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Last week the BBC announced it was to start optimising its headlines in an attempt to gain greater visibility in the search engine results pages, so I thought I’d take a look at journalism and the web.

Over recent years, many online news providers have had to adopt search engine optimisation (SEO) best practice into their articles in order to maintain their audience figures.
 
Yet I often see journalists and even some bloggers bemoaning the need to optimise their work, as though it means all the quality has been drained out of the article and replaced with Google-appeasing nonsense.
 
That’s why the first of my points is perhaps the most important. As long as it’s done well, SEO will not make your articles unreadable.
 
SEO is not the enemy of good writing

 
Believe it or not, the purpose of SEO is not to destroy your writing’s artistic integrity, it’s to make sure people can actually find your work to appreciate its genius.
 
I think that SEO is often misunderstood by professional writers, especially those who began their careers offline in the world of print and are suddenly having to adapt.
 
They end up believing that they have to cram key phrases like ‘Britney Spears’ into their serious article exposing the flaws in the government’s economic recovery plan. That’s obviously ludicrous.
 
Search engines are like a newsagent, they are where people find your copy. By bearing SEO tactics in mind, you place your article at the front, right next to the till.
 
Headlines hook more than humans
 
Journalists use their headlines to hook readers into the story, to convince them of the importance of reading this particular article.
 
However, most news websites will use the headline as the page’s title tag, which is one of the places that search engines look to assess the relevance of your article to someone’s search.
 
That means that if you can get the kind of words into your headline that people will search for, you’re more likely to gain a larger audience.
 
So, instead of something funny but inexplicable like ‘King faces whopper grilling’, use explanatory terms like ‘Mervyn King defends Bank of England strategy’.
 
Is SEO the end of the pun?
 
To an extent, this is bad news for the grand old tradition of the journalist’s pun. Look at a recent example. Poole Council replaced their town centre Christmas tree with a green cone that plays music and flashes inbuilt lights.
 
Naturally, almost every newspaper covered this story with the headline ‘Elf and safety’.
 
However, I heard the story on the radio and then Google News’d it at work. I searched for ‘Christmas tree health and safety’, so ended up reading one of the few articles that didn’t make that joke in its headline. (The Telegraph ran with ‘Poole axes real Christmas tree for safer fake one because of health and safety'. There’s a paper that gets it.)
 
I think SEO doesn’t need to be the end of the pun completely, though. There’s no reason a paper couldn’t use creative headlines for its print copy and optimised headlines online.
 
Use a keyword rich introduction
 
If your news story has a standalone introduction then make sure it’s filled with relevant terms. That doesn’t mean you have to make it incomprehensible to people, that will damage your reputation as a writer and increase your bounce rate.
 
To an extent it’s good journalistic practice, you want to summarise the main points and elements of your story to inform readers (and now search engines) what your article contains.
 
Write for your audience
 
There are some great ways of attracting inbound links to your article and getting it Tweeted or mentioned on social media sites like Digg or StumbleUpon. The web audience laps up ‘top tens’ and other list-type stories and are more likely to share these with their friends.
 
So, if you were planning to write an article about where to go for a winter holiday, for example, considering writing it as a ‘Top ten winter holiday destinations’ or ‘Five fashion crimes to avoid on the piste’.
 
These lists also allow you to use sub headings, which make an article more easily read by the online audience and are a great way of giving your targeted keywords an extra boost. Search engines pay attention to sub headings.
 
Consider keywords without curtailing quality

 
Your article doesn’t have to be stuffed with likely search terms but you can make it more search engine friendly.
 
Don’t abbreviate companies and phrases (unless they are as well-known as the full description, like SEO), and aim to use people’s full names.
 
This helps your article cover all the possible terms people are likely to search for and reiterates its subject relevance to the search engines.
 
Link descriptively

 
If you’re writing about the very latest development in an ongoing saga, it makes sense to link to your previous articles to give some background.
 
When you do so, don’t just link using useless text like ‘click here for my previous article’ or ‘for more information click here’ – use your headlines or relevant keywords.
 
Search engines look at the hyperlinked anchor text to help assess the relevance of a page to certain keywords. By linking using your (already optimised) headline, you give your last article an SEO boost.
 
Watch the competition
 
If your newspaper isn’t making its content work hard enough, your competitors certainly will. When even the mighty BBC News has to work to keep its articles visible in the search results, you know that there’s no room for complacency.
 
Soon, journalists who can’t write optimised copy for the web will be under-skilled for their changing workplace. In an industry that’s shedding staff writers all the time, that’s a dangerous position to be in.

