4.15.2009

This headline is not optimized for SEO

I am a word nerd. This means I set my DVR for Will Shortz interviews, do wacky things like read 25 pages of the encyclopedia, and find myself physically pained by press releases that describe how "Mom's will just love our new patent-pending Baybee Onezees!!!"

Illegal use of Y! Illegal use of Z! Illegal use of apostrophe! Illegal use of exclamation point! Arghhhhhhh.

It means that I also entered the land of LOL/OMG/WTF internet parlance with great trepidation.

The other day bluesnyce on Twitter offered to introduce me to DW and all I could think was, Griffith? Weaning off the message boards has perhaps been the best thing for my writing since my memoir instructor at Gotham Writer's Workshop told me to describe the room after I walk into it.

(Also, I still hate friend as a verb. Just getting that off my chest.)

Then just now, I read a tweet from Jen Singer that articulates my word nerd fears exactly: SEO is killing the clever headline on the net.

I'm not some old fuddy duddy mourning the loss of shan't and shaking my fist in the air at the kids who say "like" six times in a sentence. I'm not furious that you can now write Fuck in Advertising Age and have it published, provided you're Bob Garfield. What I am sad about is the the demise of wit in the pursuit of Google traffic. It's been on my mind for a while.

Some of the greatest blog headlines that have stuck with me had nothing to do with SEO. In fact, they'd probably drive entirely the wrong search audience to the post.

Behold:

Placenta A Woman

Will No One Help the Hookers?

The Worst Post I've Ever Written

Spiritual Lipstick

I Am Archimedes! Behold My Junk!

Bathroom Mushroom

Jesus Christ, Fashion Superstar

In Bondage (Or: The one that makes people uncomfortable.)

By Popular Demand: Underage Chinese Olympic Gymnast

Soy Rage: The Dark Secret of Trader Joes


You don't get headlines like that with keywords.

I get the need for traffic. I understand that this is the way things work in this medium. Newspaper headlines were written with the purpose of grabbing you on your way to the subway, and blog headlines are written with the purpose of grabbing you on a search for "pregnant mom sex," as Beth reminds me.

You know how there's NABLOPOMO? I kind of wish there were one month where people just wrote the best freaking headlines possible, search engines be damned.


41 Comments:

Blogger Amelia Sprout said...

I couldn't agree more. I like my weird post titles, and I go for that more than I go for SEO. Good thing I don't care if I ever have traffic.

4/15/09, 1:31 PM  
Blogger LaVonne said...

Hey, I am trying to find the post you did about google searches that led to your site. It was so funny and I want to link it to my latest post. I am having a hard time finding it though. Can you help?

Thanks!

4/15/09, 1:40 PM  
Anonymous Nothing But Bonfires said...

Oh man. I still remember the best headline I ever wrote. It was for a wedding magazine and the bride was obsessed with gardenias: they were in the bouquets, on the tables, lining the aisles, in people's hair. There were gardenias, gardenias, gardenias, and they were everywhere. My headline for the story? The Constant Gardenia.

God, it was brilliant. I still think of it sometimes when I'm doubting myself and questioning my self-worth. Did I come up with The Constant Gardenia? I did. Well then, no wrist-slitting today.

(All this to say, I feel you on the word nerd thing.)

4/15/09, 1:47 PM  
Blogger @sweetbabboo said...

Amen to that. I love using song lyrics and other fun titles. Personally, I think it's more eye-catching in a blogroll which is where I'd prefer my traffic to come from anyway.

I'm with you on the word nerd stuff. My husband and I keep Will Shortz puzzle cards in our bathroom instead of the usual Car & Driver magazine.

-Abby

4/15/09, 2:02 PM  
Blogger catnip said...

I have never once written a post title for SEO and I still stink at thinking them up. Writer fail AND SEO fail.

4/15/09, 2:05 PM  
Blogger Anne Stesney said...

OK, I'm gonna be an idiot here. What exactly is SEO? I figure it has something to do with your number of blog hits? Do tell.

PS: You look amazing in the Dana Owens pix!

4/15/09, 2:08 PM  
Blogger AlyGatr said...

It just goes to show how new I am to the blog-o-sphere...I'd never heard of SEO and I never even considered searchability when coming up with my post titles. I thought one of my better ones lately was "So It Seems...That I Suck"...which didn't get much traffic which might mean I suck more than I thought!

4/15/09, 2:08 PM  
Blogger Anne Stesney said...

I'm out of it. I meant Dara Torres. Where the hell did I get Dana Owens? Forgive me. I was up all night with a sick toddler.

4/15/09, 2:10 PM  
Blogger Super Careo said...

