Home > headlines, online, Uncategorized > Think Google when you write Web headlines

Think Google when you write Web headlines

Basic headline musts like accuracy apply whether you are writing headlines for the Web or for print. But, as we’ve discussed in class, you need to think differently when you’re crafting headlines for the Web.  About one-third of news site traffic is driven by search engines such as Google. So one of your goals as a Web headline writer is to think about how you would find a story if you were doing a Google search for it. That means you must get keywords in the headline, ideally near the beginning of the headline. Cute and clever might work for print, but often don’t work on the Web.

Read this 2006 New York Times story on search engine optimization and Shawn Smith’s blog on the differences between print and Web headlines. Watch Leslie Rotan talk about writing Web headlines in the video.

Your assignment: Find a print headline that you don’t think would work on the Web. In the comments section,  cite the print headline (tell me what it is and where you saw it), and tell me how you would rewrite it for the Web. This is due by the beginning of class on Thursday, April 23. 

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  1. Jaclyn Tan
    April 19, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Headline: THE STRAiGHT DiSH
    Subhead: This dozen’s dirt is all in the details
    Published Monday, April 13 on the front page of Living section, Omaha World-Herald

    View it here: http://tinyurl.com/owhprint

    I thought this was a very clever and attractive headline for the print edition. The story was a summary of what four local experts thought of a dozen food and drink items, which have been deemed good for health, bad for health, or both. The headline worked well with the supporting graphics of 12 different types of food and summaries of what local experts said about each. It’s also a good example of how an interesting print layout with supporting graphics can draw the reader into a story.

    But the headline wouldn’t have worked on the Web because it doesn’t reference anything about the story directly. The World-Herald rewrote the headline for the Web: What food is good for you?

    View it here: http://tinyurl.com/owhweb

    My Web headline would have been:
    Omaha food experts comment on 12 food items

  2. Marcy Pursell
    April 19, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Headline: Memories at every turn
    Subhead: In hallways of rebuilt school, it’s subtle reminders ring truest

    This story was from The Denver Post, published on Sunday, April 19, 2009.

    If you’re a history person, you may know that this story was about the 10th anniversary for the Columbine school shooting. The headline doesn’t say anything about anything. The sub-headline is general and doesn’t even mention what school or the anniversary. If I searched Columbine, I don’t think this story would appear in the first pages, but near the end, if it even was found at all. The headlines don’t use keywords whatsoever.

    I would rewrite the headline for the Web as:
    Columbine Memories

  3. Amanda Bergstrom
    April 20, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Headline: Is Zac on track?
    Subhead: Husker QB front-runner Lee views spring game as a chance to improve rather than win over fans
    Paper: Omaha World-Herald Tuesday, April 14

    This headline wouldn’t work for online because it doesn’t tell you anything about the story with just the headline. In the paper it tops a feature section with a blown-up picture of Zac Lee in his Husker football jersey. Someone searching on the web would never find it under this headline.

    Rewrite: Husker QB Zac Lee starting for Spring Game

    I think this works better for online because it puts all of the main parts of the story in the headline. At first I wasn’t going to include the name because I thought it made the headline too long, but I believe it’s needed. If someone searched any Husker quarterback in a Spring Game they would get this article then instead of the one when Zac Lee played.

  4. John Ray
    April 22, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Headline: Tweet Success
    Subhead: Twitter CEO Evan Williams shares story, advice about college with journalism, computer science students.
    Paper: Daily Nebraskan April 13

    This headline wouldn’t work online because if you were to read “Tweet success” you would have no idea what it’s about. In print form it’s accompanied by the twitter whale and birds. But someone going through a search engine wouldn’t type “Tweet Success” into google.

    I would make the online headline ” Twitter Founder Speaks to UNL Students”

    It puts the most important information, Twitter founder, right at the beginning and some ups what he did. If I were to search this story I would probably Google “Twitter” and “UNL,” both words are present in my proposed online headline.

  5. Brittany Sturek
    April 22, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    The headline I chose appeared in last Friday’s Omaha World-Herald. It read, “Hurt hip sidelines Gordon.” An ex-Husker, Alex Gordon plays baseball with the Kansas City Royals. This is a bad headline for the Internet because it puts Gordon at the end instead of at the beginning of the headline, making it a bad headline for SEO. If I were to rewrite it for the Web I would say “Alex Gordon out with hip injury.” It’s straightforward, and even though it’s a little longer, it has Gordon’s name at the beginning.

  6. Katrina Fischman
    April 22, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    The headline I found was on the front page of the Money section of the Wednesday edition of the Omaha World-Herald. It said “Grabbing hold of a growing trend.” Accompanying it was a picture of someone caring a reusable bag at a store and the words “reusable bags” above the picture. If this headline would appear on the Internet, readers would have no idea the article is about the growing trend of using reusable bags from only the headline in a link. The entire print package aids the readers in understanding the article at a quick glance, and on the Internet viewers are not always presented with everything at once. If I had to rewrite the headline, my headline would read, “Reusable shopping bag use flourishing among consumers.” I put the most important words at the beginning and used an active verb.

  7. Katy Healey
    April 22, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Headline: Clooney’s schedule ‘Up in Air’
    Published in the Omaha World-Herald on April 22, 2009

    The headline does include George Clooney’s name and the name of his upcoming film. However, the story emphasizes that he is coming to Omaha, not the film synopsis, which is also included. Nebraska readers are unlikely to find this story if they used a search engine because Omaha isn’t in the headline. It is more likely that readers will find articles about the film itself based on the current headline. I would change the headline to “Clooney set to film in Omaha” Both the key words–Clooney and Omaha–are in the headline, making the story more likely to appear when Nebraska readers use a search engine.

  8. Mekita Rivas
    April 22, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    Headline: University suspends fraternity
    Subhead: Hazing allegations include forced sex act, consumption of alcohol, court records indicate
    Published: Wednesday, April 22 in the Lincoln Journal Star

    This headline works for the print edition because there’s only one major university in the city (and really, in the state), so no clarification about which university is necessary. Not specifying which fraternity also works because it incites the reader to read the actual story in order to find out the fraternity being charged with these allegations.

    However, for the Web, I would rewrite the headline as follows: UNL suspends Sigma Chi for hazing, sex acts. While this headline is playing up the sensationalistic aspects of the story, that’s what needs to be done for story to get read on the Internet. Nobody is going to search for the generic terms “university” and “fraternity.” However, people will probably search for “UNL”, a public institution, and “Sigma Chi”, a national men’s fraternal organization. Additionally, people – especially students – are often searching for information about hazing, so using that term in the headline will work toward the story’s benefit. And, lastly, I’m sure this goes without saying, but I don’t doubt that there’s a lot of people who search for the term “sex”. Sex, as the saying goes, does sell.

  9. Morgan Demmel
    April 22, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Headline: Big on shrimp
    Subhead: Versatile seafood can transform any dish into something spectacular

    This headline was in the 402 section of the Lincoln Journal Star on Wednesday, April 22. The story describes different and unusual recipes for shrimp and the proper way to cook shrimp. The headline works well in print because it is paired with a large picture and the reader can easily understand what the story is about. On the Web, the story would not attract much attention with this headline. I would change the headline to “New shrimp recipes transform traditional meals.” I think using the words “recipe” and “meal” provide more information to readers and people searching these terms.

  10. John Schreier
    April 22, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Headline: Pipeline project to deliver jobs, cash
    Deck: Next month, up to 900 workers will beginning Nebraska’s $490 million portion.
    Source/Date: Omaha World-Herald, 4-19-09

    The headline is so vague that it could really be applied anywhere. It doesn’t help that the pipeline will run from Canada to southern oil refineries, and no less than five states could claim the generic headline. The deck helps to clarify what the “pipeline project” covers, but this story was my first time hearing about the Keystone Pipeline, so I was really confused at first. In order to trigger search engines, the word Nebraska would have to be prominently placed near “Keystone Pipeline.”

