Internet Journalism

Search engine optimization for journalists

“This Boring Headline is Written for Google,” that’s the headline of a New York Times article on how news organizations are starting to practice search engine optimization in the writing of headlines.

The article says that news organizations increasingly see the need to optimize their site for search engine crawlers as search engine traffic accounts for at least 30 percent of news website traffic.

The thing is, the New York Times article says, “software bots are not your ordinary readers: They are blazingly fast yet numbingly literal-minded. There are no algorithms for wit, irony, humor or stylish writing. The software is a logical, sequential, left-brain reader, while humans are often right brain.”

Some news sites offer two headlines. One headline, often on the first Web page, is clever, meant to attract human readers. Then, one click to a second Web page, a more quotidian, factual headline appears with the article itself. The popular BBC News Web site does this routinely on longer articles.

Nic Newman, head of product development and technology at BBC News Interactive, pointed to a few examples from last Wednesday. The first headline a human reader sees: “Unsafe sex: Has Jacob Zuma’s rape trial hit South Africa’s war on AIDS?” One click down: “Zuma testimony sparks HIV fear.” Another headline meant to lure the human reader: “Tulsa star: The life and career of much-loved 1960’s singer.” One click down: “Obituary: Gene Pitney.”

One thing blog content management systems like WordPress can teach news media organizations is the nifty feature on being able to specify your URL slug. In the BBC headlines, for example, if your news CMS has this WordPress feature, you can use “Tulsa star: The life and career of much-loved 1960’s singer” as headline and yet use obituary-gene-pitney as URL slug of the article.

What I’ve learned in search engine optimization sites (SEOPhilippines is an example of a great resource, it also has a mailing list, where you learn a lot of things related to SEO) is that dynamic urls, especially with ? and = in them, do not score well in SEO as much as pretty urls do such as: headlines-optimize-for-SEO.html. That’s why I love the way my newspaper CMS caches its dynamically generated pages, it produces static HTML files with the article title used as filename, thus the article title becomes part of the URL.

By Max Limpag

Max is a journalist and blogger based in Cebu City, Philippines. He is co-founder of the journalism start-up InnoPub Media.