Create SEO Headlines That Will Get Clicks

A photo of workers choosing SEO headlines at a computer.
••• Photo © Milton Brown / Getty Images

As an editor, you should follow simple SEO tips to increase online readership and build your media brand on the Internet. Get noticed by search engines, work with your staff and watch your site stats soar.

Choose the Right Keyword Phrase

The basis of good search engine optimization (SEO) is to find the right keyword phrase. There are several free research tools to help you pick a keyword phrase readers are looking for while being relevant to your story's content.

Evaluate all of your content, not just your daily news stories, to make sure it has the right keyword phrase. Special features, reporter franchises, and other topical content should be researched to make sure they have keyword phrases that will get the most eyes on those pages of your site.

Write SEO-Friendly Headlines

You've probably been trained to write creative, attention-getting headlines. Unless you began your career writing for online media, then this use of creativity usually results in headlines that won't get noticed by search engines.

A headline titled, "Twister Slams Area," with a picture of tornado damage works for a newspaper. But that headline for an online article will get nowhere in a search.

Writing headlines for the web requires a different approach. To grab readers and attract search engines, you would cut that elusive headline down to a bare-bones description of your news. "EF 4 Tornado Damages Joplin" describes the article, is search engine friendly and entices the reader to click the link for complete coverage.

Optimize the Article

A story that only uses the keyword phrase in the headline is weak in a search engine's view. It's the equivalent of sending a reporter out on a story and having her come back without details of the news or interviews to go along with her report.

Without any meat to back up your keyword phrase, all you have is a useless link that won't get very far in search engine placement. You have to pepper the keyword phrase throughout your article to give it the weight it needs to climb up a search engine's results pages.

There is an art to SEO, though. You must avoid black hat SEO tricks and bad SEO habits or your site will be penalized. Of all the SEO tips to remember, this one could save you from falling off a search engine's radar. Use your keyword phrase wisely in each article so you don't appear as if you're trying to spam your way to the top of search results.

Write to Your Audience

Once you start focusing on SEO, it's easy to forget you're supposed to be writing for people. There's a fine balance to writing SEO-friendly content.

Always write to your target audience, not a search engine. A search engine's goal is to deliver quality content to your audience. Writing for a search engine instead of people defeats the purpose. Your content will be an awkward read. Visitors will back out of your site to find the competition's story that's written for a human and not a search engine spider.

SEO the Image

Images don't just help tell the story. They are also a key component in your SEO. This is one of those SEO tips that's often overlooked, though.

Search engines also spider your image alt tags and captions when they visit your site. The text you've written can drive your SEO value up.

If your keyword phrase relates to a food drive, use this in your alt tag and caption. Your alt tag for the keyword phrase "Tri-Cities food drive" could read, "A picture of donated goods for the Tri-Cities food drive." Your caption would reinforce the keyword phrase, "Generous donors raised $15,000 for the 35th annual Tri-Cities food drive."

Use Topically Relevant Promotional Spots

Most media sites have a section of relevant links based on the article's content. These are usually an auto-pull based on words you've used in the story.

Tailor promotional spots to fit your keyword phrase. If your keyword is "juvenile crime," add a promo section titled, "More Juvenile Crime News."

In that section, you would include links to your "Juvenile Crime Stats," "Juvenile Crime and Issues" and "Juvenile Crime Case Studies" pages. The goal is to add relevant links with an emphasis on your keyword phrase.

Track Your Page Over Time

Until you reach number one in search results, your SEO work isn't done. Even then, you will want to monitor the links on your site to make sure they hold their ranks.

An easy way to spot a problem with your SEO is through your site's analytics tools. A dip in traffic on your site or for a specific story could signal a drop in your SEO placement.

Once you find a link that's made a significant drop month after month, try to figure out why. Has the story lost its news value, i.e. interest in the local high school football team's road to the state championship is over now that the team has lost?

Or is there an article that was doing well but has dropped for reasons you can't explain, i.e. a city visitor's guide that's performed well year after year has seen a decline in traffic.

Visit search engines to see what's showing up for the article's keyword phrase. Look at the competition to pinpoint why they've jumped ahead of you.

Reevaluate your article to see if it needs to be updated or reoptimized. It could be something as simple as outdated content or bad links causing your article to give readers a bad user experience, which could be affecting your search engine placement.

Train Your Staff

Every story that's not optimized for search is a lost opportunity to build your media brand. Once you've mastered these SEO tips, train your staff members to rethink the way they write for the web too.