Well, turns out, the NYT is NOT the subject of the story, but it should have been. Because if you think the folks at the Times Digital aren’t thinking about optimizing their stories for Google, well, you’re foolin’ yourself.
Regardless of how odd it might have been to report on himself, Steve Lohr has written a piece about how newspapers are now thinking about how Google might parse the paper’s headlines, and how it’s changed the art of headline writing. The lead of the story:
JOURNALISTS over the years have assumed they were writing their headlines and articles for two audiences — fickle readers and nitpicking editors. Today, there is a third important arbiter of their work: the software programs that scour the Web, analyzing and ranking online news articles on behalf of Internet search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN.
The examples are striking:
Nic Newman, head of product development and technology at BBC News Interactive, pointed to a few examples from last Wednesday. The first headline a human reader sees: “Unsafe sex: Has Jacob Zuma’s rape trial hit South Africa’s war on AIDS?” One click down: “Zuma testimony sparks HIV fear.” Another headline meant to lure the human reader: “Tulsa star: The life and career of much-loved 1960’s singer.” One click down: “Obituary: Gene Pitney.”
I think this practice is fine. Headlines are all about attracting readers, that’s their purpose. And Google and Yahoo are distributors of attention, making sure the headlines work there makes a lot of sense.
Now, if the journalists start writing the bodies of the stories to rank well in Google, I think that’s where the line is crossed. Or…is it?