SEO Tutorial For Copywriters: Headlines That Please The ‘Bots, Reach The People

For the majority of the time I’ve been producing content for the placement on the Web, I have not cared a click for optimizing my headlines, or body copy, for search. Why? Because I write for people, not machines. Of course, online, you need to please the machines, in order to reach the people.
David Carr does an excellent job describing the process some writers, editors and publishers go through today.

Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker, has ridiculed witty as the new dumb in his memos to staff, saying, “If you want to indulge yourself with Onion-style headlines, work for The Onion.”
As a reader, I see his point. When I scan my list of aggregated articles in an RSS feed, looking for information that I seem to need to know right now, I am ruthless: the obscure, the off-beat, the mysterious, frequently go unclicked.

Thankfully, there’s someone with a bigger view of the practice than Denton.

“We reject the idea that there are only two options, between a really creative and a boring headline. There is a lot of sunlight between those two options,” said Jim Brady, general manager of Politico’s coming local Washington site called TBD.com. “The headlines don’t have to be boring, but they have to be descriptive and direct so that they show up in mobile and RSS feeds in a way that lets people know what they are being asked to click on.”

Here, let’s compare and contrast two headlines, one from TBD.com and one from Gawker.com:
TBD_headline.png
Gawker_headline.png
Both headlines were written with search engines in mind. Yet, both have some punch, a legacy from our print heritage. And I think that’s the trick. With no smile, or twist of language, headline writing and reading loses all its charm. With no search terms in place, the poetics of headline writing becomes another lost art.
I’d love to hear from you on this topic. Please begin your comment here with a better headline (creative- and search-wise) than the one I deployed for this post.

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About David Burn

Native Nebraskan seeking the perfect pale ale in the Pacific Northwest. Disc golfer. Fan of Kurt Vonnegut, community radio and wolves in the wild. Copywriter and brand strategist at Bonehook. Co-founder and editor of AdPulp.

  • http://YesTruebloodIsMyRealName.com Mark Trueblood

    Same old false dichotomy of creative vs. results.
    Some kids get a box of 64 crayons. Others get 16. Still others get four, and told they have to use one of them 75% of the time.
    The end product is still going to depend on the kid, not the crayons.