New York Times media columnist David Carr’s filing for this week’s Media Equation is a wonderful one, as he poetically acknowledges and decends down the treacherous rabbit hole debate regarding the dark, dirty, painful little secret to success on the internet for news organizations: headlines. And Carr first does it by demonstrating the ability for a ridiculous headline to snag high Google results based on using certain keywords Tragically, though, they goosed their own experiment this morning.
See, the idea with using awesome keywords to sneak to the top of Google results in headlines is to (A) make sure your take on the same story everyone else is doing gets to the top of Google and (B) to attract readers who otherwise wouldn’t read your story. Carr notes:
Headlines in newspapers and magazines were once written with readers in mind, to be clever or catchy or evocative. Now headlines are just there to get the search engines to notice.
He’s correct! And he goes on to quote web news’ Evil White Queen, Arianna Huffington, who just takes everyone else’s stuff, posts it on her site, and changes the headline. Insert Boldfaced Lie from Arianna Huffington:
Arianna Huffington, editor in chief and a founder of the site, rejects any notion that it is dumbing down in search of eyeballs. “We do ironic headlines, smart headlines, and work hard to make very serious stories as interesting as we can,” she said by phone. “We pride ourselves on bringing in our community on which headlines work best.”
They work best because they get the best results. The impulse for David Carr to retch “BULLSHIT!” into the phone while getting that quote must have been a strong one to quell, seeing as how the Huffington Post‘s main business is to usurp information, re-purpose it, and make it theirs, essentially ‘owning’ a story. They’re so good at it that many people often let the Huffington Post fully syndicate their content for free just for the privilege of having it on there. Talk about selling out.
Regardless, the New York Times own experiment to steal Taylor Momsen’s Google voodoo worked, though not quite the way they wanted to. For example, Carr’s piece is an out-and-out success, and spot-on. So they win there. And they did get to the top of the Taylor Momsen news cycle, so that works, too.
But oh, look at that! In a post on their Media Decoder blog promoting their own Momsen print piece, they spell out what the piece is about: “Media Equation: Taylor Momsen, Google Bait.” That’s surely going to spike whatever chances the one piece had of getting readers it shouldn’t have, which is part of the goal when you’re trying to game Google! We would’ve gone with ‘Taylor Momsen Denied New York Times Byline, No Word on Chase Crawford Yet’ had we really wanted to show them how the Bitches Brew is made. Believe us, it (sadly) doesn’t take too much work to get right. And that’s how news works these days.
[Also, Taylor Momsen looks like a teenage trashbag who broke into the MaxFactor counter on a cough syrup binge. Just saying. We actually probably could afford to write about her more on, like, six different levels.]