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Search-Engine Optimization URL Tips for Writers

December 22nd, 2010

search-engine optimization urlAs much as it pains this former journalist to write this, newspapers are continuing to decline:

Online advertising spending in the United States will overtake spending on newspaper ads this year for the first time, digital research firm eMarketer said Monday.

EMarketer estimated that online ad spending will grow 13.9 percent in 2010 to 25.8 billion dollars while spending on print newspaper ads will drop 8.2 percent to 22.78 billion dollars.

Including Internet ads, print and online newspaper advertising revenue will hit 25.7 billion dollars, eMarketer said, still below the 25.8 billion dollars advertisers will spend online.

In prior posts, I discussed how SMM and social-media guidelines changed advertising and how to use Blogger and search-engine optimization. The former detailed how the nature of advertising has changed, and the latter focuses on how SEO rewards niche sites over general-interest ones like newspaper websites.

Essentially, the mainstream media is still not adapting well to the Internet Age, and John Gruber provides another reason for the failure:

“2001” — the Monolith and the Message :: rogerebert.com :: News & Comment

Gruber’s article provides countless examples of newspaper websites — like the one above from the Chicago Sun-Times — that are not incorporating meta titles (also called title tags) effectively. The part of the title with “:: rogerebert.com :: News & Comment” is wasted space — unless the company, for some bizarre reason, is aiming to rank highly for the search terms “rogerebert.com” and “news and comment.” And no one uses a series of double-colons in punctuation — it is better to use a single hyphen or a single m-dash in URLs and meta titles.

Why a Search-Engine Optimization URL Matters

However, Gruber makes a later comment that has raised more than a few SEO eyebrows:

Tools that help people tweet links to articles use the page title as the default description. So make titles useful. Write them for humans, not search engine spiders. Putting SEO keywords in the page title (a) doesn’t actually help your page’s rank in search engine indexes, and (b) makes things harder for people trying to tweet a link, bookmark your page, or scan it from a list of currently open windows and tabs in their browser. Trust the Googlebot to figure it out. (emphasis added)

Search Engine Land offers a comprehensive reaction to the piece and points to an invaluable list of the top twenty-four ranking factors from SEOmoz Pro. Meta titles are at the top of the list (which also contains the worst things to do in online marketing — namely, various black-hat SEO techniques).

However, both Gruber and SEL address an important point: How SEO tools, bookmarks, and social media present a page’s headline in online search. It is easy for those new to online marketing to become overwhelmed by external keyword-tools and SEM data and too enamored of keyword placement as a result.

Such webmasters are easily spotted by the Google search-results for their websites, which typically appear something like this:

Dogs | Cats | Birds | Animals | Hamsters | Gerbils

SEO students imagine such wonderful, immediate results that they think that merely listing their selected keywords will generate tremendous traffic, advertising clicks, and online sales. However, they need to remember: in the ongoing debate over whether headlines should be written with people or Google in mind, the best approach is somewhere in the middle. (See a prior post on how social-media icons and Twitter SEO changed headlines.)

A headline written for Google, like the one above, appears as either keyword-stuffed spam at worst or a boring site at best — meaning that few people will click on the link. A listing on the first page of Google search-results means little if no one clicks on the link. Moreover, most social-network sharing buttons use the meta title as the headline when sending content to places like Facebook and Twitter — another reason that boring is bad.

As a result, a headline written for both Google and human eyes is better. Imagine an alternative like this:

How to Buy Pet Supplies for Dogs, Cats and Birds

Which of the two headlines would interest you more? Keywords need to be inserted in a way that reads in a way that is natural and enticing. If newspapers want to survive — much less grow — they need to incorporate SEO best-practices. A good start may be for newly-hired SEO departments to write headlines and meta titles for the website rather than copy editors.

Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.