An interesting article in the New York Times on how newspapers are finding the art of writing headlines is changing. Back when you were solely trying to draw attention from readers of a broadsheet, being clever was the name of the game. But now that online content is starting to become a significant revenue stream for newspapers, and much of their traffic comes through search engines such as Google News or other new aggregators, creating headlines is becoming a very different art. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art and science of making your website friendly to search engines. As it turns out, headlines are a critical part of this. Google and other search engines very heavily overweight words that are in page and story titles. Words used in titles need to be relevant to the article, so search engines can classify them. It’s been very interesting to me as this blog has gained traction to see how people are finding the blog, and what gets good search engine rankings. For example posts on this blog come up #1 on Google for a wide range of search terms, including “monetizing eyeballs“, “client sophistication“, “blogging serialization“, and many others. These are all words that are in the titles of the respective blog posts. Understanding how this works strongly influences what I – or any blogger or editor – choose to use as headlines.
Part of what the newspapers are doing is setting up dual pages, one with the traditional newspaper headline, the other with the search-engine friendly version, intended for different human or automated readers. The thing is that you are not just targetting search engines, but also news aggregration sites such as Memeorandum and Daypop News. Michael Parekh makes some interesting points on this regarding optimization for multiple platforms. Tagging and other approaches will help on this front, but for now content creators need to work out their priorities in how they optimize their sites and content to be found on the web.