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How Social-Media Icons Changed Headlines


November 16th, 2010

social media iconsDavid Carr writes an insightful piece on how keyword-heavy headlines have destroyed the noble — or at least comedic — art of newspaper headline-writing:

Headlines in newspapers and magazines were once written with readers in mind, to be clever or catchy or evocative. Now headlines are just there to get the search engines to notice. In that context, “Jon Stewart Slams Glenn Beck” is the beau ideal of great headline writing. And both Twitter and Facebook have become republishers, with readers on the hunt for links with nice, tidy headlines crammed full of hot names to share with their respective audiences.

In a prior post, I discussed how search-engine software changed advertising — online publications have a different strategy altogether from print ones. And headlines have also changed as a result.

Here is one example. Way back in 2000, the Boston Herald — a daily tabloid known partly for its headlines — published an infamous headline on its front page: “Jane erred.” The article was on an apology from former Gov. Jane Swift’s for using a taxpayer-funded helicopter and personal aides to help with her baby care.) Obviously, the headline was a pun on Charlotte Bronte’s novel “Jane Eyre.”

But such a headline would not work in today’s Internet-driven world simply because few people will search for “Jane Erred” in Google unless they are specifically looking for that Boston Herald article. Copy editors now write for Google, not their readers, by inserting relevant “keywords” (in search-optimization jargon) in headlines that match common search terms in order to attract readers.

For example, the headline of this post is both provocative — countless online marketers are searching for information on Internet marketing and headlines — and relevant to Google with the search term “Internet marketing.” And the first hyperlink at the top contains the anchor-text “keyword-heavy headlines.”

Social-Media Icons: Their Effect on the Media

Carr takes this strategy to its logical conclusion in his column (headlined “Taylor Momsen Did Not Write This Headline”):

Don’t know who Taylor Momsen is? Neither do I, beyond that she is the mean one on “Gossip Girl.” But Facebook knows her well, Twitter loves her, and she and Google have been hooking up, like, forever.

One more fact about Ms. Momsen: she has nothing to do with this column, let alone the headline. But her very name is a prized key word online — just the thing to push my column to the top of Google rankings.

I do not know Momsen, either — but I put a picture of her on this post just to emphasize the point. (And, well, to get some additional traffic from searches for her name.) But Carr’s point remains: Publishers today are adjusting their strategies in an Internet-driven culture. And, for better and for worse, that means doing whatever Google likes.

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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.