Newspapers Search for Web Headline Magic

By Elinor Mills
Published: 2/5/2007


The Wall Street Journal Online posted a story with the headline: "Green Beans Comes Marching Home."

It happened to be an article about the Green Beans Coffee Co., which serves overseas U.S. military bases, opening its first cafe in the United States.

Let's say you were interested in the subject but didn't know the Journal had written an article on it. You might type into a search engine some combination of keywords like "Green Beans," "coffee," "U.S. military," "bases" and "soldiers." Various combinations failed to return a link to the article in the first page of results on Google. Using all of the keywords and terms separated like that did find the article, but not on The Wall Street Journal site. Instead, it was on a blog site that had reposted the article word for word.

The example points to the dilemma many newspapers and other print media find themselves in when posting articles online. Pithy, witty and provocative headlines -- the pride of many an editor -- are often useless and even counterproductive in getting the Web page ranked high in search engines. A low ranking means limited exposure and fewer readers.

News organizations that generate revenue from advertising are keenly aware of the problem and are using coding techniques and training journalists to rewrite the print headlines, thinking about what the story is about and being as clear as possible. The science behind it is called SEO, or search engine optimization, and it has spawned a whole industry of companies dedicated to helping Web sites get noticed by Google's search engine. ...

... "How do you get eye-catching, interesting headlines that make people want to click, but at the same time are relevant to search engines, which are nothing but dumb robots going around looking for keywords?" said Howard Finberg, director of interactive learning at The Poynter Institute, a training organization for journalists.

"If the search engine is all about making information more accessible and making the online experience more pleasant, I wish they would work with the people designing the pages," Finberg said. "A lot of sites have gotten into this...content management trap."
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