To SEO Or Not To SEO (The Headline), That Is The Question

OK, it’s not exactly Shakespeare.

But it does raise a question for communication professionals. Namely, should cleverness or search engine optimization be the guiding principle in writing a news release headline?

I pondered this question after reading the interview conducted by Brian Pittman from the Bulldog Reporter with Meredith Artley, executive editor of LATimes.com.

Specifically, Artley shared:

“We have a graining program to help copy editors write headlines optimized for search. That means headlines that might have used metaphors or clever word usage in the past won’t work anymore — at least not for the website, because people don’t search for turns of phrases. They search for nouns and descriptors. Sure, this may take some of the ‘art’ out of the writing, but an artful headline that nobody sees is useless if you can’t find it on Google.”

Now there’s a sobering comment.

No matter how much drama, humanity and humor you bring to a headline, it’s all for naught if the words don’t resonate with the Google algorithm.

It turns out that this topic has been bandied about for some time, with one of the better posts coming from CNET with the header, “Newspapers search for Web headline magic.”

CNET makes the point that a Wall Street Journal article with the witty headline “Green Beans Comes Marching Home” - about Green Beans Coffee opening its cafe in the U.S. after serving overseas military bases - doesn’t cut it with the SEO generation.

In other words, if you’re looking for information about the intersection of coffee with military bases or soldiers, the takeoff on “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” means zilch to search engines.

As the news release has evolved from a tool for journalists to a form of communication to the average Joe/Joanne, it’s clear that SEO should rule the day at least for the headline.

This is one of those instances when the power of entertaining must give way to vanilla information.

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2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Jim Sinkinson September 17th, 2008 5:51 am

    Lou, your comments on storytelling are always incisive, and this one was equally thought-provoking. I want to clarify that Brian Pittman’s interview appeared in Bulldog Reporter’s “Journalists Speak Out on PR” ezine and in Bulldog Reporter’s “Daily ‘Dog” online trade journal (www.bulldogreporter.com/dailydog), two of many information services under the venerable Bulldog Reporter brand. Best,
    Jim Sinkinson
    Publisher, Bulldog Reporter

  2. Lou Hoffman September 17th, 2008 7:20 am

    Jim, apprciate you chiming in with the clarification. As you know, we’re oneof numerous firms who depend on Bulldog for intelligence.

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