27 September 2010

Going (Lady) Gaga Over Headlines Just(in) Time for Ahmadinejad!

Many years ago, in the pre-computer, pre-Internet era, I worked with a group of former British newspaper copy editors. They told me the best possible headline imaginable to attract the attention of most British readers would be this: “Teenage Doctor Priest in Mad-cap, Sex-change Dash to Palace.”

In today’s lingo, those are called “keywords,” and just about everyone with a web presence knows if you want to gain more visitors, you have to drive them to your site with eye-catching headlines using keywords that attract the attention of the big Internet search engines.

Here at VOA, we are no different in wanting more visitors. But our internal blogging guideline says of headlines: “Avoid puns or wordplay.”

Where is the fun in that? Some of the best headlines I remember include:


“One-armed Man Applauds the Kindness of Strangers”

“Chicken in Bag Puts 38 In Coop As Foxy Cops Crash Cockfight”

“Abraham Lincoln Was A Woman”

Of course, none of these really contain good search engine optimization keywords. It is possible people might search for “Abraham Lincoln” but would anyone look for “headless body” or “foxy cops”?

Instead, the top searches these days generally seem keyed to the names of celebrities or the titles of new movies or television shows. Looking at Google’s “Hot Searches” one day last week, the top 20 searches included just one real foreign news keyword: “Ahmadinejad” – Iran’s President, who had just spoken at the United Nations.

VOANews.com headlines are pretty straightforward – i.e. serious. That’s understandable. We are a serious news organization. But a lighter touch might occasionally be more effective.

The problem is: how do you link Ahmadinejad with Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber? Hmmm. Send us your suggested headlines.

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