Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Title tips: Writing headlines for search

Writing headlines that are optimized for search engines isn't complicated. The same principles that applied two years ago are still, for the most part, in use today. But I think it's important that journalists understand the difference between a page title and a headline and where these elements appear on different search results pages.

None of the following information is earth-shattering SEO news, by any means, but I find myself explaining it a lot to editors I work with.

The page title is the text that appears in the top-left corner of your web browser:

The headline is, quite obviously, the headline of your story, but notice in this example it is different from the page title above, even though it is the same story:

An article from two years ago explains why it's important to get the most important words at the front of your page title, as this is the text that a search-engine results page (SERP) will display. However, Google News displays its results based on the actual headline, not the page title, so it's also important that the most important information comes at the front of your headline, as well. [NOTE: Some content management systems (CMS) do not allow you to specify a different page title from your headline, in which case, your headline becomes even more important to SEO.]

For the above example, readers searching the web for information about truck driver salaries will immediately see "Truck driver salary study released ..." at the beginning of the title and will immediately know what the article is about. If that same article were to appear in Google News, the most important words of the headline, "driver pay study," are at the end and therefore are not as likely to be seen (or clicked) by a search-engine user.

Most news sites seem to be catching on to writing SEO-friendly headlines in their news articles, but where I most often see room for improvement is on a journalist's own blog, which often is hosted by a different content management system (CMS) or does not pass through the same SEO checkpoints as a normal article.

I often see vague blog headlines like, "An Artist's Passion," "Big Bottom Line," or "Shifts In Behavior." All of those are examples from a blog about the trucking industry, but if you were to see those headlines out of context in a Google News results page, you would have no idea. For example, if you type "shifts in behavior" as a Google News search query, you will find a wide variety of results.

A good test for journalists is to type their headline into Google News before the story is published. If you see results that are similar to the topic you're writing about, it's probably a good headline for search. If you see the exact same headline multiple times, you should rewrite it to stand out from the others, possibly by putting different keywords at the front of the headline. If you see a random assortment of topics, you need a new headline.

Headlines are one of the most important places that an article's search ranking can be influenced, so there's definitely a lot more to it than what I've written about here. There are tons of resources available on the web for writing web headlines, and I'm sure I'll have more to say on the topic in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is something new to me. Perhaps online journalists should take the opportunity of practicing internet marketing while doing their job. ^^