEO Pack PlugIn are effusive in their praise of how well it works, even using it ‘out of the box’. If at least for your more worthy blog posts, you go the extra mile by crafting individual entries for the PlugIn, then you will see a significant increase in your visitor traffic. If you want to see how such a post appears, you can check this post. The headline was of course, Headlines Are For Humans, Titles Are For Robots. However in the Title bar at the top of the screen, note the Title of the post, Write SEO Titles For High Rankings. A version of that also appears in the URL. Check the description by viewing the source code. It’s all extra effort but a very good use of your time.

69 thoughts on “Headlines Are For Humans, Titles Are For Robots”

  1. Some things to consider

    Your post title will appear in RSS feeds and get used by a large number of people giving you backlinks, even the splogs.
    Social bookmark plugins will pick up the page title, not your headline

    There are good reasons to make your initial headline useful for SEO, and if it is written for high CTR then it is also potentially something better to have in the SERPs as well.

  2. Of course you’re right, Andy. My Headline for this post is deliberately more black and white than it needs to be to attract more interest among readers in social media. However if you see the Title and the Headline as two opportunities to tune the message, that gives extra flexibility. All I’m suggesting is that the priority target for the Title can be the robot, while the priority target for the Headline can be the human visitor.

  3. One great way to see high CTR on titles is to monitor forums in the niche as if the forum ranks you are able to see the cross section between members and SERP clicks on the threads title..

  4. Great post and explanation. I’ll have to look into the SEO Title Tag plugin. I’ve heard a few things about it but haven’t ever taken the time to really look into it and see how useful it could be for me when I’m already running the All in One SEO Pack.

    Also, thank you for the link back to my tutorial on I’m Blogging That.

  5. You know it’s amazing how many CMS systems don’t have the ability to create different titles, headlines and URL’s out of the box. good post.

  6. Thank you, Michael. You’re right and it’s worth adding descriptions to that list since Google seems to find them important, even if they don’t affect rankings.

  7. Really useful post Barry. I’ve just started using WordPress with the all-in-one SEO plugin so thanks for providing the link to Katy’s post as well, that’ll really help to learn some of the finer points of using the pack.

  8. I’m glad you like it, Ken. I’m enthusiastic about the ability of the plugin, particularly if you put the extra effort in for your more noteworthy posts.

  9. Barry, Great article. Your advice about focusing on the first 155 characters is something I will be sharing with my team.

    And there ya go! Another useful use for Twitter (with its 142 character limit) — perfect way to practice getting to the point early.


  10. Thanks, Anita. You can’t guarantee that Google will choose to use your 155 characters in its snippet, but when it does it certainly gives a more enticing entry.

  11. I’ve been using James Brausch’s Glyphius to help me write headlines that search engines like. It lets me try different variations and scores them for effectiveness against its database. It even counts characters so I can optimize for Twitter or other short snippets.

  12. That’s interesting, Charlotte. However I’ll be looking into it to write my Titles rather than my Headlines. If I find it’s created something memorable for humans too, then I’d use the same for both. Thanks for the suggestion.

  13. Barry, Great article! Lots of good information. Its amazing how many times I still see “Home Page” as the title for a page. Many people are still using the same meta description by default on all their pages and unfortunatley, like greywolf said, there are still some CMSs that do not allow these fields to be edited or optimized. This is a good start and explanation for some on-site SEO that is easy to understand even for the most novice of bloggers/site creators.

  14. Bob, I assume you mean allowing others to track-back to your post. In effect this is a back-link to use Google’s term (Yahoo! calls it an inlink). Such links provided they’re from authoritative websites are certainly useful in gaining higher Google rankings.

  15. I find that the All in One SEO Pack PlugIn is a must for every WordPress install. I find it crazy how many times I see a WordPress blog that is just a plain install with at most permalinks and no SEO enhancing plugins, when in fact one of the huge benefits of using software like wordpress is the availability of having a non technical user install plugins to upgrade their software.

  16. Very useful information.
    One of my first mistakes was when adding new pages was i didnt change the description tags, so all pages had the same. Not long after these went into google’s suplemental index.
    The title and description tags are very important to both search engine and visitor.

  17. Hi,
    thanks for your great tutorial….i am happy and proud to announce i am using most of it already, also installed the SEO plugin and i am working on tweaking it for perfect results….merci. Gina.

