Google takes all the ‘pun’ out writing titles

Google, letters spelling out 'content marketing', glasses, cup of coffee, finger pointing

Title wordplay has sort of been deemed a “no-no” by the unseen SEO wizards who oversee such matters in the online writing world. If you understand basic search engine optimization concepts, you know that there is typically a phrase or word in a title (which is then repeated several times in the content of a post) that serves as an anchor text. Anchor text is designed to draw traffic to a blog or website by using words or phrases that people might type into Google or some other search engine.

Hey Google! What’s wrong with puns?

Google, scrabble tiles spelling out 'adwords'

I love a great pun. (Ahem — did you notice the title of this blog? ::winks:: ) Alas, the “powers that be” reportedly believe that an SEO-friendly title will win out over witty-title-wordplay any day. (I’m actually not sure I agree with that assessment but, okay.) Then again, since I’m not an SEO expert, I don’t know enough to determine whether strictly using SEO titles are likely to drive a lot more traffic to a post than a clever phrase.

I’m over here saying, “Why not both?” I don’t see why we can’t start out with anchor text in a title, then work in a great pun. I know enough to know that it’s better for SEO if the anchor text appears at the start of a title. Therefore, what’s the harm in working in some ‘punniness’ after that?

Catching a reader’s attention

girl with blone hair sitting on floor with pink laptop, pile of books, coffee cup

I had one of the best creative writing teachers of all time in high school. Like most good composition instructors, she taught me that the purpose of a title is to catch a reader’s attention and to give a hint as to what the topic of a particular article or essay is going to be. While I understand how SEO works, I happen to think it makes for “clunky” writing at times, and it’s definitely a challenge to use anchor text an appropriate amount of times without it sounding forced or robotic.

If you were about to read an article about someone facing drug charges for a marijuana crime, and the purpose of the article was to draw your attention to the services a criminal law attorney can offer,  something like “Marijuana crimes: Plant yourself in a strong defense” catches attention but provides levity about a not-so-happy topic as well. If the anchor text of the article were “marijuana crimes,” you would have done your job to win a link on a search page.

I suppose there would undoubtedly be readers who veer toward a Puritan worldview who might say that, under no circumstances, should you ever “joke” about marijuana crimes. I think there would be just as many, however, who would appreciate the clever wit in spite of the seriousness of the topic.

Google doesn’t laugh about puns

hand holding marker pointing to graphic that shows SEO and relevant words

A common saying among writers and SEO experts is that “Google doesn’t laugh,” meaning title wordplay is not useful when the point is to get hits and increase traffic to a specific blog post. The thought behind the saying is that Google is specific, so humor (supposedly) has no place in titles because the search engine will not “get” the joke.

What do you think about wordplay? Yea or Nay?

computer showing Google logo

Are you a writer? Do you use puns in online titles? Are you an SEO expert? Is there any middle ground that would be acceptable to you for writers to incorporate SEO-friendly phrases and witty titles all in one? As a reader, what types of titles tend to attract your attention more: Anchor-text specific ones that get straight to the point or clever titles that play with words and make you say, “Ah, I see what you did there!” ?

SEO marketing experts say to use titles with numbers in them, such as “Try these 5 tips to get better sleep” or cryptic phrases, such as “This spice can help you lose weight” to get the most clicks on a search page. If that’s the case, I don’t see what we can’t toss a few puns in once in a while.

This post from the Hot Mess archives tells more about online marketing and content strategies. Whether you’re a small business owner, a blogger or a social media influencer, it won’t hurt (and might even help) to learn more about how to develop a strong online presence and use SEO to your advantage. Whether you write your on content or hire copywriters to do it for you, it’s important to remember that the title of an article or page is often the first thing readers see. Should you use wordplay to catch their attention? It appears that the jury is still out on that one.

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