Google doesn’t think I’m funny – Humor, headlines, and SEO

13 May

I once read that you should write for your readers first, search engines second, and your ego third.  I try to consider all of these things when writing this blog, but find that they’re often in competition.  (I try to include keywords like culture, social media, and bog whenever they fit, but sometimes it’s hard to do it without getting in the way of the narrative style.)  Yesterday, I found this on The Awl.  Apparently I’m not alone in my battle to balance all three.

Stack of Newspaper Headlines - Burns out, Storm Kills, Drugs, Recycling, Stem cellsGoogle doesn’t laugh
It doesn’t even titter
It can’t guffaw like Facebook
It won’t split its sides like Twitter

Google doesn’t crack a smile
It won’t respond to mirth
There’s not a single laughing part
Not even Google Earth

Your title might be funny
Forcing chuckles from the chest
But Google sits there stone-faced
Resolutely unimpressed

Don’t try to brighten someone’s day
Don’t aim for “smart and winning”
Your goal is catching Google’s eye
And Google isn’t grinning

Best to stick to SEO
And trade your wheat for chaff
Forget the humor, blogger boy
‘Cause Google doesn’t laugh

The links in the poem take you to the Atlantic article which inspired it.  The Atlantic discusses the lack of witty headlines on the Internet (as opposed to in print journalism).  Basically, Google doesn’t get humor, so funny titles aren’t good SEO bait – better to stuff as many key words as you can, whether they’re relevant or not.  Or, at least that’s one perspective.

Group of three pretty young Asian people looking eagerly at a computer scree (reading a blog or social media site)..Thankfully, everyone doesn’t follow that practice.

“It’s not about getting the most readers; it’s about getting the ‘most best’ readers,” says David Plotz, editor of the influential online magazine Slate.

“There are headlines you can write which, because they’re so clear and have so much of the subject in them, you will get a little bit more SEO,” Plotz says. “But if you write a really clever headline that your most Slate-like readers love, and they think, ‘I’m so in on this joke,’ you will deepen that relationship with them.”

Slate seems to have a pretty large group of dedicated readers that check it every day.  Although I don’t have access to Slate’s analytic or know what key words they’re writing to, I would bet that that the majority of their readers find them through links or directly typing into their browser, rather than through search engines.  So, I guess it’s easy for Mr. Plotz to talk about writing for people instead of search engines.  Those of us who are working to build an audience don’t have that luxury.

Daily News. Extra! Extra! headlineAnd, of course, sometimes you end up writing for search engines by mistake…  For some reason my post on the lost city of Atlantic keeps generating search engine traffic.  Usually it brings about six people here every day.  This is so strange, as it’s probably one of the most off-topic (off the general topic of this blog, that is) posts that I’ve ever written.  I guess I’ll have to go back and try to figure out what’s so good (in Google’s opinion) about it.  (I think it’s mostly the headline, which includes “found” and “city of Atlantis”, but really, didn’t 5,000 headlines contain those words?)

And, since I’ve taken to leaving you all with questions…  Do you have a blog or website?  If so, how much to you consider SEO in your writing?

MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new on the Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about Internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on Freshly Pressed, bringing a whole new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at

9 Responses to “Google doesn’t think I’m funny – Humor, headlines, and SEO”

  1. georgettesullins May 13, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    You got it…happy birthday to my aunt…drives more traffic to my site than anything I have ever written…what’s that about?

    • Maggie May 14, 2011 at 8:57 am #

      It’s strange that you can try so hard for SEO on some posts and then it just happens on others. Now I wonder if I made my Atlantis “problem” “worse” by linking back to the page from this post. No that it’s really a problem, but I’m guessing that a lot of people who are searching for things about Atlantis get here and think “Why do I care about new Facebook applications? I want to know if there are mer-people living underwater.”

  2. skippingstones May 14, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    I never thought about it at all…until now. You always give me something to think about :). Now I’m thinking about the mer-people.

    • Maggie May 16, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

      Thanks! The best part of writing that post was that I typed “merpeople” and spell check corrected it to “mer-people”. Who knew? Apparently lots of people on WordPress are thinking about mer-people.

  3. Margie May 15, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    I don’t think too much about what Google will like. And I certainly don’t understand why one post becomes very popular! My most popular post is one about pots and pans that work on an induction cooktop!

    • Maggie May 16, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

      Maybe lots of people with induction cooktops have a hard time finding pots and pans for them? I think you need a blog devoted entirely to that topic. It’ll be SEO gold.

  4. Doug May 18, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    I think humor has a great place in building an audience, and there’s far too little of it in the SEO world. We tried, and mostly failed, with a site called ‘DUH Magazine’, making fun of news headlines, because Google could never figure out it wasn’t about the news. Google only knows The Onion is funny because of inbound anchor text, not because of the content on the site.

    This week I posted a humorous entry spoofing Google’s News Personalization (on the blog). No one searching for humor will find it, but maybe some other unsuspecting soul will have their day brightened a bit.

    • Maggie June 14, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

      You’ve got to love accidental traffic. About 20 people per day make it here by searching for “Atlantis found”. I always hope that at least a few of them will stick around and read.


  1. Infographics show Facebook is taking over « MaggieCakes - June 15, 2011

    […] Obviously there are more than 9 social networks in the world, but the map shows each county colored for the social network that has the strongest presence there.   (Last week, I got invited to join an accounting only social network.   I passed.)   China, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Brazil seem to be some of the last major holdouts on joining Facebook.   (Yes, Facebook is the evil overlord.   Submit to its will or be crushed.) Judging by the infographics (and general knowledge of social media trends) Facebook is taking over everywhere and will soon be the dominant network everywhere in the world. (My vote’s on China holding out the longest. I’m guessing that one of the reasons they’re doing their own thing is that the Great Firewall of China blocks Facebook and most other social media platforms.)  So, social media is going the way of globalization just like everything else.  (I really wanted to call this post Facebook and Its Discontents, but I figured that few people would get the reference and, as previously establish, Google doesn’t think I’m funny.) […]

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