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Dec 16 / Joel Cordes

Internship Insider: Top 10 online writer mistakes (Part II)

Continuing the list from last week of the top 10 mistakes we typically help writers fix. Here’s Part I.

Writers often …

3) Write a print headline for their online content.

Is an apple different than an orange?

So are web headlines vs. print.

As I’ve stolen many times from college pal (and longtime B/R luminary) Mike Schottey, “If an article is written online and nobody reads it, it doesn’t exist.” (While I’m convinced he stole that from someone else, I’ve never been able to prove it.)

How will your headline be found?

With full keywords!

Remember that print articles have a captive audience. Readers have already opened the publication and now simply await that catchy “hook” to pull them into a particular article. The creative phrasing is most important.

On the other hand, web content is written in the online ether. True, the article may appear on a specific site for its captive and finite audience, but relying on this for reads is like scooping a bucket of water out of the ocean: Sure, you got some water, but there’s sure a lot more you could have had.

Full keywords (i.e. “Dallas Cowboys,” NOT simply “Cowboys”) show up with search engines, the best friends for growing your brand.

Full keywords are more important than a catchy hook.

The more full keywords you have, and the more specific your headline is, the more likely you’ll be found (and placed higher) on search engines. Thus, you open your work to countless readers. A great headline includes full keywords AND is catchy enough to pique curiousity.

4) Bury or muddle their lead.

A keyword-heavy headline is how you’re found, but it’s the lead that convinces readers to choose your article from said search engines.

We preach it ad nauseam around here, but day after day, the message is needed:

Your lead should tell readers EXACTLY what the article is about in the first 20-25 words, directly tie into your thesis and paraphrase your headline (using as many of those full keywords again as possible).

Think of it this way: You’re searching around Google for a sports article about Aaron Rodgers’ MVP chances. You find a bunch of Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay Packers articles on the search engine, but you don’t know which one is for you.

You see two articles with the following first 20-25 words displayed (they’re what shows up in the search engine’s brief description):

1)  ”Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will win the MVP this season in a narrow victory over Tim Tebow. This is utterly ridiculous because …”

2) “As we all know, the NFL season is coming to an exciting finish. The playoffs are almost here, football weather is in the air …”

Which would you choose?

Readers who are searching for Aaron Rodgers will overwhelmingly click on the first article. While both headlines claimed to be about the same thing, only one lead promised to deliver what the headline was selling.

Tell readers EXACTLY what your article has to say right away. Show them the headline isn’t a fluke.

Set the scene with all your brilliantly original observations of the calendar and the weather later. (Or better yet, never.)

I’ll be back next week to share two more critical mistakes online writers often make.

Joel C. Cordes is Bleacher Report’s Sportswriting Internship Program Feedback Editor. Along with fellow editor Greg Pearl, he mentors B/R interns by reviewing articles, answering questions and providing guidance, the highlights of which are shared with the B/R Blog.

  • Jesse Reed

    I know that I tend to leave the main point of my lede till the end sometimes, so I really needed to read this post. Thank you.