Kevin Gibbons

Published 30 November, 2009 by Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons is UK Managing Director at digital marketing agency BlueGlass. He is also known as an SEO speaker and can be found on Twitter and Google+.

102 more posts from this author

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Jonathon

Here's a question: why does the BBC need to have SEO optimised headlines? Given that such a thing (a) costs money and (b) in turn drives up the cost for other publishers due to competing with the BBC in Google SRPs. Don't want to sounds like James Murdoch but how would this fit in with the BBC's mission? It seems very much like the behaviour of a for-profit publisher

almost 7 years ago

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Geoff Scaplehorn

@Jonathon: I wouldn't imagine it costs the BBC any more money to produce a search-engine friendly headline that it would to produce any other headline. Doing SEO on a 50-character headline isn't exactly a multi-million pound project.

We spend good money for the BBC to be as good as they can be. The fact that (a) their website is awesome and (b) they understand SEO just means that they're spending the money well.

almost 7 years ago

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Edward Legge

@ Jonathon: Jonathon, I think that you have misunderstood how SEO works. It doesn't cost money unless you pay to advertise, and that's not really SEO. I think this was an interesting and well considered article, and one that I whole heartedly agree with. We constantly come up against this barrier with clients who don't fully understand the importance of the web and - dare I mention them - social networks. If the BBC do not optimise their items that appear on the web, they are doing the licence payers a disservice. After all, why write a brilliant piece of insightful journalism if noone ever gets the opportunity to read it?

almost 7 years ago

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Ed

Or they could just follow the lead of timesonline and publish string of linkbaiting articles (100 Greatest movies of the naughties etc etc bla bla bla).

The quality of the articles is risible, but they generate pages and pages of UGC and undoubtedly attract their fair share of links.

It's important to find the balance between the integrity of your content and how far you will go to optimise/attract links

almost 7 years ago

Tom Lindridge

Tom Lindridge, Director at Future Blogging

Naturally writing towards an SEO purpose is against a traditional journalist's means, but what is stopping them keeping to traditional methods online and exposing them through social media platforms rather than struggle to adapt to SEO skilled copy?

SEO does serve great benefits towards generating traffic, but this traffic can easily be achieved through tweeting and encouraging external sites to link to the article and do some SEO work for you.

I wouldn't say that the BBC need to be overly concerned with optimising headlines, they already attract a large audience who no doubt subscribe to their RSS feeds.

Would traditional offline journalists not be overwhelmed by the online challenges towards SEO?

almost 7 years ago

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Jenny Simpson

I think people get their knickers in a twist about incorporating SEO into their copywriting - it really doesn't have to be an extreme change.

Before I had heard of SEO, I worked at Ananova where our policy was "no tabloidese" and we used the Britney Spears test.  This meant, no more "the pop princess said this" or, "American chart sensation said that" etc - if you're talking about Britney Spears - use her name.  This step, simply losing the synonyms in favour of using the most obvious words, is the most important one.

The other thing that people often get wrong is not researching the best keywords to use - they can be surprising.  Just a tiny thing like always using the plural, instead of a mix of singular and plural can make a difference.

It's a delicate balance, but very achievable...

almost 7 years ago

Vincent Amari

Vincent Amari, Online Consultancy at Business Foresights Ltd

To those saying SEO doesn't cost anything.
SEO costs a little extra time to write or re-write the headlines and titles in a 'non-journalistic' way, or 'optimised' as mentioned at the begining of this article.

Time = Money

In saying that, most licence payers know about news.bbc.co.uk
But the problem is that once there, their search engine is very poor when trying to find any articles that are not on any of the main category pages.

I suggest they spend a little money on that instead.

almost 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Tom: Journalists are normally pretty good at learning, and there really isn't much to it. If they can learn about why pun-based headlines work well for the newspaper format then they can learn why descriptive headlines can work well for Google (and readers, especially over the longer term).

Jenny is bang on: there is really very little effort involved in writing descriptive headlines. It is no more difficult than writing any headline. And it's only a framework.

Confucius said: "Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand." I think that's the key. As a writer, why wouldn't you want your article to be placed towards the top of the search engines? Your headlines don't have to suck when you write Google-friendly headlines. You just need to understand what might work, and how Google can help drive continual traffic. If you see the results of a well-prepared headline then you might just get the optimisation bug...

Also, while I'm all for descriptive headlines, there is an alternative approach that can work well if you have a strong community and presence on news aggregators / social media sites.

