Pun-tastic headlines are back – thanks to Google

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Thursday, 20th September 2012 by Simon Hilliard

The web has changed many things in life. When I was but a small child, and nets were for fishing, I didn’t know all cats are hilarious. I had no way of seeing what my friends were having for dinner every day. I was unable to claim knowledge of an obscure acronym cos I couldn’t Wikipedia it.

Now I am a small adult that’s all changed. I can do all these things, and more. The one thing I can’t do is enjoy a good online pun-headline.  As much joy as the web has brought us, SEO and Google News has all but killed the pun-tastic world of tabloid headlines, leaving them the reserve of good old print media only.

pun headlines

This has also lead to some media outlets putting up fairly uninteresting or sensationalised news pieces, with headlines likely to grab SEO traffic. For example, stick ‘Kate Middleton’ in a headline last week and you’ll probably see a spike in traffic. But perhaps this is all about to change. Some bright spark at Google must be missing the puns as much as I am. Whoever it is must have been a fan of The Big Breakfast’s Pun Down too.

Google is launching ‘news_keywords’ metatag to solve the headline issue. Rudy Galfi, Google News product manager, says the new tool “lets publishers specify a collection of terms that apply to a news article. These words don’t need to appear anywhere within the headline or body text…Because the metatag appears only as part of the HTML code of a page, visitors to a site won’t ever see the magic under the hood.”

In other words, you can now tag a headline with keywords in the same way you can tag a post or article. These tags won’t appear in the headline, but Google’s clever spiders will see them when crawling and indexing the page, the process Google follows to make sites show up in search results. Tags help Google understand the context of a webpage, and identify which words it should index against. This ultimately makes it easier for Google users to find the relevant page or pages they want.

The key benefit here is removing the need to have what users are searching for in the headline, freeing up writers to be all creative with puns. For example, the classic headline ‘Wham bam! Sam Cam to be mam’ (wherein PM David Cameron’s wife Samantha is reportedly pregnant) is not well optimised for SEO. No one is looking for this news is likely to search for anything other than perhaps the media nickname ‘Sam Cam’.

But if you can tag it with say ‘David Cameron’, ‘Samantha Cameron’, ‘pregnant’, ‘prime minister’, ‘baby’, and so on, then you get the comedy pun and the traffic.

Bravo Google, a most worthwhile improvement. And hopefully one that will discourage media outlets from shoving up rush stories with SEO grabbing headlines.

HT to @vickywoollaston

@simonhill

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