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Newspaper Headlines Bow To SEO Demands 75

prostoalex writes "News.com.com says the art of writing newspaper headlines is changing due to reliance on search engines for traffic to newspaper archives. Forget about clever puns, double entendres and witty analogies: 'News organizations that generate revenue from advertising are keenly aware of the problem and are using coding techniques and training journalists to rewrite the print headlines, thinking about what the story is about and being as clear as possible.' One big winner for now is Boston.com, The Boston Globe property, which 'had training sessions with copy editors and the night desk for the newspaper to enforce Web-optimized keyword-rich headlines suitable for search engine queries.'" Update: 10/30 14:1 GMT by KD : Corrected mis-attributed ownership: boston.com is owned by the Boston Globe, not the Boston Herald.
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Newspaper Headlines Bow To SEO Demands

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  • by isdnip ( 49656 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @02:00AM (#17870442)
    Boston.com does not belong to the Herald, but to its bigger arch-rival, the Boston Globe. Actually they're part of the New York Times Company.
  • by macadamia_harold ( 947445 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @02:01AM (#17870448) Homepage
    Newspaper Headlines Bow to SEO Demands

    Did the SEO have hostages?
    • by dubl-u ( 51156 ) *

      Newspaper Headlines Bow to SEO Demands
      Did the SEO have hostages?

      Yes. You, and eight zillion people who are getting most of their news via things other than dead trees.
  • Headlines? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by despik ( 691728 )

    Since when search engines care only about the headlines?

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by kongit ( 758125 )
      Since search engines somewhat care about links to pages and most front pages of news sites have headlines as links to the stories, I would assume that headlines on news sites have some significance. Additionally, look at http://boston.com/ [boston.com] and count the number of headlines on the home page.
    • by rvw ( 755107 )

      Since when search engines care only about the headlines?

      Search engines read the HTML, and evaluate it according to its structure. And in general a big heading like H1 is more important than a H2-heading, which is more important than a paragraph. So the search engine values big headings more, and ranks words found in it higher. The same goes for the order of headings, keywords and description tags, the title of the page, url-path of the page and the domain name.

  • Old news; dupe (Score:5, Informative)

    by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @02:11AM (#17870526)
    See This Boring Headline Is Written for Google [nytimes.com], NYT April 2006. Covered by Slashdot [slashdot.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by anagama ( 611277 )
      Ya beat me to it. I suppose this is a way in which "news" sites can cut back on reporters yet still generate content which gets them search results -- simply republish old news 8-12 months later. In this way, we're not only doomed to repeat history, we're doomed to read about it twice (at least).
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bazald ( 886779 )
      Slashdot should train its editors to put "dupe" in its headlines! That way, we'll have an easier time finding the latest Slashdot dupes using Google news!
  • What?! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @02:12AM (#17870532) Homepage
    What are you saying? We'll get clear, concise headlines that actually summarize the story? Oh, the horror, oh the humanity! Will the pain never end?!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by vic-traill ( 1038742 )
      Well, straight news headlines are one thing, I suppose. However, sportswriters are damned near defined by the puns that they do linguistic flips and twists to get into their headlines and stories.

      I will confess that while I groan and turn my nose up like everyone else, I secretly admire headlines like 'Bull riders in chute-out tonight at the Corel' (from when Ottawa's Scotiabank Place - blech - was called the Corel Centre). It takes Glengarry Glen Ross-sized brass balls to put your name beside that tease
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Seraphim_72 ( 622457 )
      No, what you will get instead is:

      HMS Britannia's swan song as she is sunk for new reef, fisheries to benefit
      Titles made to titillate, no thanks I will take the newspaper's bad ones instead. All they have to do is slightly inform, not bow to an algorithm.


  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @02:12AM (#17870538) Journal
    Reminds me of the time when Virgin airlines lost out on gate allocations at Sydney airport. The bussiness headline read "Virgin get screwed".
    • by netbuzz ( 955038 )
      I've told this story so many times I'm no longer sure if it's true or apochryphal: The Northeastern News, my college newspaper in Boston, is covering the debut of the first-ever women's crew team back in the '70s. Headline:
      "Virgin Crew Strokes Charles at Dawn."
  • About time (Score:1, Insightful)

    by taustin ( 171655 )
    Newspapers that use headlines that actually tell you what the story is aobut, rather than making a cheap joke out of someone's misey? If the profession of journalism had any integrity, this would never have been a story, because the offensiveness of turning news headlines in to jokes would never have happened in the first place.
    • Newspapers that use headlines that actually tell you what the story is aobut, rather than making a cheap joke out of someone's misey? If the profession of journalism had any integrity, this would never have been a story, because the offensiveness of turning news headlines in to jokes would never have happened in the first place.