  18. Right on. I normally try to craft the title tag for robots yet still makes some sense to humans, and similarly craft the headline for humans while still good enough for the robots and let that headline automatically end up in the url (via the permalink feature). However, it does make sense to make the page url more memorable, so perhaps from now on I will also try to shorten the page url name with quick edit before hitting the publish button.

  19. I employ a very similar strategy as Dave. It is a fine balance between catering to the engines, and making sure that your site is sticky enough for people to find what they are looking for if they decide to come back.

  20. Good tips everyone. I think the overall sentiment is that you cannot go without SEO-All-In-One plugin! It simply provides more title and meta description flexibility if you choose to use it, even on a per post/page basis.

    However, if a beginner does not want to deal with plugins in the beginning, he/she needs to take that extra minute to tweak the site title and tag in the settings->general menu, and then make the settings->permalinks to be custom structured to: /%postname%/

    That’s the bare minimum, and can go a long way to at least get the site’s home page ranked decently if not in too competitive of a market. =)

  21. I have downloaded this recomended plugins. It is easy to use also for novice webmasters and the SEO of your blog will be mutch better.

  22. I am one who is definitely guilty of using All in One SEO plugin straight out of the box… I really need to go back into the settings and check what else it’s capable of.

    But I disagree with the notion of some comments of catering to search engines vs humans. I am coming straight from a corporate intranet background where my organization just wants to find files/pages. This SMM thing is completely new to me so I guess I need to get with the times. But I still contend that having zippy catchy titles won’t help the audience find what they are looking for. They want that policy NOW!

    I’m still of the belief this is the case for the Internet at large. You’re catering to a specific readership with SMM but there’s a bigger fish to catch with SEO.

  23. I think it’s very important to get a good call to action inside your title. There’s nothing more frustrating than to get a top 3 (thanks to a SEO written title) but no visitors or a lot of visitors but no conversions.

    Another great Wp plugin to get custom titles, etc is the headspace plugin.


  24. Write for humans, and the keywords will follow. Don’t think about keyword density or get too obsessive with keywords. Write compelling content and you will snag repeat visitors to your site. I’ve seen some awful content that’s clearly written only with search engines in mind. I find that kind of thing very off-putting, and that site has lost me for good. You’ll rank better if people link to you, and how do you get links if your content is shoddy? Keep it simple – concentrate on your audience and everything else will fall into place.

  25. I was under the impression that meta description helps but I did not know the standard 155 characters or less also adds to the advantage. I changed my meta description as soon as I read the post and made it to exactly 151 characters. Thanks Barry.

  26. The limit on the meta description is really just to prevent your description looking too spammy. It should be short and concise to describe the page with a good variance of keywords.

  27. I think that’s a great plugin and thank you very much for the information. Still, I don’t agree that optimizing a title for search engines necessarily makes a “magnetic headline” impossible, even if they are the same words. In theory, including the most relevant keywords of the topic could easily be combined with making a descriptive and catchy headline for the post. There may be cases where this isn’t possible, but that just underscores the value of All in one SEO Pack! A truly fantastic post you’ve written here.

  28. I was using this plugin for a while now… It’s the best one I came across and I am blogging for 2 years now… Some good points here.. My dime is keep your title as shortened to the main keyphrase as you can!

  29. Great post! Like you said I think a great title coupled with a great description is the key to increasing search rankings and CTR. Why this is so often overlooked is beyond me and ALL in One SEO makes it easy.

  30. @ Vic thanks for the tip
    I was install all in one seo pack plugin and now it really easy make desc tit ..
    Also plugin help me promote my blog.

  31. I totally agree, the All in One SEO Pack Plug-in is one of the must have wordpress plug-ins.
    Headlines for users should contain keywords, you just have to put a little extra thought into it and get used to including keywords and phrases into your page titles. After all, if you want to rank high for certain terms, you need to have the related content for your audience.

  32. I would like to install it but i’m having a problem with this plugin:

    In the control panel (/wp-admin/plugins.php) the title is black (where any other plugins have a blue title). And it does not show up in ’settings’ when I activate it.
    I’m using PHP Version 5 (though I have also tried the v.4 version).

  33. I agree the headlines are important but titles are critical. I find many use titles for the search engines only, but it’s very important for humans too. If i don’t like the title i will not click on your site even it’s number one in the search results.

  34. Great summary of the topic. I usually put the same title, url and headline but now I think I’ll focus more on what you’ve written.

