Headlines, titles and brands: who do you need to grab – humans or search engines?

It has always been important to choose a title or headline that will grab attention, but now with an increasing focus on the online world it’s no longer a case of grabbing people’s attention. You’ve got to grab the search engines by the throat too, and they’re very different animals.

Recently I was reading a very interesting blog post by my good friend and internet marketing expert Nikki Pilkington, who suggested a very competent solution for headlines and titles all within the online environment:

“In order to appear in (decent) results on Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc, you need to think about what people are searching for. And write your blog title accordingly.

“Oh but that means a really dull and obviously written title for search engines, and my blog is more creative than that”, said another client last week. And I see her point – you don’t spend ages crafting a fantastic headline only to have to stuff it full of keywords so that it appeals to a search engine.

And that’s where an SEO plugin comes in handy. Most SEO plugins for WordPress (we use All in One SEO) allow you to craft TWO titles for your blog posts. One of those titles will appear as the headline of the blog, so you can be as witty and clever as you like without worrying about those pesky search engines. The OTHER title is one that appears at the top of the browser, and the one that Google will take into account when deciding where to put you in the results.”

But what happens when you need to create a cohesive marketing message across online and offline media?

That’s where the conflict really begins to dig in. Why? Because as soon as your marketing or other communications strategy drops off the online radar, it’s out there in the old-fashioned and distinctly less friendly print media.  No more boring search engine spiders that take you literally at your word; now you have to grab intelligent, choosy human beings by the throat.

The clever-clever ad campaigns of the pre-internet era were very good at grabbing human throats, but the spiders crawl straight on past pretty much everything that isn’t a keyword.

Is this why current print and broadcast advertising (and their online siblings) have become more down-to-earth?

In recent years consumers have started thumbing their noses at the ridiculously unbelievable advertising and brand claims of the past few decades. Ever since the it “does exactly what it says on the tin” advertising campaign for Ronseal started back in 1994, many other advertisers have taken the hint and toned down their output. Is this a happy coincidence?

Or is it related to the whole no-more-bullshit ethos that the internet has generated and now, perhaps, is ironically being reinforced by the dour, unimaginative search engine spiders?

Whatever the answer, I would put money on it having been a stonking headache even for some of the major brands to rationalize their cross-media campaigns for the spiders, and I bet many an angry fist of an old-fashioned advertising creative has been shaken at Google.

Overall, I feel the influence of the internet and search engines is a good thing for all types of advertising because it has forced it all to become more honest, while still being catchy and creative.

What do you think?

Brush up your writing for headlines and much more:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English




  1. Suze,

    Great post here on the problems relating to Title Tags, search engines and human visitors. It’s difficult to create Title Tags that appeal to both but it can be done with a little creativity.

    It’s worth noting that many times we see organic listings in the serp’s that are further down the page, have higher click-through rates because the Title Tag had something that enticed the visitor that other listings higher up the page didn’t have. So it really is worth spending some time perfecting this Tag for your web pages. On my blog I give one example of how to balance both.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Suzan St Maur, Suzan St Maur. Suzan St Maur said: Whose throats should the headlines grab now – humans' or search engines'? http://tinyurl.com/68gmp5z #search #engines #writing […]

  2. BizSugar.com says:

    Search engines or humans: whose throats should you grab??…

    Writing for search engines as well as trying to catch humans’ interest can be hard. Expert bizwriter Suzan St Maur explores the problems……