When working on SEO, you've most likely heard the term "keywords" being thrown around at every opportunity imaginable, and not without reason. Keywords are the foundation on which you connect your content to a search engine. They are the bridge between the substance of your content and its potential audience. Keywords aren't everything, though. They will make your page pop up on a Google search, but they are usually not enough to make whoever sees them click. That's where power words come in.
Power words appeal to that which keywords cannot: emotions. They aren't the content itself, but they emotionally engage the reader (positively or negatively) in a way that makes your link or title more attractive. Power words are typically classified based on which emotion they appeal to:
Given that they target different emotions, each set of power words can have a different objective in regards to how it wants to affect the reader.
Fear is one of the most potent emotions when it comes to capturing a person's attention and motivating them to take action. Targeting fear relies on our basic survival instincts as humans, which is why it's so effective.
Here are some examples of fear power words:
Power words are so good at what they do, that merely rewriting a sentence and adding in some power words will instantly make it more emotionally impactful. Here's an example. Say you have an article titled:
"10 Things to not do as a Startup Company"
By adding a few power words, we could change it to something like this:
"10 Mistakes to not Be Fooled by as a Startup Company"
It's as simple as that. "Mistakes" and "fooled" are both much more powerful and emotionally engaging than the abstract "things" and "not do," since they are not neutral. Both power words here affect the reader negatively, making them afraid of potentially being the "fool"... unless they click and read.
Knowing where to use power words is easy - they're almost always beneficial. The difficulty comes when figuring out which words to use specifically. Randomly picking power words isn't going to do much for you, so you must carefully choose which power words to use in what situation. It's an excellent opportunity to maximize the value you can get from the smallest of details.
To choose the correct power word to incorporate into your content, you need to ask yourself two simple questions:
- What is unique about my content, and what is it offering?
- Which emotion best relates to what the content is providing?
For example, if a life coach is trying to pick a title tag for when his or her website pops up on google, this might be current title tag:
"6 Morning Routines to Follow Everyday"
Initially, it's not a bad start. It's not too long, and it communicates what the content is. It's not very appealing, though. An easy way to spice up his title tag would be to add in some power words. If a life coach were to answer the two previous questions, the result would be:
- As a life coach, their content is unique insofar as it helps people who consume it to find goals and ways to achieve those goals in their lives.
- Their content best relates to emotions of Encouragement, and on a secondary level to Fear and Vanity.
Now that he knows which set of power words are useful to them, they can easily create a much more attractive title tag. Here's a list of some Encouragement Power words that could be used to energize the reader:
Using only a few of these words and adding them to the original title can turn into something like this:
"6 Amazing Morning Routines to Help You Thrive"
The title tag is already much better. By adding power words, and removing the redundancy between "routine" and "follow" every day, the new title tag is barely any longer than the previous one. The most significant difference is that this title now appeals to the reader's sense of motivation through the use of power words. It promotes the content's effectiveness and excitement with the use of "amazing" and makes a promise to the reader with the word "thrive."
The placement of power words is also essential, similar to keywords. Typically, you want to front-load your power words. This means concentrating the most important parts of your title in the first few words. This is so that readers can see your power words as early as possible and be affected by them before potentially losing interest. Here, "amazing" is positioned at the beginning of the title, which makes it a very potent power word. If front-loading is appropriately done, power words placed at the end of a title can also be beneficial, since they are the last words the reader will see. That's why adding "thrive" at the end of the title also boosts its effectiveness as a power word. In this case, the two power words used are well maximized and contribute to the title's attractiveness as much as possible.
It would be best if you were careful not to overdo it with power words, however. Just as having none of them makes a sentence bland, having too many of them will kill whatever "power" those words have. You have to find the right balance when it comes to power words or, you will end up causing more harm than good. Returning to the previous example, let's imagine the life coach used this as his new title tag:
"6 Amazing, Life-Changing Morning Routines to Help you Thrive and Win"
There are only two more power words than in the previous example, but already this title tag has some issues:
It's significantly longer than the two previous titles. Ideal title tags contain between 40 and 60 characters, and going beyond that may result in your claim getting truncated on SERPs. Adding those two new power words pushed the title from 45 characters to 68. The issue here is that search engines don't care about which words are being used; they only care about characters. "Thrive" and "win," which are supposed to be words that sell the title, are in danger of being truncated. In this case, the title will appear incomplete, but the very words that caused it will disappear. It's just poor character budget management, and it's not something you want.
There are too many power words to put it simply. Power words are used because they have an impact on those that read them but adding too many power words makes them compete with each other and undermine each other's effectiveness. Luckily enough, all the power words used here are Encouragement power words, so the effect is minor. Imagine what would happen if you had multiple power words from different sets competing with each other in a single title. That can be emotionally confusing to the reader and should be avoided at all costs.
Given the breadth of power words that exist in the English language, a comprehensive survey of all the words would take a book rather than a blog. Instead, take a look at the examples above to focus your power word strategy. If you are interested in discovering more examples of power words in different sets, Jon Morrow has an in-depth list of examples of power words for each set. Remember to use them wisely.