      Lets look back on that story about Dick Cheney shooting his lawyer buddy in the face with a shotgun. What this article is talking about doing is reducing the headlines within the ht

      • by Joebert ( 946227 )
        Why do machines get to start taking the fun jobs, yet the kid at McDonalds still fucks our orders up every time ?

        Give the machines thoose jobs & let everyone else screw off & make jokes all day.
  • During my brief stint studying journalism, the editors had a hoot writing clever and witty headlines. Off the top of my head: "Bond goes up to bat" (describing a school bond measure on the ballot) and "Political party poppycock" (a column discussing political absurdities). But the times are a-changin'. If you want Google News or some other aggregator to pick up your story, you need a clear headline. This isn't limited to news media either. I've noticed that more and more videogame review sites will come up
    • by gmack ( 197796 )

      I have rarely enjoyed headline puns and usually just find them irritating instead. I'm sure the journalists think it's funny because other journalists think it's funny.

      Kind of like webcomic artists who think characters talking to the writer is somehow witty because the other webcomics all do the same.

      It's not funny. It might have been funny the first 10 times it was done but now it's stale and boring. If you ask me the search engines have done them a huge favor by forcing them to put an end to it.

    • by flacco ( 324089 )
      During my brief stint studying journalism, the editors had a hoot writing clever and witty headlines. Off the top of my head: "Bond goes up to bat" (describing a school bond measure on the ballot) and "Political party poppycock" (a column discussing political absurdities).

      are those supposed to be funny or clever?

      aside from being useless, annoying, and distracting, "clever" headlines sometimes produce misinformation.

      for example, consider this recent headline from linuxtoday.com:

      "Fluendo Media Decoders Sound

  • Thank God (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pavon ( 30274 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @02:14AM (#17870554)
    Newspaper headlines are horrible. Between the fact that english has far too many words that could be both nouns or verbs depending on context, that proper often nouns cannot be discerned from normal words when everything is capitalized, and journalists being way too clever for their own good leads to monstrosities of randomly juxtaposed words that cannot be parsed until you have read at least the first couple paragraphs of the article.
    • Yeah--but the attempts to fix this problem is definitely making things tough for the writers of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. They're using a lot more flyers, menus, and police blotter entries than they used to...
      • by markhb ( 11721 )
        You don't suppose they'd actually try writing, would you? Maybe it's time for a revival of the Mighty Leno Art Players!
        • Awww--I like their "Headlines" feature.
          They do try writing. The monologues are one of the best sources of horrific comedy anywhere--even Jay knows it. This does not stop us from watching--though I do it only on nights when I think "Headlines" will air.
  • Making them write a headline that tells a reader what the story is about. Oh dear Gods Nooo!! How cruel and inhuman.

    Who knows what horrors this will lead to. Next they'll be forced into _proofreading_ their stories and using correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.

    While they are fixing things maybe they could abolish the "Grim Task" rule. You know the one I mean. The rule that says any time people are hauling bodies out of the scene of some disaster they can only use the phrase "Grim Task" to describe i
  • As A Journalist... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TyrWanJo ( 1026462 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @02:42AM (#17870732)
    I worked for a couple years on a School Newspaper, http://www.dailyillini.com/ [dailyillini.com]The Daily Illini, at the University of Illinois, and although it was a School paper, it was at the time the top rated University paper in America, and also in direct competition with the local news paper, The News Gazette. One of the things that i learned was that there is a constant tension between journalists and the advertisers that make the paper run. We were independent, we relied, and the paper still does rely, entirely on ads to cover the costs of running the paper and paying the journalists. People always gripe about how much journalism is a whore to the forces of the general populous, but, in order for a paper to sustain itself, it has to be.

    Responsible journalism takes a hit from the interestes of keeping a paper running - and it is always a struggle to determine which stories are best suited to these interests. The fact that headlines are changing is, frankly, not surprising, except in the fact that this change has come so late. Print journalism is floundering in a morass of uncertainty, people rarely pick up the paper anymore, and insted get their information online. Previous posters have said that headlines are dumb, ill-concieved, etc, however, headlines are the most, and often, only part of a paper ever read, and copy editors, who are responsible for headlines, often just sit around fixing grammar, spelling, and ap style, their last bastion of hope was these ridiculous headlines. How do you cram as much information as possible in to two or three words, and keep people interested in the story? If the headline is sucessful, a person will continue reading, if not, at least he or she will get the information she needs.

