How can you make search engines work for you? Three good recent pieces on how to get journalism read, which is what this subject boils down to (with all the politics that entails).
First piece is in Search Engine Journal (which I found through journalism.co.uk). Rule number one, which will calm and reassure old inkies, is: “First – what does your headline say?” Many of the rules governing search engines and how they find stuff have to do with good headline writing, and are just as useful for making the story more approachable. “Remember I may (but not likely) come across these headlines while conducting a related search. So even if it’s content that I wasn’t searching for in the first place, you still have an opportunity to grab my attention with a relevant headline,” says the author of the SE Journal piece.
The subject of what is called search engine optimisation is, for the beginner, hard to grasp. It basically involves gaming the search engines to make sure your stuff comes up in searches. Any journalist who has learnt to write headlines will grasp this. The very construction of a newspaper front page is designed to catch the eye of the reader as they pass a news stand. The words are unusual, eye-catching, short; a few very current names help sell papers; people are promiscuous and an image or word will distract them. I vivdly remember the gleam in the eye of a former editor as he contemplated a foreign scoop: “banana,” he said excitedly, “is a very good headline word.” (Don’t ask).
This is also a controversial area. “There are many misconceptions around SEO as journalists feel that it is some kind of underhand method of manipulating their articles,” says Cyberjournalist. “It’s this mindset which creates a barrier between journalists getting a good handle on optimization. Some writers say that the way the search engines work distorts journalism when editors seek to exploit it. But the Daily Telegraph (which encourages active use of SEO) has clearly done pretty well out of it in raising traffic. What people can find they can read.
Good summary of some of the issues in the British Journalism Review here. It points to this as being, in some ways, a new version of the old debate about journalists, audience and advertisers and who drives the bus. By the way I am aware I know the square root of eff all about all this and need to know more; and that my own site does little to respect the rules.