In My Opinion: Craig McGill: Are sub-editors the secret to winning the digital war?

THEY are the unseen heroes of many an article and the oft-ignored part of a newspaper. But could it be that sub-editors know more about good online visibility and search engine optimisation (SEO) than the often overpaid ‘experts’?

For years, if you spoke to the ‘experts’ about putting good content online, you would be often told the traditional newspaper headline just doesn’t work; that you can’t use something with a pun, that it has to be blunt, direct and never vague. Do that and it will help the SEO of your site. People will find you and you will be on your way to online glory.

And many followed that mantra, churning out dull headlines that may have provided basic information but had no impact, no zest and no hint that it might be actually worth reading on.

But as sensible people have realised, you don’t write a story for the SEO ‘spiders’ of Google and Bing – you write to be read by humans. Humans, who will share, and link to, that content (if it’s any good), bringing you far more digital benefits. Humans, who will come back to your site if the quality is there.

Look at a recent article by well-known UK PR blogger and podcaster, Neville Hobson. In his blog post, ‘Attention is all in the headline’, he asks what’s the more interesting headline: ‘World IPv6 day on June 6′ or A whole new version of the internet is about to be switched on’? And he’s not the only one wondering about what it takes now to engage with readers, what brings in their eyeballs and engagement.

And the answer seems to be more like good newspaper content than ever before.

And away from a blog headline, who better than a sub-editor to cut a story down to the bare minimum, getting rid of the fluff? Yes, online may not have page or column size restrictions but that doesn’t mean your copy can be long-winded. There’s a reason the web is enjoying a resurgence in bullet-point style copy: it gets right to the point.

So, subs have a new-found relevance. It was an oft-cited statistic in newsrooms that 80 per cent of an audience only ever read the headline, which turns out to be a very similar statistic to the number of people said to only read an email subject heading and go no further.

Subs and people in newspapers may think this is preaching the obvious but it isn’t – far from it. Indeed, so many people struggle with coming up with good content eye-catching headlines and content that online trainers – like Cornwall-based content creator, Lyndon Antcliff – have begun running popular, subscription-based courses in content marketing and headline writing. And while a lot of what is taught might be familiar to subs up and down the country, it’s gold for those not so familiar.

The format has changed but the rules are the same: get a good headline and you’ll get them in.

Craig McGill is a former deputy news editor at the Scottish edition of the Mirror newspaper. He has written for several other publications and is now a digital and social media consultant.