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Spotting SEO-friendly rewrites at ESPN.com

22 Feb 2009
Posted by Jay Small

I follow stories on ESPN.com via the site's RSS feeds. Lately I kept looking and wondering what was different about the items -- my copy editor sense was tingling like crazy.

Now I realize: Most of the headlines include full team names, when teams are mentioned, and full names of people.

A headline that, written for a newspaper, might read, "Jones mum on TO's release," now reads like the highlighted headline in the screen shot accompanying this post:

"Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones rebuffs ESPN report on Terrell Owens release discussions"

Why? Search engine optimization, of course. Someone has trained the Web editors to include full names of people, places and things whenever possible in headlines, because Google and its kind can interpret them better. Gone are the cryptic "headlinese" abbreviations used to make meaningful phrases fit in a 1-column, 4-line, 48-point spot.

Do everyday people notice? Maybe not; the verbose style might even help them. Old copy editors, however, will find it hard to fight our temptation to wordsmith. It just seems so ... inefficient.

Web Headlines

ESPN has a lot of experience writing these kind of headlines for their television crawl. I wonder if they are re-using those.

It is probably easier to explain how to re-write headlines to reporters with questions like 'how should the crawl read for this story?'

Good thought

The other thing I notice is they don't rewrite 100 percent of the headlines, at least not in the RSS feed. So I wonder if it depends on where the story copy originates.

Not such a good idea

Good catch.

Of course, search is not the most important consideration here.

I'm having trouble parsing that headline, even on the second or third reading. It makes me wonder whether this headline will get clicked on the site or the feed as often as something shorter and less convoluted.

My guess is that most folks don't finish reading it.

So true

...it is amazing that media still does not fully leverage their content and reach (in this case: page rank and other SEO factors).

Great example of what TO DO in order to capitalize on the resources/effort that has already gone into creating the content.