I LOVE your idea. I think you should run with it, I would participate. It makes me think of the first line contests that my fiction teacher was told me about.

And as far as SEO headlines go for a blog, isn't that sort of defeating the purpose of a 'personal' blog? Isn't the point to just get it out there and hope that someone stumbles upon it? Seems to me that the only people who should worry about SEO are people who are using their blogs to market something.

4/15/09, 2:32 PM  
Anonymous cindy w said...

I only do SEO headlines in my professional writing, which is generally straightforward, boring, computer/tech articles. The kind of thing that SEO is intended for, right?

But, I have never once written a personal blog post headline and thought, "hmm, how could I title this to get the most possible search engine results?" Never.

Of course, that might explain why my blog has so few readers. But that's ok with me.

4/15/09, 2:34 PM  
Anonymous Alexis said...

I don't have traffic either, so I'm naming my posts whatever I darn well pleeze! (Just kidding--it was actually physically painful for me to type that!)

4/15/09, 2:52 PM  
Blogger Coma Girl said...

I don't care about traffic...as evident by my four readers.

But people using "like" in a sentence six times drives me insane.

4/15/09, 2:56 PM  
Anonymous crunchy said...

My site is not SEO'd. I have a group of small followers that I am grateful for..but not for the traffic..but because THEY LIKE ME!

So yeah...rankings suck, but I feel loved!

4/15/09, 3:02 PM  
Anonymous Jen Singer said...

I'm glad I've found kindred spirits. I never write for SEO, but sometimes editors change my headlines for it, something that's probably mandated from on high.

As a result, a magazine piece I wrote is called "Sibling Smackdown" in print, but "How to Stop Sibling Struggles" online.

Obviously, SEO has no sense of humor.

Sigh.

4/15/09, 3:07 PM  
Blogger Summer said...

Um...what is SEO?

4/15/09, 3:46 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

Because your headline contains 'optimized for SEO', I bet you'll get a lot of people coming here looking for instructions on how to do that. Which makes me laugh a little.

I hear you. I don't worry about SEO with my post titles. Some of them are very descriptive of content, some aren't, it just depends. Either way I think I would rather choose a title that I like, rather than one that Google likes.

4/15/09, 4:00 PM  
Blogger Blog Antagonist said...

UGh. I hear you. I now have a "real" writing job, and they actively discourage clever, pithy, or punny titles. They want clear concise titles for SEO. It irritates me.

That said, my post "Real Moms Eat Pussy" is still one of my highest viewed after two years, so I must grudgingly admit that guess there is something to the whole SEO thing.

4/15/09, 4:01 PM  
Blogger Miss Grace said...

Somewhat embarrassing confession: I just had to google SEO, because while I've read the term, I tend to just glaze over articles that talk about it, and I didn't (until just now) actually know what it was.

So I guess I'm not doing it...

4/15/09, 5:17 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

For those of you unfamiliar with the term (and bless you, really) it stands for Search Engine Optimization.

In other words, writing headlines in a way that helps you rank higher on searches for popular phrases.

Let's say you want to write a headline called "Big Buns." In SEO land, you will be told, um, what we'd really like is a headline that says Burger King's new larger hamburger buns - The top ten reasons to appreciate the new carbohydrate friendly menu.Or something.

For websites that are businesses, it's essential. But when it's compromising the quality of writing on personal blogs and good editorial sites, it breaks my heart in pieces.

4/15/09, 5:23 PM  
Blogger Cloud said...

I can honestly say that the only time I've thought much about search engine behavior in conjunction with my blog was when I was choosing my "handle" (Cloud). I post on science and techie blogs with the same ID (I have my reasons, and I'll admit one of them is that I think the WTF moments I no doubt give some scientists and techies when they follow the link to my blog is good for them.) Anyway, I didn't want my handle to be something that could easily be used to find EVERYTHING I post using Google, because then I would very soon lose all vestiges of anonymity. There really aren't that many women in my field, and the number of women in my field who are married to New Zealanders and mother to 2 year olds is probably pretty close to 1.

I don't care much about my traffic since I don't do ads, etc., so I can write clever headlines to my heart's content. Too bad I am not actually funny/clever in that way.

And I hear you on the word nerd thing. Extraneous quotation marks are my personal favorite.

4/15/09, 7:29 PM  
Blogger tara said...

best freakin' headlines month? i'm in!

(shoot, but now i might actually need to use the little tinker - SEO headlines doesn't seem to require so much.)