    BTW, nice blog. I’m gonna visit it regularly.

  35. You know it’s amazing how many CMS systems don’t have the ability to create different titles, headlines and URL’s out of the box. good post.

  36. thanks for the nice summary. finally someone shows how important meta tags again are. all the time everybody tells you “backlinks, backlinks, backlinks”, but what about a good on-site optimization? the meta “description” tag is perfect for a summary to be displayed in the search results of google. though it can be bit of a challenge when it comes to user generated content.

  37. Duplicate content is always a problem with Google. Therefor it’s very important to use WP-plugins like all-in-one-SEO. it’s a bit of a work to edit meta data for every single post, but it pays off at the end of the day.

  38. Great article, I think I’ve installed just about every SEO WP plugin made. It takes a lot of time but I really think in the long run it’s worthwhile.

  39. I’m using All-in-one SEO for a while now and it is pretty good, but I think I’ll agree with andybeard on the point that the main title should be the same one in case you are linked by other websites, that is the title you’ll get. Hence, less effective back-links because of the anchor text.

  40. Great points everyone! I’ve been working with the all in one SEO and it seems to do a decent job and I would suggest it for new webmasters who are not yet comfortable with editing and changing code.

  41. Certainly true. And some great points above – think about it another way – how often do you read the title of sites in your browser?

    We see them occasionally, of course, but I don’t think we really take them in.

    The headline (assuming a good design) however, should stand out – and immediately tell the human reader if they want to continue or not.

  42. As someone who works with clients whose Title say “The So-and-So Law Firm”, I am intimately familiar with the subject of this post.

    And I’ve yet to find a better alternative than the all-in-one-seo plugin for WP. It’s in use on my blog….and I install it on any client that has an existing blog – or wants to create one.

  43. what a impressive article. last days I didn’ t read post like that. I am now your blog’ s follower thanks for this useful blog. I am now your blog’s rss follower.

  44. nice post, just to add few things. It is better to have a straight forward topic. People generally try to have long sentences. So, I would suggest to have something like company | product1 | product2. Same goes for Metas specifically keywords. The less the more relevant. Google snapist only show 29 words in description so try to keep with in this.

  45. Agree. All-in-one-seo-pack is really the best SEO plugins available for WordPress. And that balancing a good page title for spiders and comprehensive for human users is the art of SEOers.

    However, sometimes just some small modifications, without using any SEO plugins, we still can make good and unique titles. I’m testing this in my CuocThiSEO web site. You can view source to see that there’s no Metadata-relevant plugins here. 🙂 I think I would share this at the end of the SEO Contest I’m joining.

    Thank you,

  46. The All-in-one-seo-pack is the best tool a blogger can get his hands on. I can’t see any of my blogs without it.
    Just try to create a good meta description with your meta keywords and try to not overuse the same keywords over and over again like some people tend to do.

  47. One question about TITLEs. Is it absolutely positively necessary to keep a title under 80 characters or do the bots really care anymore in this day and age. It’s difficult to find this specific information. Wonderful info, otherwise!


  48. The bots for Google will certainly index pretty well as big a title as you want to include. What they do with it in terms of relevance algorithms is highly questionable. Of course Google will display only about 80 characters in the SERPs and that will be what is visible at the top of the screen. IMHO it is a waste of effort to put any more than that in the TITLE.

  49. Really some great advice here. Most don’t understand how great the title is, and how much it can change the game (especially within MSN and Yahoo).. As others have mentioned All in One is a great wordpress plug-in that allows you to maximize your blogs potential and I recommend it to all of my clients that have blogs attached to their websites. Fantastic information and some great help in the comments as well.

  50. I am a big fan of the All in One SEO plugin for wordpress. Between the ease of use, and its abilities to set the post apart from all the rest, its importance is immeasurable.

  51. I mainly use All In One SEO on all my blogs. But for the most part, I find that the most important thing is the permalinks setup, and then just to use good titles for your posts. That usually takes care of most of the optimization for individual posts all by itself.

  52. TN570 hit that on the head. Page titles are key but it currently looks like the URL path is just as important.

    Of course you need to make sure that you’re not overdoing the keywords as to come across as stuffing them in. But if you are providing legitimate content that your readers will find of value then title and URL go hand in hand for SEO.


  53. An overloaded title is the last thing that you need, it may end up annoying the reader. Use an appropriate keyword in a phrase, not just a short confusing word. Give a clear title, and related with the content

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