Headlines and writing for the Web


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Tips on writing headlines and stories to maximize search engine optimization and to increase readership

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  • Writing for readers, just remember your first reader is likely a robot
  • About 25 percent of SNO traffic from search engines We get a lot of traffic from Yahoo 5% of traffic from Facebook, 1-2% from Twitter
  • Cutlines are far down the SEO list so don’t count on them to do the heavy lifting of names and locations.
  • Headline writing has always been marketing
  • Things just look different on the Web
  • Ask yourself: Can you tell from the headline what the story is about? Heads should be accurate, clear, compelling – in that order Avoid puns and clever headlines. Informative trumps clever
  • 1 st 11 characters are scannable
  • Maximize use of keywords -- and don’t forget “free”,”cheap”,”sex”,celebrities Use Metatitle in Publicus if keywords too long for presentation online
  • Maximize use of keywords -- and don’t forget “free”,”cheap”,”sex”,celebrities Use Metatitle in Publicus if keywords too long for presentation online
  • Remember how Google searches: title bar, URL, headline, tops of articles (also summary in Publicus)
  • Don’t want to sacrifice quality of product to attract viewers – if they don’t like it, don’t feel they got what they wanted then: FAIL Location due to fact that search engines figure you’ll be more interested in stuff happening near you Avoid local jargon for other cities, too: Queen City for Charlotte, Big Apple for New York City, etc.
  • Stories don’t need to be short -- people still read long form online. In fact, people read longer online (Poynter EyeTrack 07 study) Box for numbers because people find it hard to read past bunch of numbers
  • Headlines and writing for the Web

    1. 1. HOW TO GET PEOPLE TO SEE, READ AND ENJOY YOUR STORIES Online Getting there, staying there
    2. 2. What we will learn How to drive people to Web stories by writing headlines that use effective search engine optimization (SEO) strategies How to write for online so that people find and read your stories
    3. 3. It’s a sideways world Users don’t browse – they search  80% of Internet sessions begin with a search engine  About 40% of traffic from search engines (SNO: 30%); 50% of that from Google (SNO: 75%) Traffic also comes from other Web sites  Facebook, Twitter, Drudge, blogs … Visitors often come to a story sideways, bypassing the homepage  SNO: 25% typed in or bookmarked; 75% from other sites
    4. 4. What Google looks for Google crawls, searches for and indexes words in the title bar, URL, headline and tops of articles (includes summary in Publicus)
    5. 5. An example When the pope died, The New York Times had this headline:  ‘Thousands flock to Vatican’  Nobody flocked to the Web page Then, an SEO expert saw it  ‘Pope dies’  People slammed the servers Responding ≠ pandering
    6. 6. In print there is context
    7. 7. Say what? Web heads are often displayed out of context. They need to stand on their own. (For some, head is the story.)
    8. 8. Write for the scanner On the Web, it’s even more important to serve the scanner (F-shaped: Nielsen Norman Group, 2006)
    9. 9. Headline rules and regs Start with keywords  Such as “Pope dies”  First 11 characters, about 60 characters long Use names, not descriptions, in headlines when a famous person is involved  “(North Carolina) Governor Perdue,” not just “Gov.”  “Michael Jackson,” not just “Pop icon”
    10. 10. Michael Jackson or Pop Icon?
    11. 11. A few more rules and regs If the person is not a celebrity, use keywords not names “Woman gives birth to eight children” (until the name becomes well-known, then you can use “Nadya Suleman” or “Octomom”) Don’t forget to use company names in headlines Write a metatitle for stories that will update with a keyword-filled headline that won’t need to change
    12. 12. Points in Publicus
    13. 13. More rules and regs Use city names Yes: “Southport fire kills three” No: “Fire kills three” City names should be used with sports teams Yes: “Wilmington Sharks win home opener” No: “Sharks win home opener”  “Port City” is not a well-known option people search for. For columnists, put names upfront “Master Gardener - Birds help your garden grow” Know your readers Hurricane, home sales, heroin
    14. 14. Helpful tools Finding effective keywords  http://freekeywords.wordtracker.com  Example: “weather forecaster” used in 43 searches. “Meteorologist” in 294  http://google.com/trends  Example: “meteorologist” far outranks “weather forecaster”  https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal  Example: “weather forecaster” has 8,100 searches/month vs. 165,000 for “meteorologist.”
    15. 15. About articles Hard news ledes outperform feature ledes because of front-loaded keywords  Who, what, when, where and why – inverted pyramid  Remember, the first reader is likely a Web spider Remember how Google searches What goes up first, gets picked up first File short and quick, then update  Wire service thinking with constant updates  Make a new article when there’s enough to merit it
    16. 16. Write for the scanner On the Web, it’s even more important to serve the scanner (F-shaped: Nielsen Norman Group, 2006)
    17. 17. Write for the Web Good writing is good writing  Don’t change the text just to stick in keywords Pages with many references to location rank higher in search engines Avoid local jargon (like “Port City”) Use keywords in links Avoid all caps (resembles spam)
    18. 18. What would Google think?
    19. 19. Exercises Let’s go to the handouts
    20. 20. Web writing is good writing 10 tips Having a good story always helps Break up long blocks of copy with subheads One thought per paragraph Paraphrase long quotes Avoid listing numbers and stats in the text – make a box instead
    21. 21. Web writing (cont.)  Write for the eye – Not just scanners; look for white space and get rid of long blocks of text. Use boxes, timelines and other devices  Be obvious  Active voice  Strong verbs  Look at the art while you’re writing – they could be right next to each other online
    22. 22. But that’s just good writing Exactly
    23. 23. Summary Front load headlines and text – 11, 60 Think about keywords Control what you can – headlines, subheads, ledes Online readers are scanners, grab their attention and don’t let go
    24. 24. Sources  Gil Asakawa (@GilAsakawa) Manager of student media for the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication; previously manager of audience development with MediaNews Group Interactive  Dennis Joyce (@DJoyceTBO) Metro editor at The Tampa Tribune  Amy Eisman (@aeisman) Director of media entrepreneurship and interactive journalism at American University  Presentation based on one by Michael Baker, editor of STATE Magazine, Oklahoma State University, and former local news editor for The Oklahoman
    25. 25. SEO sources  SEOmoz.org: http://seomoz.org  SEOmoz Blog: http://www.seomoz.org/blog  Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google & SEO: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/  SEO Browser.com: http://seo-browser.com  PPC Blog: http://tools.ppcblog.com/  Wordtracker.com: http://freekeywords.wordtracker.com  Google.com/trends: http://google.com/trends  Google Webmaster Tools: http://www.google.com/webmasters/  ReelSEO: http://www.reelseo.com/  SEO Egghead: http://www.seoegghead.com/blog/  Search Engine Journal: http://www.searchenginejournal.com/  Search Engine Watch: http://searchenginewatch.com/  Search Engine Optimization 101: http://net.tutsplus.com/tutorials/other/sear ch-engine-optimization-101/  Search Engine Watch Blog: http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/  John Battelle’s Searchblog: http://battellemedia.com/  SEO Chat: http://www.seochat.com/  SEO Chat’s SEO Tools: http://www.seochat.com/seo-tools/  SEO Scoop: http://www.seo-scoop.com/  Natural Search Blog: http://www.naturalsearchblog.com/  Applied SEO: http://www.appliedseo.com/  Mashable – The Social Media Guide: http://mashable.com  Micro Persuasion – Steve Rubel: http://www.micropersuasion.com/  Website Analytics Toolbox (great list of tools): http://designm.ag/resources/website- analytics-toolbox/  Compiled by Gil Asakawa  Manager of Audience Development, MediaNews Group Interactive