And finally, if the article sucks then the headline isn't going to help you, and a top search engine ranking might do you more harm than good. Producing quality content is the number one goal, as far as SEO goes.

almost 7 years ago

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Elizabeth Crane

Most of us online have developed an incredibly short attention span. Writing for the internet has to be much different than what we learned in school. Paragraphs must be shorter, headings MUST draw attention and have applicable keywords, and you better get our attention in the first paragraph, or we're on to the next website.

almost 7 years ago

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Andy Fling

"As long as it’s done well, SEO will not make your articles unreadable." So true. I am primarily a teacher, and know that good teaching reinforces the point many times. Repeating keywords is smart SEO, as well as smart teaching.

almost 7 years ago

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Charlotte Barry

Very timely, as I've just been looking at this with my MA Multimedia Broadcast Journalism students at University College Falmouth in the UK.  What they find hard initially is to get their heads round is inbound linking.  They find it much easier to put clear headlines together and it's quite a relief to say good-bye to the pun!

almost 7 years ago

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hampry

I think,a journalist some work complet of seo.A journalist create many of contain spical every new topice.Every new topic post very good prease releases,article site.

almost 7 years ago

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Jenny Simpson

Some people on Twitter are speculating that this could be the end of good headline puns.  As Chris Lake suggests, the headline is only a small part of the article - having a generally well-optimised site, using sub-headlines, categories, tags, promoting articles through Twitter is just as important / effective.

My favourite headline of all time is the famous "Super Cally Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious" - you could argue in the era of social networking, this could go even more viral than it did when it was originally published, due its sheer originality.  And search engines would still find the story from the other content on the page.  (On a side note, I'm fascinated by the randomness of the headlines picked out by Google News...)

Thanks for the thought-provoking article

almost 7 years ago

Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons, UK Managing Director at BlueGlass

Thanks for some great comments!

As for the end of the pun, I remember the "Super Cally Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious" headline too - I really hope we don't lose superb headlines like these. But at the same time, journalists should at least be aware of the impact this has to search engine traffic and need to weigh-up the decision so that hopefully it is written with both readers/social media audiences and the search engines in mind.

In some cases it may be worth sacrificing short-term SEO success in favour of social media attention - later revisiting the content to optimise for the search engines. But it really depends on the type of content and main goals of the author, although I assume the BBC, Guardian, Times Online etc will value search engine and Google News traffic above social media visits.

almost 7 years ago

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David

@Jonathon: if the BBCs mission is to get as many people as possible to its superior, non-biased, free online content, then who is hurt in this exchange? Apart from Mr. Burns himself.

almost 7 years ago

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xxnapoleonsolo

As a former sub now working on the interwebs, I think seo is a natural extension of subbing and journalism as a whole. Only the guidelines have changed about how you use words.

You still choose them carefully to get the message across in the best way and you can still build in puns or other clever headlines while maintaining the SEO juice. You also have to remember that you are still writing for people, not Google.

Once I found out about seo, I was massively frustrated that subs didn't get involved in web work much earlier. If we did there may still be subs.

almost 7 years ago

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Wedding photographer in Brighton

So, instead of putting my real name in the reply of a blog it needs to be something more desriptive like my name has been entered on here when a link to my site is connected to it?

almost 7 years ago

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stephen

I am just collecting content and in the preliminary stages of having a website built and found this article interesting and informative.

almost 7 years ago

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Luminosity

Interesting piece, but unsurprisingly for such a short overview, it doesn't begin to scratch the surface of the genuine complexity of the situation. Some of it is a little disingenuous too. While I think that SEO really can improve headline writing - a reflexive negativity towards SEO and online journalism can lead to subs being almost perversely opaque and puns are often really bad for the reader - there are also dangers here. What happens when misspellings trend above the real term? What happens to apostrophes or accents thausers ignore when searching? What happens when a more popular term trends above a name or accurate descriptive term. How do we avoid the constant repetition of kickers in headlines?

It's also worrying to see the idea that body copy should be written with search in mind. That's a bad idea in every way. It's the cart leading the horse. Body copy should be sacrosanct and furniture optimised according to it.

