Elinor Mills’ recent CNET article, examines the topic of using key phrases for writing descriptive headlines that also act as enticements to get readers to click. Specifically the discussion centers around how online newspaper sites are training their writers to use search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to improve headlines for Web stories.

Elinor Mills refers to “SEO tricks” in her article. Since Ms. Mills’ article discusses writing for clarity and descriptiveness, perhaps a better choice of words in place of “SEO tricks” might be “SEO strategies.” This choice of words is important as the search engine optimization industry divides itself into “white hat” and “black hat” camps, with the “white hat” SEO practitioners working hard to differentiate themselves from the spam techniques employed by the so-called “black hats,” who engage in questionable tactics that the search engines themselves have declared off limits. The “black hats” might be able to fool the search engines temporarily; causing websites to gain high search positions in the short term. Researched, ethical, “white hat” search engine optimization strategies provide a longer term solution that will not get a site banned by the search engines, and form the basis for a broader Internet marketing program that can help drive more targeted traffic to a website.

Ms. Mills’ article provides intriguing insight into the challenges faced by the newspaper industry; and perhaps an effective idea for training online newspaper headline writers would be pay per click (PPC) ad writing, which can teach writers how to effectively incorporate key phrases within short, descriptive, enticing lines of text. There are many useful references that teach these PPC ad writing skills, including the authoritative Andrew Goodman’s Google Adwords Book.

But why stop with the written word? With the proliferation of broadband even smaller newspapers have designed video-centric websites that contain short video segments to complement the associated stories. Newspaper industry professionals can use SEO to optimize their video streams, podcasts, blog posts, and other new media offerings to build a richer experience for users that also allows the content to be more easily found in the search engines for targeted key phrases. Ms. Mills’ article has shown that newspaper professionals understand that SEO is more than “tricks” but a discipline that combines some art and some science. It is at the same time the challenge of thinking and writing precisely; serving two masters – the human user and the search engine robots.

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Leave a Comment

    • Lisa
    • June 8, 2007

    Thank you for writing in. Yes, I see what you mean about newspapers needing to be more accountable. There’s so much room for creativity on a newspaper website, and writing search friendly headlines is one way to help encourage click throughs. It has been interesting to watch the content improvement on even small city newspaper sites, which now often contain video and blog sections, and areas where readers can comment and interact with writers and each other.

    Newspaper sites have in the last year or so offered a variety of innovative and easy to use features. The New York Times beta My Times section is a very user friendly tool for adding and arranging content, and the Times’ podcast section is well done. I look forward to newspaper sites continuing to innovate in the areas of content optimization and delivery; whether it be headlines, audio, or video.

  1. Interesting post, the only difference is that people can use deceptive titles and keywords not completely related to a page’s content, whereas newspapers have accountability. Website can use longtail (i.e. niche) keywords to pull in the traffic, whereas an article’s title in a paper would probably have to be a proper description of what the article entails. Not a bad idea, but I think it works more for sites and youtube videos as far as encouraging clicks.

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