The importance of headlines in SEO

There was an interesting feature in today’s Media Guardian about the potential death of the punning headline in the world of tabloid journalism, with the rise of SEO (Search engine optimisation for the non-techies out there).

Basically, headlines such as ‘Gotcha!’ for the sinking of the Belgrano back in 1982 just won’t cut the mustard in the cut-and-thrust of search engines, because, even though the following article will talk about the news event, the headline has no relation to facts.

As someone who works online and also has spent many a year writing shocking puns to go with copy (‘Monet for old rope’ springs to mind on one art-related feature), I find myself torn between the two.

For example, I probably should have called this entry something like “Pun for the money, two for the SEO”, but that wouldn’t have generated any Google traffic at all.

To be honest, the death of puns is a bit of a shame. I totally understand why getting your website high up on Google is important, but given that the Web is about words a lot of the time, it seems farcical that SEO actually constrains, rather than liberates an online journalist.

Places like the Sun and the Mirror will be hardest hit with the pun ban and it will be interesting to see how they respond to the challenges of SEO and whether they change headlines on articles, once they hit the web.

My personal pun headline goes way back to when I worked on the student newspaper in Sheffield. A colleague had written a review of the latest Star Trek movie, which he had thoroughly enjoyed and came up with the following gem: ‘Rapt in Klingon Film’!

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