    The alteration of headlines is both disheartening and expected. It is that ugly journalist versus ads department rearing its ugly head - something has to die in order for the paper to live. Views and click-throughs now generate the capital that print advertising once garnered, so it is unfourtunately imperative for newspapers to change with the times. It is an end to an era of whimsy generated by underpaid and understimulated spell-checkers, and I think, however inevitable, it is kind of sad.
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by jez9999 ( 618189 )
      One of the things that i learned was that there is a constant tension between journalists and the advertisers that make the paper run.

      Did you run adverts dressed as news, or did the advertisers get an Opinion Center?
  • And when do they start trading backlinks to build page rank?
  • Uh, why? (Score:5, Informative)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak.yahoo@com> on Saturday February 03, 2007 @02:54AM (#17870792) Homepage Journal
    It seems perfectly easy to have the page use an SSI to patch in a "traditional" headline for human readers and a "searchable" headline for webcrawlers. It involves a conditional SSI that checks the browser ID, an else clause, and an end of conditional. Three lines. Since these pages are all dynamically generated from a template, all you do is surround each of the headline areas. A few minutes work, not much more, and if the conditional makes an error, the alternative is perfectly good.

    (Search engines don't like you replacing the entire page with a bunch of keywords, but since the engine is going to get the massaged headline no matter what, improving the interface for the users doesn't seem to be too great a sacrifice.)

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sticks_Nix_Hick_Pix [wikipedia.org]

    Headlines are different for a newspaper where you're trying to draw attention to a story when someone's already on the page. The reader is already looking there, you need to catch their attention to a portion of the page, you're not attracting them to a paper on a rack. For readers who are searching for a specific story, clear and concise is the way to be found.

    There's still room for "style" in headlines. If it's your paper ( webpage) someone's looking at, u
  • by philo_enyce ( 792695 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @03:16AM (#17870898)
    man, on first glance i read that as:

    "Newspaper Headlines Bow to SCO Demands"



    • by Peyna ( 14792 )
      Glad to know I'm not the only one, it took me about a minute after reading the blurb to realize this had nothing do with SCO.
  • Tags? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ando[evilmedic] ( 199537 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @03:22AM (#17870930) Homepage
    It seems to me that this would be the perfect use of tags - let the papers keep their current style of headline, but tag the stories for parsing by google news et al.

    • Indeed, and subject tags (keywords) have been used for ages in academic papers for precisely this purpose (indexing, not even limited to computerized indexing). However, I guess those few newspaper editors who even barely understand the concept are afraid they would have to display all those tags to the human reader at the beginning of each article, just like the printed scientific journals do it.

      The article mentions tweaking other fields beside the headline as well, such as the page title going into the b

      • One of the huge problems of the "Internet generation" is almost an utter refusal to accept that anyone over the age of about 30 knows anything of value. I have seen so much that indicates a clear progression:
        1. Discard all previous knowledge about subject in favor of new stuff
        2. Much confusion reigns and bad things happen
        3. Someone makes a decision that to some is faintly reminiscent of the old ways
        4. New stuff is intelligently mixed with lessons of the past, leading to much goodness.

        The problem with much of the I

  • If only we had some way to signal the computer about the form of text, without cluttering up the reader's content. If only...

    This is a solution urgently seeking a problem. Sounds like somebody's Master's Thesis being taken out for a walk.

    • by mdfst13 ( 664665 )

      If only we had some way to signal the computer about the form of text, without cluttering up the reader's content.

      Yeah, but if we had that, people would just abuse it to draw traffic to their sites, so we'd get a new kind of search engine. The new kind of search engine would figure that people want to find search terms where the content matches the search terms rather than where the meta-information matches the search terms. This new type of search engine would give more credit to headings (which are bigger and easier to read). Further, it might lower pages in its search rankings if the meta-information does not ma

  • One other interesting fact about newspaper headline writing is that the headline writer is given a character count by the page editor -- i.e., a 3-column story with a certain type size would need a certain number of characters to fill in the headline.

