Sunday, October 26, 2008
Better Headlines for the Search Engine Era
When it comes to getting your news story seen and read, writing a clever, enticing and informative headline still makes all the difference, whether your story is on the front page of the newspaper or vying for space on Google News.
A panel of journalism and online experts discussed the difference between "traditional" journalism and online news Saturday at the University of Oregon as part of a day-long conference, "Building a Better Journalist," organized by the Oregon and Southwest Washington Chapter of SPJ.
"News Google Can Use" featured Rachel Anderson of Anvil Media in Portland; Rob Smith, editor of the Portland Business Journal; and UO journalism professor John Russial.
While print publications can still attract "eyeballs" with clever headlines along with attractive photos and graphics, online journalists have to keep search engines foremost in their thinking. More specifically, headlines and story content must focus on nouns -- the traditional people, places and things -- that are going to land content at the top of the Google search list.
So, for example, a vague headline that proclaims "Candidate's supporters crash opponent's visit" doesn't stand a chance of being noticed against one that lets readers know "Merkley supporters crash Smith's Oregon campaign visit."
"You just need to think about it from a different perspective," said Anderson, who gave session attendees a crash course on search engine optimization, including emphasizing keywords in headlines as well as stories.
Why does it matter? Because online you need eyeballs to drive revenue, and the higher your content rates on various search engine lists the more likely readers are to click through and see ads that accompany the story.
Russial, who teaches editing and headline writing, reminded the audience that coming up with quality headlines that attract readers hasn't changed with the advent of the Internet. "Writing headlines is not trivial. You have to put some thought into it."
In many instances, he added, straight-forward "search engine headlines" are better simply because they tell the news. That should be a good reminder for all journalists, regardless of their medium.
Overall, about 100 people attended the conference, including journalism professionals and students from around the region.