September 28, 2016

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) includes techniques (both editorial and technological) to ensure relevant content ranks well in search results on search engines. Good SEO calls for breaking–or at least re-examining–some established conventions of headline writing.

Consider these ways that headline practices and SEO needs collide:

Style issues. Conventional print headlines typically use last names only and abbreviations (in state names, for example). Good SEO includes spelling out any keywords that a user is likely to use in a search query.

Creativity and variety. A frequent complaint among headline writers is that the pursuit of the literal in web headlines takes all the fun and creativity out of headline writing. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Where print headlines are constrained by layout specifications, web headlines are constrained by the dictates of good SEO. Just as headline writers treat tight specs as a challenge to write around, so should they see SEO considerations.

When things get tough, remember… You’re not writing for Google; you’re writing for people, with Google in mind. Sometimes headline writers get carried away with SEO. It’s counterproductive to put these goals ahead of clarity and common sense.

Taken from Writing Online Headlines: SEO and Beyond, a self-directed course by Eric Ulken at Poynter NewsU.

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
Vicki Krueger

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