2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced each day. This avalanche of data requires us to become better at page-scanning, of which the F-shaped strategy is well known. The days when people consumed content from the first capital letter to the final period is long gone.
As a content creator, you have a role to play in making the lives of your visitors easier. You can use techniques to help users find relevant and valuable content. One of them is frontloading the headlines on your website or blog. By doing so, you’ll set clear expectations for people and Google crawlers alike.
The impact of frontloading on SEO is noticeable: when Ahrefs tried frontloading one of their pages’ title, the traffic on that page increased by 37%. All with a simple change that you can apply to your titles as well.
Table of Contents
Frontloading: what is it?
Frontloading is optimizing the title of your content to contain the most important terms right at the beginning. It is the equivalent of starting with the broad idea and then filling in the details.
This concept is important in copywriting and SEO fields for similar reasons.
In the copywriting world, it’s an opportunity to put the trigger words at the beginning, connecting to the pain points of your target audience. They’re called “trigger” because they elicit interest or emotion, hooking the attention of the reader. And if you have their attention, their click might soon follow.
As for SEO, Google likes frontloaded titles because they provide a better expectation of what users will find on the page. Ahrefs reports that Google rewrites some page titles, applying frontloading techniques to provide a better search experience.
To give you a better idea of how it looks, here’s an example:
- “Download our white paper and increase your productivity.” (While descriptive, the goods are sitting at the end.)
- “Increase productivity: download our white paper.” (The frontloaded option gives a clearer idea of what to expect by clicking the link.)
SEO: Ranking higher with Google
First, let’s locate your headline in technical terms. In HTML, the <title> tag sits on the <header> of the webpage. It appears in places such as:
- The search engine results page (the blue clickable text in a Google search result that leads to your page);
- Social media share snippets;
- The title of the browser tab;
When indexing your page, Google will look inside the <title> tag for the description of your content, and gather the relevant keywords present. Having your frontloaded headline here can have a positive impact on your page rank, as the Ahrefs experiment above demonstrates.
Benefits of frontloading
The moment Google returns a result page to a user, the clock is ticking. Your website is sitting there on the list, competing with other headlines. The eyes are scanning, trying to lock on the needed information.
By having the target keywords right at the beginning, the eyes of users will lock on to your headline, making it more likely that they’ll read it to the end. Now that you’ve caught their attention, they will take a look at the link and the page preview text, and click through to your page.
Since you were clear in your title, your users know what to expect of your website. This is the point where you need to deliver the promise you made with quality content to match the headline.
Managing expectations (and avoiding clickbait titles)
You should keep the content of the page in line with these expectations. Google’s algorithms can determine the relationship between content within a page. If the promise is great but the content doesn’t match it, users will click away from the website. This can be devastating for an online reputation. The term clickbait derives from this difference between the headline and the content: the promise wasn’t fulfilled.
As long as you keep your promises, and as your content delights your audience, more traffic will come your way. Google will move your page up until you’re sitting at the top, giving you more visibility.
Lastly, frontloading pleases other content creators as well. When looking for pages to link for more information, frontloaded headlines are clearer and give a better sense of authority.
Do it: choose your keywords
Time to get to practice. Type your complete headline into your favorite keyword explorer.
You’ll see a list of keywords related to your headline (you can even see which pages are currently ranking for each set, with how many keywords).
Find a short keyword that best describes your content. Now, insert this keyword at the beginning of the headline. How does it look? Is it simple and accurate? Does it describe your content clearly? Keep tinkering until you find a satisfying result.
Test it: The 11 character experiment
The Nielsen Norman Group conducted an experiment that you can replicate to test your own headlines. After selecting 20 different links across established websites such as Amazon.com, Barclays Bank and Fujitsu, 80 people were shown truncated versions that were just 11 characters long.
You can do the same. Reduce the headline you just created to the first 11 characters (with spaces). Can you tell what the content is about? Try showing it to someone else, preferably someone who isn’t familiar with your website. What does that person expect to find from reading that small piece of content? This should give you some clues on which keywords are more important to lead with, as well as a base to experiment.
Here’s what the Nielsen Norman group found in the best links:
- Plain language;
- Specific terminology;
- Following naming best practices specific to the industry;
- Action-oriented terms;
- and, you guessed it, frontloaded headlines;
In contrast, the worst links offered generic, bland or made-up words; meaningless fluff; or had the important keywords towards the end of the headline.
Your best foot forward
Frontloading your keywords is a valuable optimization technique. Don’t bury your value after too many introductory words. Put those keywords right at the beginning. Your headlines will be sharper and more to the point. From a marketing point of view, it has a chance to capture attention, elicit emotion and spark interest. And when these qualities are present, a click is sure to come.
It doesn’t only please your website visitors – you’re helping them find what they’re looking for effortlessly – it also benefits your page rank within search engines. As a result, frontloading your keywords has the potential to break through the noise, increasing the value and authority of your content.