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SEO headlines, 3's citizen journos, Carphone Warehouse broadband and BBC bloggers (this week's PR business column)

Witty headlines sacrificed for Google

A New York Times article this week caused much fevered discussion on PR and journalist blogs, when it drew attention to the increasing practice in newsrooms of writing headlines that are more likely to be picked up by search engines.

The article, appropriately titled “This Boring Headline is Written for Google”, said that as much as 30% of  traffic to some newspaper’s websites come from search engine results. As a result there’s been a surge of interest in the practice of search engine optimisation (SEO) as a potential future part of the journalist’s (and therefore the PR's trade).

As news aggregators and search engines replace the newspaper’s front page as most people’s window on the media,  understanding how machines read your copy could become as important as how well it goes down with humans.

Reactions on blogs ranged from laments for the age of wit and puns as the cornerstones of the headline-writer’s craft to serious concerns that news would become homogenised and lose the style and character associated with individual publications as they compete for the same readers on the web.

While SEO has been a staple part of ecommerce marketing for some time, it is a relatively new concept in the media world.

Top tip for copywriters with one eye on the Web? The New York Times cites expert from Associated Press’s suggestion that people research the top two or three most-searched for words on the subject they are writing about and make sure they are included early in any article (and presumably the headline too).

3 looks for a deal for its citizen journalists

Mobile network 3 confirmed this week that it was in talks with TV networks to syndicate videos and images taken by its subscribers for news bulletins. Camera-phone images have brought eyewitness pictures into an increasing number of news reports of dramatic events such as the explosion at the Buncefield oil refinery.

ITN confirmed to the Guardian that it was in talks with 3 and said that it was looking at ways to make better use of amateur footage in its news reports.

Already firms like Scoopt offer to sell people’s camera phone videos and photos to newspapers – more of a “citizen pap” than “citizen journalist”. The commercialising of amateur shots is prompting some concern about the potential for faked images being submitted to media, to say nothing of concerns about privacy.

The ghost of Freeserve

During the dot-com boom of the late 1990s one of the hottest properties was the internet service provider (ISP) Freeserve. Launched by Dixons, Freeserve [which was rebranded as Wanadoo) tore up the rule-book on how people got online, offering “free” dial-up access to the Web. It made fortunes for its inventors and was credited with helping boost the number of people in the UK getting online for the first time.

As predicted by among others, analysts at Merrill Lynch, Carphone Warehouse announced this week that it was launching “free broadband for life” for customers on its Talk3 International package.

It is likely that such a service will prompt a broadband price-war, increasing the number of UK homes with high-speed web access. All in all it is good news  for “broadband Britain” and means that we are likely to see further fast growth in demand for “Web 2.0” services, such as podcasting and video-sharing.

BBC blog network launches

The BBC launched a new Blog Portal bringing together the blogs it has so far, including political editor Nick Robinson and Newsnight correspondent Paul Mason. Although there are just eleven Beeb blogs so far, Ben Metcalfe, a member of the team that created the portal hinted on his personal blog that there would be “many more to come.”


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But the CarphoneWarehouse offer isn't free at all. It's excellent PR - but actually it'll cost you something like £20 a month.

There's an excellent analysis of this at Ian Fogg's blog (he's an analyst with Jupiter Research) - http://weblogs.jupiterresearch.com/analysts/fogg/archives/014817.html

A shame all the media have been suckered into buying the headline story, without taking the time to take a look at what actually lies behind the headline offer.

I've read Ian's article and I still don't see why it isn't a great deal.

OK, so you buy it as part of a bundle, so you're paying for it, but it still sounds good.

It also still sounds like good news for consumers and for broadband uptake, even if, as Ian grudgingly admits, it's an "escalation" rather than the start of a price war in the broadband market.

I never said it wasn't a good deal. My point was to do with media laziness.

I should clarify - because I've just realised my comments may be misunderstood.

I'm not accusing Antony when I talk about media laziness nor when I talk about media being suckered into buying the story.

It's just irritated the hell out of me this week, seeing the MSM bandwagon jump on this "free" claim without doing any real investigation of what "free" actually means.

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