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So the SEO naysayers were wrong after all…

Once in a while you read something that affirms what you believe, you congratulate yourself with a quiet “I knew it” and there is a fresh spring in your step.

Yep, you were right all along and those youthful naysayers who considered you to be some kind of relic spouting irrelevant tosh will now have to acknowledge that your point of view had credence after all. (Except they would never admit any such thing, of course).

I’m referring to an article called “5 ways to write better headlines” (funnily enough, making the classic mistake of using a numeral in a headline instead of writing out the full number).

The article by Erik Deckers essentially said that those who told copywriters to cram keywords into headlines (and intros) – because the God of Google required it to be so – were wrong. The experienced ones among us who warned that headlines would get too samey, nonsensical and boring were told that was the price to pay for pleasing the Great Google.

Now we are informed that we were right, keywords should no longer be shoe-horned into headlines. And why? Because Google has changed how it works. For those of us who have never jigged to the Google pennywhistle, there is deep satisfaction in seeing that the monolithic monster has finally caught up with our way of thinking – after years of being told that it had to be the other way around.

Deckers said of Google-friendly headlines: “They’re boring, formulaic and so jammed with exact-match keywords that even black hat search engine optimization (SEO) people roll their eyes and mumble ‘Seriously?’.”

At this point it’s hard not to punch the air with a big grin on your face and exclaim “Yes!”. It must be similar to the feeling those characters get when they’ve been telling everyone that extra-terrestrials really do exist and finally the biggest doubter of the lot gets slimed with green-man-goo.

The article went on to target these people directly: “You’ve read all the blog posts that tell you keywords need to fall within the first four words, or to use exciting words or the precise keyword combination that matches your Google Analytics. But the headlines are Just. So. Boring. Most SEO tactics are as overdone as a cheap steak… people [are] tired of them.”

Deckers reckoned that those who had willingly inserted a Google-ring into their septums and volunteered to be led around by it were guilty of putting “low-value content” into their editorial. Oh Eric, where have you been all these years?

And he said that headlines were “no longer the SEO torture chamber they’ve been for the last several years, being twisted and contorted to make Google rank content higher than it deserves”.

So what does he recommend we do instead? Get “back to basics and write headlines the way journalists are taught”. By that he means “informative, interesting headlines that make people want to read your articles”. I remember saying virtually the same thing at countless meetings with web professionals who worshipped at the altar of SEO.

I’m sure I shouldn’t be smug about the fact that this juggernaut has finally made the u-turn that proper writers always knew was needed (although we had virtually given up hope)… but I am and I refuse to apologise for it.

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Rory Baxter, owner of The Word Factory, has decades of experience as a writer, editor, and public relations practitioner.

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