This morning, I came across an opinion article over at the Washington Post. The article was written by longtime columnist Gene Weingarten and focused on how much publishing has changed since the advent of the internet (hint: he’s not happy about it). It was a fun read and fairly on spot, but then poor Gene made the mistake of trying to speak intelligently about something he clearly knows little to nothing about.
Search engine optimization (aka “SEO”).
Here’s what he had to say:
Newspapers still have headlines, of course, but they don’t seem to strive for greatness or to risk flopping anymore, because editors know that when the stories arrive on the Web, even the best headlines will be changed to something dull but utilitarian. That’s because, on the Web, headlines aren’t designed to catch readers’ eyes. They are designed for “search engine optimization,” meaning that readers who are looking for information about something will find the story, giving the newspaper a coveted “eyeball.” Putting well-known names in headlines is considered shrewd, even if creativity suffers.
In a nutshell, he’s blaming the lack of creativity in article titles on SEO, but there’s one glaring problem with that logic; his assertion is based on the misguided notion that article titles should be designed for “search engine optimization” (his words not mine).
I suggest that you reach out to one of those “multiplatform idea triage specialists from the social media utilization division” (your words, not mine) and ask them about the difference between the title of your articles and the title tag of your articles.
For you see, it’s the title tag of an article (or any web document for that matter) that should be optimized for search engines. Any SEO worth their weight would tell you that, and they would also tell you that all writers are free to be as creative as they please when writing the actual titles of their articles.
Still not sure what the difference is? Let’s take a look at your column for some perspective:
The actual title of your article is:
Gene Weingarten article mentions Lady Gaga
The title tag of your article is:
<title>Gene Weingarten – Gene Weingarten column mentions Lady Gaga. </title>
Here’s a screengrab of your actual article for additional reference (hint: the title tag shows up in the blue bar at the top of the screenshot, and if you know how to look at the actual html code of your article pages, you can find it there as well):
Sadly, Mr. Weingarten, you have unwittingly revealed one of the reasons why traditional publishers are struggling in the internet and search engine age. Your refusal or inability to grasp how search engines work, and your organization’s inability to properly train you and or support your content by properly optimizing it behind the scenes is the reason. It has nothing to do with having to write article titles in a search engine friendly manner.
Now from what I understand, there are folks at www.washingtonpost.com that work on optimizing the site for search engines. Unfortunately, they have failed you by:
a) not informing you and your editors that they can continue to write creative and alluring article titles
b) not teaching you or your editors how to optimize the aforementioned title tags of your articles for search (FYI – your article has a very poor title tag)
c) not manually optimizing the title tags for each of your articles (an exercise that takes no more than five minutes per article)
Or, perhaps there is another possibility. It could be that your entire site sits on an antiquated content management system that is incapable of allowing for the optimization of individual title tags. And no matter how hard your SEO team has tried to convince the powers that be that there needs to be an upgrade to that content management system or that a new content management system needs to be installed, those powers that be have decided that they don’t want to spend the money to do so.
Instead, they will try to lobby Google, complain to Google, etc…in hopes of getting the search giant to give special favors so that your Washington Post content gets special treatment in search engine results.
Meanwhile, independent publishers (e.g. bloggers, etc) have cut out all of the overhead (no overly inflated salaries, fancy offices, printing machines, or expensive yet ineffective content management systems) and have taken the time to understand search engines. Therefore, they are able to write catchy titles while still capturing all of those search engine eye balls. They also engage with individual readers via their comments section, or via Twitter, Facebook, etc…making direct and powerful connections with their readership.
And guess what? Readers like what they see and have decided that in some cases, they prefer these independent publishers over the traditional sources of news and opinion.
And all of this with no mentions of Lady Gaga.
P.S. Not all traditional publishers take this route. Some organizations, like the Tribune, have taken great lengths to hire true SEO pros that make sure their content (not just at the Chicago Tribune but at all of their properties) does as well as possible in this search engine age of ours.