As search engine optimization becomes the critical component to a well-read article on the Internet, the time has come for web editors to stop writing headlines that involve a play on words and start crafting SEO-friendly headlines instead.
Most journalists, of course, would disagree with this approach, as they have spent years honing their skills in writing witty headlines.
“I understand the shift toward search optimization, but I think we’re losing something when we take the wordplay and surprise out of headline writing,” says Matthew Crowley, a copy editor for Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Crowley, a one-time winner of American Copy Editors Society’s top award for headline writing, often finds that his ‘punny’ headlines for the Review-Journal have been re-written by the online desk to include literal keywords and be more search-engine-friendly. For example, when Harrah’s casino announced plans to build a new entertainment center with an observation wheel, Crowley came up with the headline “Brave new whirl.” The online desk changed it to “Harrah’s plans retail, entertainment center.”
“A lot of times I’ll write something, and the online desk will rewrite it because it doesn’t work. And that’s because Google doesn’t laugh,” he says.
That’s right, search engines aren’t really into funny headlines, so it’s best to write headlines that literally describe the article – sans pun, for the sake of SEO.
The ‘Most Best’ Readers
It’s understandable that rather than settle for a humorless future, some online editors are fighting back by refusing to embrace SEO guidelines for every story. David Plotz, editor of the influential online magazine Slate, is one of them.
“It’s not about getting the most readers; it’s about getting the ‘most best’ readers,” says Plotz. “There are headlines you can write which, because they’re so clear and have so much of the subject in them, you will get a little bit more SEO,” Plotz says. “But if you write a really clever headline that your most readers love, and they think, ‘I’m so in on this joke,’ you will deepen that relationship with them.”
However, this approach is still NOT the most effective one.
“Readers need more information when they’re browsing content on the Web – it’s a fact,” says Ian Lurie, president of a Portent Interactive, a Seattle-based Internet marketing agency specializing in SEO. “Depriving readers of valuable information in an effort to make them click will backfire every time.”