Last week the Associated Press announced it had updated its style guide to “website” from the now-outdated “Web site”. The interweb has been a-twitter with the news ever since. (Oh, and if “Web site” seems old and archaic to you, it’s because the Canadian Press style has used “website” for years. Go Canada. )
The take-away lesson of this change, according to Robert Niles of the Online Journalism Review, is not that the AP is outdated, but that it’s quickly becoming obsolete—at least if you’re publishing online.
SEO—or search engine optimization—is a way to try to make sure your own website (or blog entry) gets more traffic by being easily searchable on browsers like Google. The higher ranked your post is on Google, the more hits it’ll get. (Because, admit it, you don’t really look beyond the first 10 hits anyway.)
“SEO will help you gain new readers online. AP style will not. If you need new readers to make money, then SEO will help you more than AP style. That’s it. It’s just the reality of publishing online today. You can either adapt and accommodate it, or shake your fist at it and resist…
“SEO provides the key to reaching an audience not motivated by existing print brands, including younger readers and readers outside a publication’s traditional search area – folks who might not know to seek out a newspaper website, but who would nevertheless be interested in its content.”
Now that all sounds like the job of an ad guy, but these days journalists have to be thinking about the whole picture. We’ve heard it time and time again, but it’s no longer good enough to simply produce great writing (though that remains, in my opinion, the most important part), but to be able to think about how a story could be repackaged for the web, how it could be repurposed for different markets, what kind of multimedia could accompany it, etc. You’re not doing yourself any favours by shying away from SEO.
If nothing else, though, learning SEO will force writers to produce clean and simple copy. “Most SEO techniques reduce to providing clear, concise writing that stays on topic – that frequently references the key words and phrases that an article’s supposed to be about,” wrote Niles. “That’s good advice for any writer looking to attract readers in a competitive environment. Unfortunately, in print journalism, with readers too long delivered through local monopoly, too many reporters and headline writers became more focused on being clever than clear.”
Niles isn’t saying we do away with AP (or, in our case, the Canadian Press style), but to look at SEO as another way of adapting to the web. Just as an online article is presented differently than a magazine feature, the way we format our style should be as well. Niles suggests using AP for print articles and SEO for anything that is to be posted to the web.
Since there doesn’t yet exist an SEO writing textbook for j-school students to reference, Niles points to a few online resources that might prove invaluable: