SEO: Changing the way we write?

Are the SEO experts of the world killing the witty headline?

The Poynter Institute certainly seems to think so. In a review of an article from The Atlantic, Jim Romanesko talks about how copy editors are fighting back.

You might file this one under “things only journalists (and newspaper junkies) care about,” but there is something to be said for a clever headline in some situations. Features and second-day stories might even benefit from interesting headlines.

But for routine news, SEO headlines may be not only good for the Google Bot, but also for readers. While it’s true that “(name) dead at (age)” is not the most attractive headline, it does give the user a good idea of what the article is going to tell them, something not all newspaper headlines can claim.

As a news consumer, there is nothing more frustrating than clicking on an interesting headline only to read a totally uninteresting story, or clicking on a headline that promises one thing only to get a story that delivers something entirely different.

The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten eulogized the end of the clever head, claiming that the Post’s SEO policy was taking away the only creativity that copy editors had left. (This might not be such a problem anymore, given that the Post and other papers have eliminated a lot of copy editing positions in the past few years).

Love it or hate it, SEO is here to stay. Outspoken Media would like journalists to just stop whining already and embrace the power of Google’s algorithm over our lives. And the Neiman Lab reported that journalists are increasingly being asked to include search engine optimized terms in their lede paragraph, so it’s not only the headline that’s suffering.

For print journalists, it may be hard to let go of the puns and innuendo that populated headlines past, but in a world where the most coveted position in the newsroom is at the top of the Google search results, it seems it’s a necessary sacrifice.

At least until the Google Bot gets a sense of humor.