SEO Ate My Hamster
Last week, news that the BBC were changing their website headline style to be more search engine friendly was regarded by many old school journalists as another nail in their internet coffin.
It's easy to see how search engine optimisation (SEO) could affect the ancient art of grabbing readers attention, but will it really lead to the death of the creative headline?
It's true Google's indexing robots don't have a sense of humor and unlike humans, cannot be shocked, or mislead by ambiguity into reading an article.
For instance, it is hard to explain to a robot why "Headless body found in topless club" ( NY Post 1983) is generally regarded as the best headline of all time!
The fact is that to gain readership, the BBC, like other online news providers need their articles to be found in search engines and that mandates them having more 'accurate' headlines.
But does accurate necessarily mean boring?
Well for SEO purposes, a headline should contain the keywords that people might use to search for such content, which can lead to longer and more descriptive sentences being used than in print.
Sadly, pun headlines such as The Sun's classic "Gord Help Us Now" just won't cut the search mustard for identifying an article as being about Gordon Brown online.
The good news, for some, is that misleading headlines such as "WW2 bomber found on moon" (Sunday Sport) will still work as well today as they did in 1982.
But should the BBC worry so much about how they head their articles?
Although article headings are important for SEO, there are other ways to target potential searchers. Using tags and categories for instance, or creating keyword rich excerpts, separate to the article body, works too.
And let's not forget SEO isn't the only way to gain readership.
While creative headline writing, might be on the decline for traditional media websites, it's never been more essential for gaining audiences in the attention deficit land know as social media.
Creating a tweet, catchy enough to entice people to read a blog, in less than 140 characters, while still leaving room for the blog link, is an identical skill.
(Having said that, Twitter content will soon be indexed by Google and Bing, so even our tweets will need SEO scrutiny soon).
But just in case "it's all over" here are a few more of my favorite headlines:
1) Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told (unknown)
2) Ike Beats Turner to Death (NY Post) - on the Death of Ike Turner
3) Hawk Kestrel Maneuvers in the Park (Daily Mail) - bird flock
4) Singing Nuns in Drunk Suicide Pact - (Sun)
5) Freddy Starr Ate my Hamster (Sun)
6) Man Found Dead in Graveyard (Evening Standard)
7) Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge (unknown)
Why not add your favourites below?
Chris is MD of Friend Digital a Social Media and online PR agency.