    Suggestion: Keystone Pipeline project to boost Nebraska economy

  11. Mac Barber
    April 23, 2009 at 12:20 am

    I chose a story from the Daily Nebraskan that ran Wednesday, April 22. The headline was “Rapid Recruiting” with a subhead of “NU coaches not worried by accelerated trends.” The picture below shows NU football coach Bo Pelini staring intently. This print headline works with the picture because it tells the reader that the story has to do with Husker football recruiting. However this headline wouldn’t work on the Web because while recruiting is important, rapid says nothing about who or what the story involves. I would rewrite the headline as “NU recruiting not sidetracked by faster commitments.” This way, the keywords NU and recruiting are near the beginning of the sentence and another keyword, commitments, is also included at the end. This combination of important, highly-searched words would make the story more visible in searches. Also, the fact that the Daily Nebraskan ran the story is also beneficial because it is the school newspaper, which people assume has good access to the football team.

  12. Krista Vogel
    April 23, 2009 at 2:25 am

    Headline: Feeling Lucky?
    Subhead: Ombudsman says lottery system lax in ferreting out fraud, theft
    Found: The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; April 22, 2009

    I thought this headline was a great example of what works for print but would never work online. The headline is cute and catchy, but it does not offer any real information; it could be attached to an article about any number of things. The article talks about the Iowa Lottery’s lack of enforcement and follow-up in fraud and theft cases. I thought the key words were “Iowa Lottery,” “fraud” and “ombudsman.” If the print headline were used online, readers would most likely skip over the article or find a different one that meets their search requirements.

    I would rewrite the headline as follows: Many Iowa Lottery fraud cases go unnoticed, ombudsman says.

    By using the aforementioned key words, readers will be able to search for and locate the article with ease online. The headline is quick and to-the-point, just as an Internet headline should be.

  13. Rachel Sullivan
    April 23, 2009 at 7:33 am

    I found the headline, “Citizen candidate takes on veteran,” in the April 23 Midlands section of the Omaha World-Herald. The story is about The two candidates for Omaha’s City Council. To re-write this headline for web, I would use names and location. It would be: Omaha City Council election pits veteran Festersen against citizen activist Sharon Chvala.”

  14. Stephen Youngerman
    April 23, 2009 at 8:09 am

    The New York Times ran the headline, “How to Sell A Nanny, A Mermaid And a Lion,” on Tuesday, April 21. The story is actually about Disney struggling to keep all three of the Broadway musicals running at once while people struggle with the hefty prices. Although this headline is ok for the print edition, had I ran across a link for that on the Web, I would never have clicked on it. In an offhand way, it does capture a certain essence of the story, but not enough to draw in an Internet cruiser. A better Web headline might be, “Disney Ponders Ways to Keep Broadway Sales Afloat.”

  15. Andrea Vasquez
    April 23, 2009 at 8:21 am

    Headline: Simply Scientific
    Subhead: The game has changed since the days of applying STP car engine oil to lanes. What began as a safety measure to protect the wood changed the game of bowling, turning coaches and players into lifelong scientists and students of the game.
    Found: Daily Nebraskan, April 21

    This is a cute and catchy headline, but in print it goes with the full-page graphic with a bowling lane, shoes, balls and arms. Without the graphic, the headlines is completely vague and could apply to a million things. It would never work on the Web because it only says the word “bowling” once in the subhead and that’s not even until the second sentence.

    Web alternative: Bowlers use science and strategy to strike

  16. Brittany Claxton
    April 23, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Headline: Dream became nightmare for horses
    Omaha World Herald, April 23

    This headline is appropriate for a print article because it plays with the story material and includes a large photo. However, for an online article it is vague and gives no information as to what the story is about, especially if someone doesn’t know about the general situation. Even the picture captions do not relay much information regarding the subject matter that is of most importance.

    Alternative: Horse trainer Meduna’s arrogance may have led to starvation

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