    There were some other style guidelines regarding how lines could be split ("and" couldn't be the first word on a continuation line, for example), so it was rather impressive to see what gems could be made with the various constraints.
  • From the submitter:

    Forget about clever puns, double entendres and witty analogies

    It doesn't have to be this way. As a couter example, consider The Register [theregister.co.uk]: they typically use a main caption that is informative, and a smaller sub caption that attempts to be witty. Some quotes from their current front page:

    • Vista encryption 'no threat' to computer forensics
      Who needs a backdoor when users leave the Windows open?
    • Officials sued for $3m for disciplining MySpace spoofers
      Bloodied principal, muzzled students
  • if you want the title of your article to get more hits on google, just add paris hilton to the title. great, just what we need is news services being more blatantly manipulative.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So basically, what they're saying is that headlines have to make sense out of context? It's good practice. With printed headlines, you just need to move your eyes down a bit to read the article or look at a picture if the headline isn't immediately obvious. On the Web, it's a lot more effort (comparatively, clicking a mouse is much more effort than moving your eyes). On a number of occasions, I've clicked an unclear headline only to find that it was about something completely unrelated to what I expected.


  • I know I'm inviting The Wrath of Slashdot by even mentioning Fox News, but their website (and probably other news websites as well) uses the clever headlines for links on their front page, but then gives the boring-yet-informative headline on the actual article.

    For example, the article officially titled "Report: Giant Weights to Be Dropped Into Mouth of Erupting Mud Volcano" received the link text "Can Giant Balls Plug Erupting Volcano?"

  • Anything that limits creativity is evil and should be destroyed.
  • Hed + Eyebrow (Score:5, Informative)

    by Roblimo ( 357 ) on Saturday February 03, 2007 @12:11PM (#17873646) Homepage Journal
    On the Internet, all a reader sees of a story on a site's main page are the hed and lede (journo shorthand for "headline" and "lead paragraph"), which makes them more important than they are in a paper publication where a reader can glance down a bit and see more of the story.

    Some online publications are now using an "eyebrow" sentence below the hed -- essentially a long subhed, in effect a brief story summary.

    I like this style because it gives readers -- and search engines -- a good idea of what's in the story without forcing the writer to load its first paragraph with too many facts. Instead, the writer has the option of opening a story with a quote, a description, an anecdote or something else instead of the traditional, terse lede.

    News has always been tailored to its delivery medium. The "inverted pyramid" style, where a story is written so that the most important facts come first, and others are delivered in decreasing order of importance until the story trails off into irrelevance, was developed to make "cutting" a story to fit a given amount of space simple. The typesetter simply took sentences off the end of the story until it was the right length.

    Back in the days of hand-set type, and even later, during the pre-offset Linotype (hot metal typesetting machine) period, the type was set backwards, as a mirror image, so editing a story with any kind of judgement during the typesetting process was a time-consuming task. It was easier to whack the end, sentence by sentence -- and many newspapers used one-sentence paragraphs to make this even easier -- and if a story ended up a bit short the typesetter could stick in a small-type "filler" story chosen for size, not relevance.

    (Fillers were once a whole separate wire service genre. AP's fillers almost always contained the phrase, "It was reported yesterday." You would read a story about local political malfeasance, and at the end, usually in italics, you'd see a little piece that said someting like, "Hummingbirds often migrate 2000 miles or more every Spring and Fall, it was reported yesterday." Fillers not only filled the type case -- which had to be "locked down" to keep all the type from falling out when it was put on the press, but brought zest to newspapers. I think I last saw a newspaper filler in 1974 or so, but I still miss fillers. Slashdot quotes of the day just aren't the same...)

    In TV news, the basic story style tends to be a spoken hed, possibly with a brief shot of the scene, followed by a "more after this" statement, then a commercial break. The linear format of television broadcasting, combined with its dependence on inline ads for revenue, makes this format the standard one, as ingrained in TV people as the inverted pyramid syle is in newspaper journalists.

    And so on. I assume direct neural "full sense" info delivery will create another whole set of story styles.

    The medium may not be the message, but it plays a large part in determining how that message is delivered.

    Headlines written to please search engines rate no more than a small sidebar in the endless tale of media evolution. And sidebars.... they rate a whole rant of their own. Deciding what information should be in a story's main body and what should be relegated to sidebar status is as much of an art as headline writing....

    • by Teancum ( 67324 )
      Just to add a little bit of extra here, that the "inverted pyramid" style was originally created due to the deficiencies of the medium that was used to transmit messages throughout most of the 19th Century: The electric telegraph.

      If you thought communications systems have a horrid "uptime" now, it is downright miserable when the telegraph first was up and going. Having a good connection for a few minutes or hours was considered good service, and it would often go down even for "natural events", much less

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