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How to make 'Page 1' on the Web

To generate Web hits, just string together 'key' words – like Britney Spears's iPhone causes global warming.

Well, not really. OK – not at all. I just suggested that headline because "Britney Spears" and "iPhone" and "global warming" are among the most-searched phrases on the Internet. Put them together, and you've got a story guaranteed to top the "most viewed" list on the website of any newspaper or magazine in the US.

That's what Harry Potter told me, anyway, just before he had Dick Cheney impeached.

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Kidding! But what's this all about? Years ago, print journalists cared deeply about getting on Page 1, or the cover. Now, it's all about Web hits, and click-throughs, and traffic generation on the Internet. Reporters who used to lobby for top-of-the-fold placement now scheme to get picked up by Google News, or Drudge, or some other news aggregator. And frankly, I'm as craven about this as the next person. (Ed's note: That's the truest part of this story so far.)

So I'm trying the Alan Coren approach. Years ago, Mr. Coren – a British humorist and editor of Punch Magazine – was worried that his books weren't selling. Told that readers were most interested in stories about sports, pets, or World War II, Coren titled a volume of essays "Golfing for Cats," and slapped a swastika on the cover.

Want to lose weight the Beagle Rescue way? Ask Peyton Manning how!

Or don't, actually. He won't know what you're talking about. Anyway, Coren's idea – mash up some marketing lures, substance be darned – works even better in today's world. "Most searched" lists can tell the digerati what people want to read about. Automated "spiders" from Google and other search engines then crawl the Net looking for stories with key words related to those topics.

Thus a writer can just sprinkle in a few random words – you know what I'm talking about, Elisabeth Hasselbeck! – and, pop, your story is up on thousands of screens around the world, despite the fact that it's really about Congress and the White House clashing over agriculture appropriations.

It would be easy to get carried away. (Ed's note: Glad you noticed.) A discipline that was once a solid, factual means for conveying important information could fragment into a jumble of non sequiturs – sort of like the Web itself.

Wow. What a concept. Perhaps Ron Paul and Hillary Clinton would be interested in discussing it. After they've finished "Dancing with the Stars."

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• Peter Grier is a writer in the Monitor's Washington bureau.


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