Newspapers, search optimization, and transforming old-school editors

By Ross Dawson on February 2, 2007 | Permalink

Last April I wrote a post about changes in newspaper headline writing. Editors were discovering that the witty, catchy headlines they wrote for their print versions weren’t working in the online versions. They weren’t easily visible in search engines, didn’t attract attention by readers using RSS aggregators, and generally meant articles were not getting read online. A very similar article appeared today on CNET, describing the travails of newspaper editors trying to make their print versions work in an online format.
The bottom line is that this is about education. The skills that have served editors and journalists admirably over the last decades need to be complemented by an understanding of how search engines, RSS readers, and social media websites such as Digg, Tailrank, Newsvine and their ilk work. In addtion, there is a new art and science of understanding the behaviors of online news readers. Some people read both print and online news in different situations, and some have shifted to read almost exclusively online. These are in fact demographically some of the most attractive readers. Training is required, and sometimes new people are needed to take the place of those who cannot or will not learn the new skills to succeed in this environment.

“We’ve had training sessions with copy editors and the night desk for the newspaper. It’s been a big education initiative,” said David Beard, editor of Boston.com and former assistant managing editor of its print sibling, The Boston Globe. “We’re regularly beating the bigger boys, like the Chicago Tribune and The Wall Street Journal…and part of the reason is SEO.” In November, Nielsen/NetRatings ranked Boston.com, the sister Web site of The Boston Globe, as the fourth-most trafficked newspaper Web site in the country, even though its print circulation is ranked 15th by one audit bureau.

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