Writing headlines for the Web: Recap of a Poynter News U webinar

Hundreds of journalists from all over the world participated recently in what Poynter’s News U calls its most popular webinar: Writing Headlines for the Web.

Two-thirds of those taking Poynter’s most recent offering of the webinar, a few days ago, hail from traditional media, and one-third from online media, according to a poll given during the event.

I’ll recap here some of the more intermediate tips for SEO, or search-engine optimization, offered by Eric Ulken, adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

(Need an intro to SEO? See an overview here.)

Here are some of Ulken’s main tips:

✓ While search audience isn’t traditionally considered part of a site’s valuable core loyal audience, their numbers cannot be ignored. Many will be “one and done” readers, of course, but every site has an opportunity to capture repeat readers with good content, links and navigation on every page.

✓ The headline on the story or page itself is what matters for SEO purposes, not the tease headline (for instance, the display type that may be used from the homepage).

✓ On the web, you never know where your content will appear. It could pop up in search results, social networks, RSS feeds, mobile apps and more. That’s why the web headline needs to stand alone and make sense out of context.

✓ Google offers valuable resources for SEO. Google Trends tracks the top search phrases in real time. Google Insights for Search lets you drill deeper, including by category and geographic area. West Palm Beach is one of the metro areas that’s included here.

And on a simpler level, as we’ve all seen, Google suggests search phrases in its auto-complete feature.

If you want your story or content to move higher in search results, try the auto-complete feature to help you write the web headline. That’s not cheating or trying to scam the system, Ulken says. It’s simply allowing people to find what they’re already looking for. (If your content doesn’t match the headline, Google’s algorithms know this and will penalize you, so there’s no point trying to cheat anyway!)

Calais Viewer is another free tool to help with SEO. It analyzes text and finds the best tags to use.

✓ With the launch of Buzz, Google’s social-networking service, tweets are showing up more and more often in search results, too. So for those on Twitter, it helps if your tweets are SEO-ified, too!

✓ Links within the text of a story, blog or other content are more likely to get clicked on than those along the side, studies show.

✓ To help with SEO strategy, publications can run a daily report to monitor referring domains and external search keywords.

Getting staff buy-in

By the way, 63 percent of the participants in this webinar cited buy-in from staff as their organization’s biggest obstacle to implementing an editorial SEO strategy (according to a poll taken during the webinar). Only 5 percent cited technology as the main impediment.

Do you face obstacles in your organization in implementing an SEO strategy? It’s been one of my biggest challenges in the “Web Trainer” part of my job.

I’m curious to hear from other newspapers and media organizations who’ve had success implementing newsroom-wide awareness and practice of SEO headlines for web. Any tips to pass along? Do you think that the only guarantee of staff buy-in is to make it a formal part of journalists’ jobs? Please share your comments below, or email me at ttheisen [at] pbpost [dot] com.

Or if you prefer, you can take this anonymous poll:

Do you write web headlines for the content you write or edit?survey software

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