If you read about SEO as much as I do, you'll see it get blamed - or worse, marginalized - for many things and reasons.
Price. Pandas. Pestilence. You name it. We even see it die on a regular basis. Last week, an editor of The New York Times decided that "SEO is BS" and that search engines will be a relic.
But none of it has prepared me for what I read in The Atlantic this week: 'Google Doesn't Laugh': Saving Witty Headlines in the Age of SEO
From David Wheeler's article:
Indeed, as newspapers embrace search engine optimization, and as young journalists are taught to value Google visibility above all else, many copy editors fear that funny headlines are quickly going the way of the classified ad.
Absurdity aside, let's first get this misplaced blame out of the way: Online publications don't have to rewrite anything.
[Pushes up nerdy glasses]
Most have the ability to separate these fields, allowing writers/editors to write a separate, more descriptive and SEO-friendly headline that goes in the title tag (purely for the search engines), while keeping their witty, pun-filled headline as is (which is usually an H1 and for the readers). Yes, you'd want the terms/phrases you'd like to rank for in both fields to maximize SEO-friendliness of the content, but this is an easy win for both audiences. Even then, I've recommended to clients that they change the headline to the more SEO-friendly version after the initial day (or issue).
But here's another thing: many traditional newspaper sites already have this ability built into their CMS. Publications like the Wall Street Journal. The New York Times does it too, just check out the headline and the top of your browser.
For many journalists, SEO = headline keyword stuffing. It's all they know. However, if journalists really want to know and understand how SEO can help them and their publications they should worry a lot less about the importance of headlines and focus on their company's sitemaps, site architecture, endless duplicate content, internal linking and the like.
But they won't. Many journalists opine about headlines and keyword stuffing because that's all the information their SEO team is giving them. And it's all most care to know.
Sadly, it's nothing more than Maslow's hammer at play.
What those at The New York Times and The Atlantic may not know is that not everyone in SEO came from the web development side. Some of us are writers too. Always were. Sat in the same journalism classes. Perfected ledes for a JV field hockey games. Brainstormed those punny headlines they hold so dear.
SEO journalist types rolled up their sleeves and figured out the best of both worlds. They learned how to syndicate, aggregate and update to the masses.
We get the love for your headlines, we're just over it. SEO didn't kill the cute headline, the click did. The sheer volume of content, growing exponentially and shared on social media, rendered the witty and non-descriptive headline useless. We consume media so radically differently than we once did, so why are some journalists clinging to out-dated best practices?
Better yet, how does the story get written in the first place?
With their reams of content and years of stories, established newspapers and magazines should be dominating the search engines. But they fell asleep at the wheel. So, if you want to blame anyone, don't blame SEO for the loss of your precious headline-writing skills. Blame your peers.
Flickr photo courtesy of Noel C. Hankamer
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