Recently, when posting stories online, I’ve been trying harder to write headlines that Google is more likely to pick up to generate more hits to our Web site.
This practice, known as search engine optimization, is not only annoying, but I also feel like it gets rid of creativity. To appease the Google God, I have to make a specific word, in my case Wellesley, the first word in the headline, in the sentence, basically, everywhere. No more soft ledes, unless I can fit in Wellesley- which, by the way, is a lot harder than it seems.
Rachelle Money has an interesting article on SEO, that I found via Poynter. She quotes Shane Richmond, online editor at the Telegraph in the UK, saying there is no room for argument when it comes to adding these key words. There are, sort of, compromises to be had, however.
I like Richmond’s approach because he gives advice on how headlines that are puns are out of the question, how drop introductions which are favored for feature articles are an “SEO nightmare,” because the keywords don’t appear until much further down the copy. But he also shows that there’s middle ground to be had. When it comes to drop intros which create suspense and build atmosphere into a piece, it may not be SEO-friendly, but a good stand-first (the subheading that comes after the main headline and before the introduction) with relevant keywords can help the search engines. It’s a compromise but it’s one that can be made as the medium of publishing transcends a digital platform.
I’m not sure if I agree with that compromise. Ultimately, it feels like you have to write separate print and web stories. The web one will be boring- totally based on the key words. Eventually, robots might be called journalists because we’ll create computer programs for writing newstories.