4/15/09, 8:24 PM  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

I agree that on personal blogs like this one, it is so much more entertaining to have non-SEO optimized headlines. And while you probably already know this, you can have the best of both worlds. I.e., name your post one thing for your readers and use a plugin that allows you to use title tags to rename your post for the search engines.

Check it here -

http://www.netconcepts.com/seo-title-tag-plugin/

(I'm not affiliated with this company, I just use it for my personal blog too).

And if I sound like a total dork now, I apologize ;)

4/15/09, 9:17 PM  
Blogger sweatpantsmom said...

Oh, um - I was going to direct you to my post titled, 'Tea Party Recession Octuplets Obama Puppy Mel Gibson Divorce' but just forget it.

4/15/09, 9:45 PM  
Anonymous Jerseygirl89 said...

I'm pretty sure that the only reason new people show up on my blog is because of my weird titles. I LOVE your idea.

The apostrophe abuse is killing me. A little part of me dies each time I read one.

4/15/09, 9:50 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

@sweatpantsmom

What, no AmazonFail?

4/15/09, 9:50 PM  
Blogger Kirsten said...

I had no idea what SEO was until I read this post. Thanks for enlightening me. I love witty titles. Your examples were perfection.

4/15/09, 11:20 PM  
Anonymous Amanda of Shamelessly Sassy said...

I love giving my posts weird titles. Fuck SEO. (I'm honestly not as disgruntled as that makes me sound. Or maybe I am?)

4/16/09, 1:12 AM  
Blogger Mama Bree said...

mom101, you know I'm a fan. so, I say this with all the love in the world....

"...Adverting Age..." is probably supposed to be "...Advertising Age...".

I'm just saying. ;-)

(Thank god I don't write my headlines for SEO land....)

4/16/09, 1:57 AM  
Anonymous SEO Company said...

As far as SEO is concerned headings are important for optimization, but if you are providing information through blogs then the heading will be according to the topic discussed in the post..

4/16/09, 4:07 AM  
Anonymous Motherhood Uncensored said...

HAHAHA. Apparently that title WAS optimized (see comment above mine).

You can never win with these internets.

4/16/09, 8:09 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Wait there's an s in Advertising? Impossible!

4/16/09, 8:32 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

@Motherhood uncensored: Yeah, SEO is a perfect art. That's why the number one keyword search to my blog is BIG BUTS. [sic]

4/16/09, 8:34 AM  
Blogger Gray Matter said...

Shit, I didn't even know I was SUPPOSED to be optimizing my headlines. I just always go for the most clever pun I can come up with. Clever. Pun. I know, oxymoron.
Now I understand my astoundingly low readership. Thanks!!

4/16/09, 11:06 AM  
Anonymous SEO India said...

Having a good Title will not help in SEO but also the snippet on search engine result listing.

4/16/09, 11:10 AM  
Anonymous Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com said...

It seems so fruitless to even try SEO. So you get a google search. They aren't going to come back if your post wasn't worth reading.

4/16/09, 12:18 PM  
Anonymous mothergoosemouse said...

Pithy clever titles rock. Business or personal, I'd rather have a hundred loyal readers than a hundred thousand SEO spambots.

And misplaced apostrophes cause me physical pain.

4/16/09, 3:42 PM  
Blogger Carter and Emily said...

Consider me one of those "100 loyal readers," when I find a few spare moments to read your posts. Writers of the blog world are clever, concise, and captivating, like a great headline should be. Thank you for sharing your mom realities with such intelligence and honesty.

4/18/09, 12:28 AM  
Blogger Lady M said...

I love writing post titles, so I am forever doomed to have zero SEO. Instead of the nicely keyworded "Leapfrog Alphabet Pal - toddler learning toy," I couldn't resist calling a recent post "They Didn't Really Name Him Oedipus, Did They?" but oh well.

Loved this post and your examples.

4/19/09, 8:27 PM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

As an SEO writer who was once just a WRITER, I wholeheartedly agree that the loss of snappy titles is a sad, sad thing. It's why I don't optimize my personal blog. It's my I REFUSE TO CARE ABOUT MY TRAFFIC HERE LA LA LA zone. Le sigh.

You do not know how much it hurts me to optimize titles sometimes, Liz. Really.

4/19/09, 11:57 PM  
Blogger Banteringblonde said...

Bravo! I don't ever think about it but i probably should - maybe!

4/20/09, 12:03 AM  
Anonymous Taylor at Household Management 101 said...

I am an SEO gal myself, but I understand how restricting those headlines can feel. I love headlines that grab attention more.

Perhaps once I have more following, and people just want to read what I have to say (like I do here at Mom 101) than I can use better headlines. I really think they are such an asset to good writing!

11/12/10, 5:02 PM  

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