There's also the added complexity of predicting breaking news search terms (anyone remember the name of the shoe thrower?) and how to strategise rolling news stories.

almost 7 years ago

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stephen

My favorite headline, ever, was from Fleet Street after the British invasion of Grenada: Brittania Waives the Rules

almost 7 years ago

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Unique Wedding Ideas

Thanks for this - interesting article.  I write a blog myself and am always looking for ways to make the content work for both the reader and SEO.  As you said its about making the title clear as to what the article is about rather than being clever and funny.   Still I have noticed many bloggers ignore this and just write great content and in return get lots of inbound links.  Its about trying to do a bit of both - writing good, unique, compelling content that reads well whilst still thinking about SEO in the back of your mind whilst writing it.

almost 7 years ago

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riverScrap

A few useful tips in this article, though most of the advice just boils down to "keywords, keywords, keywords". I was hoping that wouldn't be the case - but I guess that's the nature of the game :(

almost 7 years ago

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Websites SEO

I think is a good idea for websites like bbc to review or to apply SEO

almost 7 years ago

Bill Bean

Bill Bean, Account Manager at Deep Ripples Inc

Google is the lingua franca. (did i get that right?) Writing without an eye to SEO is permissable but not advisable, especially if you're working for someone that wants to get found in the search engine. Perhaps Google (and others) will conquer the issue eventually.

almost 7 years ago

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SEO Web Analytics

The SEO Best Practice Guide is invaluable for anybody working in internet marketing, or looking to appoint an SEO agency, or simply trying to secure better Google rankings.

almost 7 years ago

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seo

I think,a journalist some work complet of seo.A journalist create many of contain spical every new topice.Every new topic post very good prease releases,article site.

almost 7 years ago

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Lucy Griffith

A large part of my job involves persuading writers of very academic and technical copy to consider SEO when publishing web content.  I think it can sometimes be hard for these people not to see it as "dumbing down" - especially when they are seen as an expert in their field.

However, once the importance of search traffic and online presence is explained, they tend to be quite enthusiastic, after all, it's all about adapting and learning new skills.  I think in the vast majority of cases, good SEO can actually help produce better, clearer copy that is enjoyable to read online - and that can't be a bad thing.

p.s Second the comment about the bbc search engine, it's beyond diabolical.

over 6 years ago

Lucy Paget

Lucy Paget, Digital Projects Manager at ICAEW

A large part of my job involves persuading writers of very academic and technical copy to consider SEO when publishing web content.  I think it can sometimes be hard for these people not to see it as "dumbing down" - especially when they are seen as an expert in their field.

However, once the importance of search traffic and online presence is explained, they tend to be quite enthusiastic, after all, it's all about adapting and learning new skills.  I think in the vast majority of cases, good SEO can actually help produce better, clearer copy that is enjoyable to read online - and that can't be a bad thing.

p.s Second the comment about the bbc search engine, it's beyond diabolical.

over 6 years ago

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Internet Marketing

I like your comment i think that SEO is often misunderstood by professional writers, especially those who began their careers offline in the world of print and are suddenly having to adapt.

over 6 years ago

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Internet Marketing

With the world rolled into another year, the industry watchers have started to talk about the new internet marketing trends that are going to rule the market in 2010. Of all, e-mail marketing is receiving the maximum attention. The businesses across the industries and across the continents have only one goal in mind and that relates to maximizing their gains in the post-recession world. 2010 is going to be a very important year for the enterprises and so the businesses are expected to make lot of investment in the promotional campaigns.

This is where email marketing comes into picture. The savvy marketers are considering using e-mail messages as the trump card for their internet marketing successes. A number of surveys conducted last year have clearly shown their effectiveness in forging direct communication with the consumers. As for example, one survey relating to UK market had reveled that delivery rates in the country were as high as 95.3 per cent, and it was a straight 0.2 per cent jump on a year-on-year basis. At the same time, click-through rates were found to experience 6.1% fall in 2009 from 6.8% in the third quarter of 2008.
No wonder, many businesses declared that they would extend their internet marketing budget in the next year and email marketing is going to be the focal point in their marketing strategy.

over 6 years ago

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Internet Marketing


One of the most advantageous aspects of social media marketing is: it makes it easier for the businesses to establish a direct contact with their customers. Because it is cheaper, the small businesses with limited advertising budget can gain an exposure as big as their stronger rivals. Social media optimization helps in brand building in a way that no other internet marketing techniques can. It proves to be more effective than other online marketing methods simply because it works within the periphery of a closeer group and can penetrates at a personal level. As a result, it becomes easier for it to evoke trust and reliability for a brand.

over 6 years ago

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mike

Is good to see the BBC adopting a best practice system for search engines and users. I know that many journalists have been developing a greater interest in the benefits that organic focus can bring to their businesses/clients. Up in scotland almost every freelance journalist with a website claims their content will be written to appeal to the search engines and deliver improved positions. 

over 6 years ago

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DIY

I dunno, SEO is becoming an obsession. Search engines like Google are dominating the internet and it seems nothing can be put on the internet without an agenda to get found by the search engines, and if you don't then your great work will be unnoticed. If only there were other was to find great websites or articles that did not involve search engines. I suppose DIGG is one of those.

