This Boring Headline Is Written for Google – New York Times This story is causing a lot of buzz in webmaster forums and search engine discussions as though it were not previously common knowledge in the SEO community how important headlines can be. Somehow people seem surprised at the need to use important descriptive words and phrases in headlines.
I’m stunned that anyone who professes any knowledge about search engines can actually still question the value of headlines to search ranking. Have any of those surprised by the need for descriptive (rather than creative / cute / ironic/ type headlines) ever done an actual web search? I do this all day long most days. It is how I earn my living, so it doesn’t surprise me – but still, aren’t you far more likely to click on search results links that clearly include your searched phrase in the search results page at Google, versus one that doesn’t include what you searched for in the page title in that search engine results list? (For those who aren’t aware, your TITLE metatag is what shows up as the link in search engine results lists.)
You will always see the keywords you searched for in the TITLE tags of the top ranked sites on search result pages. Not sometimes – ALWAYS. Maybe the words are not in exact order you searched for them, and maybe not every word you used is in that top result, but the more words the site has in that title and the closer they are to the way you searched for them, the more likely that page will turn up among the top results.
Clearly, there are other “off page” factors, like how other sites link to that page, text included on the body of the page, internal links on the page and site theme all factor into this. But the New York Times having reporters and editors write factual, descriptive headlines is solid proof that keywords in titles and headlines are critical to ranking – or the Times wouldn’t be admitting the need for a change to descriptive headlines for Google. Because on news sites, the headline is used verbatim in the TITLE metatag. If for some reason the words you searched are NOT in the titles, it is only because lots of sites have linked to those top ranked pages using the keywords you searched for.
You can test this by clicking that “Cached” link you see below the results Google shows. The keywords you searched with will be highlighted on that cached page. If one or more of the words you searched don’t actually appear on the page anywhere, you’ll see an explanation on the Google cached page header above the Google cached version of the page: I did a search for “Boring News Headlines” at Google and clicked on the “Cached” link below the number one result, which was actually Yahoo news. 😉 There are a couple of lines in that Google header which read,
“These search terms have been highlighted: news“
“These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: boring headline“
(Results like this make me wonder sometimes if Google is manually messing with results to poke fun at their competitor.)
So back to my point here – Use of the headline at news sites in the TITLE tags, combined with the fact that search results ALWAYS have the words you searched for included in that TITLE tag and in the headline on that page, probably using H1 tags (HTML tag intended for headlines or titles on visible page text) emphasize the importance of the headline used.
This story reveals that the New York Times is admitting openly that they are now using descriptive headlines instead of cute, ironic or fanciful headlines that have little meaning if they are viewed in a list of headlines and out of context, minus accompanying photos or illustrations. This is how many RSS news readers present headlines, in a plain text list, linked to the news page.
But if the New York Times is writing boring headlines, that is nobody’s fault but their own. It is still possible to write dramatic, interesting and even shocking headlines which still include keywords within the 5 to 7 words used for the headline. I do it routinely in articles I write on search engine optimization. As a matter of fact, I pride myself on my creative headlines on SEO related articles – while still using the most important keywords in that same headline
I invite you to search for the following headlines and I guarantee that you’ll end up on one of my articles.
Keyword Voodoo! Invisible Metatag Mumbo Jumbo
Important words “Keyword Metatag”
Linking Psychosis is Treatable Link Obsession & PageRank
Important keywords “Linking, link, PageRank”
Google Big Daddy searchquake about to rock your ranking?
Important keywords “Google BigDaddy Ranking”
Now I am very aware that it is unlikely that anyone will search for and find my articles using ONLY the important keywords, but the point here is that descriptive and important keywords can be included in a headline without that headline being boring. It also makes it extremely easy to find my articles online since most sites that use them put the title or headline in the TITLE metatags and it shows up in search results.
Operating an article archive for the past six and a half years, I’ve seen how authors will submit titles, that viewed out of context or without a text snippet, the titles appear to be intended to be cute or funny, or maybe dramatic, or even incendiary. But those titles should be seen as critical to search engine ranking above all. If they don’t inlcude descriptive, important keywords related to the article topic, they are as good as invisible to the search engines when used in the TITLE tag and H1 title tags on any page.
Many sites will use free content articles by submitting them through an automated CMS system which inserts common HTML tags, hyperlinks URL’s and format the text to reflect site design standards. These automated systems often take the title and place it in the TITLE metatag on the page and in an H1 tag in the page text. Those places on any web page where headlines are used are critical to search engine ranking and when they DON’T include important keywords, the page will rarely rank well for the topic of the article due to that one oversight by an author attempting to be creative.
When a cute, catchy article title is used without including descriptive and on-topic keywords, it is guaranteed that the article will not show up in most searches. If a news site uses only plain descriptive text, it is still likely that a search won’t reveal the article in searches. But if a little creativity is applied to that headline title, then you are guaranteed to at least be able to find that article in a search, because you’ll remember both the topic and the important keywords. Just try searching for “Google SEO Sleeping Pill” after April 20 (after search engines index it) and NOT seeing this article in top search results.