February 2, 2007 10:00 AM PST

Newspaper headlines lost in Web translation

Newspapers increasingly are having to write headlines for the Web that will attract search engine crawlers as much as readers.

We asked Stephan Spencer, president and founder of search engine optimization company Netconcepts, whether some historic and famous newspaper headlines would translate to the Web. Here are his comments:

Wall St. lays an egg--Variety on Black Monday (1929)

Spencer: Searchers won't type in "Wall St", they'll use "Wall Street". Spell it out. And where's the all-important phrase "stock market"?

Sticks nix hick pix--Variety, suggesting that rural moviegoers reject movies about rural life (1935)

Spencer: Not a single good keyword here. "Movies" would be good to include; that beats out "films" as a keyword by a "country mile" (pun intended!). There's an order-of-magnitude difference in popularity between those two keywords.

Dewey defeats Truman--The Chicago Tribune reporting the wrong election winner (1948)

Spencer: Needs "election results" in order to gain visibility for the phrase "election results" as well as for "election". "Election results" is more popular with searchers than "election winner".

Ford to city: Drop dead--New York Daily News reporting President Ford's denial of a federal bailout (1975)

Spencer: Would suggest "President Ford" over "Ford", and "New York City" over "City".

Sick transit's glorious Monday--New York Daily News reporting on a state transit bailout (1980)

Spencer: "New York State Transit Rescued in Federal Bailout" would make for a much more search engine optimal headline.

Gotcha!--The U.K.'s Sun on the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands War (1981)

Spencer: Sprinkling keywords like "Falklands", "war", "conflict", "battle", "Argentinian" into this one-word headline would take away some of the punch, yet it would be essential if search engine visibility is important.

Headless body in topless bar--New York Post on a local murder (1983)

Spencer: No New Yorker searching Google, Yahoo News, etc. for local crime news would have found this story. Needs to include "crime" and/or "murder", along with some location-based keywords like "Manhattan" or "NYC".

Hicks nix Knicks in six--New York Daily News on an NBA Conference Finals win by Indiana Pacers (2000)

Spencer: This is classic. I'd hate to change this, but unfortunately the only good keyword here is "Knicks". Where's "NBA", "Pacers", "New York", "score", "basketball"...

Super Caley go ballistic. Celtic are atrocious--The Sun on Inverness Caledonian Thistle's huge Scottish Cup upset against Glasgow Celtic (2000)

Spencer: Kinda important to include "Scottish Cup" in the headline, don't ya think?

Green Beans comes marching home--The Wall Street Journal on a coffee supplier to U.S. troops opening retail cafes stateside (2007)

Spencer: For one thing, "green beans" isn't a terribly popular search term. Secondly, a fraction of searchers will be looking for the coffee supplier; most will be looking for recipes. "Coffee", "cafes", "Starbucks"--these would all be excellent keywords.

Caught speeding--New York Post on Barry Bonds' amphetamine use (2007)

Spencer: "Barry Bonds" is the subject of the article and a popular search term. Omitting this dooms the article to the bottom of the results for searches on Barry's name.

Bastards! A changed America--San Francisco Examiner on the attacks of September 11 (2001)

Spencer: Interjecting keywords like "terrorism", "terrorists", or "terror attack" would have helped this article in the search engines.

Bull's-eye--Oakland Tribune on U.S. bombing of Iraq (1991)

Spencer: "Iraq", anyone?

Lumberjerk--Boston Herald on a lumber trucker's car accident (1996)

Spencer: Cute headline, but "car accident", "traffic accident", and "truck accident" are the phrases to target--in that order.

See more CNET content tagged:
coffee company, headline, Ford, search engine, Sun Microsystems Inc.


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Hopefully newspapers -- or anyone who publishes material on the web -- will learn that the web is not the same as print.

In print, you have to worry about the length of your headline fitting nicely above the column width of the story. Online, there's no such concern.

In print, you already have a captive audience -- they've already picked up your paper, or at least looked at the cover, most likely on the day the paper was printed. Online, your headline has to grab them without the context of place or time.

Some in the media have learned that the Internet is not a print medium, and have changed their behavior. Others are still too scared of this "wild west" frontier, where anyone who can shout loudly can, potentially, get as much attention as the established media.

It's odd to still be noticing the differences between print and online nearly 20 years after news started appearing online with some regularity, but we'll likely still be having similar discussions 20 years from now.
Posted by E B (267 comments )
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It's A Useless Exercise
Mills and Spencer don't get it. They are saying that creativity should be subordinated to the needs of his company to easily index the web. He forgets that if I'm searching for a general term like "New York City" I really don't want to pull in the headline "Ford to city: Drop dead" as my search is still general. Shoot. Why not simply tag everything with the phrase "Pam Anderson" so everything is returned with every search?
Posted by Guillaime (1 comment )
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Why not index and tag the the entire story keywords?
Why not index and tag the entire story keywords? Why just look at the headline? The story would certainly have the right keywords that would match up with the search query. If not, there is a general need for intelligence (even in online only stories) to produce results based on synonyms or matching words.
Posted by ntaori (1 comment )
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