over 6 years ago

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Boston SEO

You would think that Digg is one of those, but Digg is as big a part of the SEO process as any site out there. The best best you can make is to use a selection of search engines and read multiple sources before you make any decisions based off what you read online. Learn it, confirm it, then confirm it again.

over 6 years ago

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James | Design NI

Newspapers optimising their web content is only the beginning of the tailoring that will be required to reach audiences in the future. Journalists will have to learn how to appeal to the social news & bookmarking communities, as well as aiming for tweets and retweets to gain exposure. And as Facebook is now more popular in the US than google, social networking will play a bigger role in news dissemination. Basically, the rules have changed for journos and we may very well be seeing the demise of the pun, the quirky title and thankfully, some of the alliteration.

over 6 years ago

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WG Moore

riverScrap has hit it on the head. Unfortunately, keywords are the way SEs categorize information, so I guess we are stuck with it.

What worries me more is the quality of the content being produced. Keyword loading is bad enough, but now we have people 'spinning' the content in order to get more exposure and links. This practice has been degrading the quality of information available and is cluttering up the web much as spam has in other areas. I think it will not be long before we see the SEs trying to do something about it. And that may affect us all.

about 6 years ago

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Carter | Acne Helper

Great follow through Matt! You are 100% correct when you state that it doesn’t matter how fantastic your content is because if nobody reads it its essentially garbage.

I have seen better results with Twitter then Facebook myself but have noticed that the quality of visits isn’t always the best.

Guest blogging with links to content prices seems to work pretty well for me personally.

about 6 years ago

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Himanshu

i realy like the info. thankx for sharing. Just wondered why some would think the designs would be better with seo than others? Whats your take on that?

almost 6 years ago

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Justin

That's a really useful article, but I think there may be a more nuanced approach to including keywords in headlines.

You're right, headlines that include target keywords are a good thing.

But that shouldn't get in the way of writing great headlines. Great headlines are likely to attract links and Tweets (both will help you to rank in Google's search results).

At Wordtracker we suggest:
Find a great headline first … then try to add a target keyword.

You can read more at:
http://www.wordtracker.com/academy/seo-for-editorial

over 5 years ago

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Brian

Nice article! Thanks,

/Brian

over 5 years ago

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Instant Internet Lifestyle

An excellent article Kevin. The major point is that in this day and age there is no point in writing a great article that no-one ever sees. Therefore, journalists need to make sure that their work is SEO friendly. That doesn't need to mean that the work is compromised though, I think as they become more and more used to writing for an online audience this will become a part of their natural style.

over 5 years ago

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SEO Services Company

an excellent writing i never think before to optimize title of my blog from now i am going to optimize it properly so that it help in getting traffic

over 5 years ago

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David from 'Healthy Living Tips'

Thanks Kevin. Good advice.
The purpose of writing is that it be read by people but it can't be read if it isn't in front of the people.
I used to hate having to write to please both search engines & people but I'm used to it now & it's very worth while as it gets results.

about 5 years ago

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Cheap Logo Design

Excellent article.I wish I'd read it before doing my site, but am going back to make some change. I'm so glad to visit your site. thanks for sharing with us.

about 5 years ago

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nexium

An excellent article Kevin. The major point is that in this day and age there is no point in writing a great article that no-one ever sees. Therefore, journalists need to make sure that their work is SEO friendly. That doesn't need to mean that the work is compromised though, I think as they become more and more used to writing for an online audience this will become a part of their natural style.

almost 5 years ago

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ukash

I dunno, SEO is becoming an obsession. Search engines like Google are dominating the internet and it seems nothing can be put on the internet without an agenda to get found by the search engines, and if you don't then your great work will be unnoticed. If only there were other was to find great websites or articles that did not involve search engines. I suppose DIGG is one of those.

almost 5 years ago

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Eurdupoint

All kinds of PAKISTANI Drama are completely available here.

about 4 years ago

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Allbestserials

Complete serials of PAKISTANI Drama are surely available here.

about 4 years ago

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Collazo

publisher Amy Waterman has all the strategies necessary to facilitate resolving conflicts, increase self esteem, discover forgiveness, and revive the passion that you both once felt.
With Amy’s guide you can save your marriage and avoid being a divorce statistic.

about 4 years ago

Roger Weavers

Roger Weavers, Director at Sytec Web Design

SEO may have changed quick a lot over recent years with Google making many updates to their algorithms but good quality content will always win over poorly written content. Write for humans, to search engines and visitors will stay longer on your site and come back time and time again which will actually help with your SEO.

over 2 years ago

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