Public Relations Tactics

4 ways to write for Google and for readers

September 1, 2011

When The Washington Post ran an article on Jan. 13 about Conan O’Brien’s refusal to accept a later time slot for his show on NBC, the original print headline said: “Better never than late.”

Meanwhile, the paper ran this headline with the story online:  “Conan O’Brien won’t give up ‘Tonight Show’ time slot to make room for Jay Leno.”

That’s what happens when writers optimize Web headlines for Google. We move proper nouns, keywords and full names to the front of the headline, crowding out wit and whimsy.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are four ways to write for people — as well as for Google:

1. Use your title tag and URL.

Your title tag and URL get more emphasis from Google than your headline. So use the tag title for your literal headline and put the feature headline on the content page. The New York Times, for instance, sometimes packs keywords into its title tags and URLs, but not into the page headline.

For example, for an opinion piece about Mathew Brady’s photographs of Lincoln, the page title was, predictably: “Mathew Brady Photographs Lincoln.”

But the headline was:  “Lincoln Captured.”

2.  Write two heads.

Put the literal, search- and click-friendly headline on the content page. Place a feature headline on your own home page or sub-indexes.

3. Use the deck.

You could also use the headline for the literal story and the deck for the creative or benefits-focused one:

Literal headline: [Topic word] does what
Benefits-oriented deck: What will you gain from it
Creative deck: Clever wordplay or twist of phrase

4. Be clever and clear.

You’re smart, right?  Why not write a headline that’s both creative and telling? The pros pull it off  by writing a literal kicker with a clever headline. Corporate communicator Kevin Allen, for instance, writes,  “Witty headlines: Black and white and dead all over.”

Another approach:  Write a topic word subject with a clever verb phrase. A Wired copyeditor, for instance, writes: “Meteor Impact  Theory  Takes a Hit.” And a Kansas City Business Journal writer came up with:  “Mutual of Omaha Bank Will Deposit Full-Service Branch in Kansas City.”

Granted, there isn’t any danger that readers will injure themselves laughing over these headlines, but these writers manage to make their Web heads literal and creative.

How can you make your Web heads both witty and wise?

Copyright © 2011 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

Ann Wylie

Ann Wylie ( works with communicators who want to reach more readers and organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at Visit and get more than 2,000 writing tipsheets at


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