Gary Raymond tries to cut through the noise and find the perfect SEO headline for the events surrounding the death of Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, Welsh Corgis, the Prince of Wales, and the SEO Nightmare.
Will no-one think of the editors? Has there been an event to which our media outlets have been more unswervingly dedicated? Even the most ardent devotees of the late Queen Elizabeth II are, by now, able, surely, to dip in and out of the coverage of her ceremonial mourning. The BBC has had its usual you-can-please-some-of-the-people-some-of-the-time criticisms, but lest we forget Sky and others are also dedicating a live stream service of the Queen lying in State for anybody who wants to have a gawp but can’t get a train down to London to join the IRL queue. Nobody is quite sure who it is demanding this level of media saturation, and you know things have reached a peak when the BBC begin hosting roundtable debates on whether they are talking too much about the subject they are gathered there to talk about. But the Beast must be fed. Even when nobody knows what, or, indeed, where, that Beast is.
One thing is for certain, the next time a tory MP pipes up and accuses the BBC of having a liberal bias, they should be hit over the head with a ceremonial sceptre and bundled off a parapet of Balmoral. (Does Balmoral have parapets? I don’t know. I’m not much of a castles person).
But the real victims here – and every story needs a victim nowadays, doesn’t it? – are the editors of media that are contemplating publishing something about the Queen. ie. every editor on Earth. How can we (by we, I mean myself and fellow members of the Secret Scarlet Guild of Editors and Kingmakers) exploit the moment most effectively? In this day and golden age of click bait and bounce rates and search engine optimisation and Google ratings, the first priority of every editor must always be, how do I trick the average data consumer into veering toward my website in the belief they will see something new about the Queen at a time when every website in the world of world-wide webs has “Queen” as their keyword? It’s a battleground out there, and we are but a Dafydd in a landscape of a thousand Goliaths. (I now have that made as a motivational plaque on the wall above my desk).
First tactic is to pay some attention to what will get us up that Google rating. A good solid header that tickles the balls of the algorithmic gods. I consulted with some YouTube videos, a Google forum, my Yoga instructor, and our Managing Editor, Ben Glover, for some wisdom and ingredients. We need the word “Queen” in there. And the title should be a question. “Is the Queen dead?” seemed a bit way out there. “Did you Know the Queen is Dead?” seemed a bit the other way. “The Queen is Dead, Boys?” might have got us a few extra Morrissey fans, and every click counts, but it was maybe also a bit off point.
A bit of research led us to consider “Is the Queen German?”, “Is the Queen sick?” and “Why Didn’t God Save the Queen?”. Apparently, people searching for articles on the Queen are more likely to be presented with pieces that have the word “Queen” at the front of the headline. That leaves you either with a somewhat declarative feel, as in “Queen: Dead”; or in an attempt to keep it a question: “Queen: Just How Important Was Her Definitive Article?” Or you can make it sound like an 80s tabloid front page, as in “Queen Dies: Nation Very Sad”.
What I hadn’t realised, though, was that the minds behind the non-organic evolution of the internet have given birth to a much more sophisticated system for preventing people from spending more time with their loved ones. The headline is now a great art. And so, headlines such as “Did The Queen Even Want To Die?”, “Which State is The Queen Even Lying In?” (one for the American audience there), and “How Woke Was The Queen?” display just some of the syntactics being employed by some.
Lists are popular. “25 Times The Queen Didn’t Die”, “50 Queens You’ve Probably Never Heard Of” and “100 Funniest Quotes from The Queen” were all very tempting, but, sadly, already taken by Goliaths.
Controversy and wild conspiracy theories can do wonders for hit rates. People love them. “Is The Queen Really Dead?” is an obvious one but will guarantee to suck in millions of people. Here’s some that will be met with the exploding heads of all those lefties who have taken to social media to call The Queen a murdering colonial tyrant whilst having nothing to say about the attempted murder of Salman Rushdie at the hands of an agent of a tyrannical homicidal theocracy: “Did The Queen Order the Murder of Salman Rushdie?”, “Was the Queen Actually Salman Rushdie?”, “Was the Queen a Victim of a Fatwah?”, “Was the Queen a Muslim?”, and “Is Salman Rushdie the Queen?” all tick the right boxes if we wanted to own the libs.
Of course, finding a niche (also known as “knowing your readership”) is an angle. Just as the staff of my local pasty shop have been clad in mourning gowns for over a week now (they really know how to read a shop floor), an editor should be able to look out at the mournful faces of the populace it serves and be able to ascertain, to feel, to know, just what angle it is they expect from their beloved journal. Being Welsh is a gift (as we all know, from God) and exploiting the victimhood of our nationhood is part of a Welsh editor’s contract, not only with our public, but actually with our funders. “Why Didn’t The Queen like Wales?” seems an obvious one, given that the media attention this last week has fawned over her love for Scotland, her admiration and respect for the Irish, and the bunting game of the English. Wales has been largely ignored. She had Welsh corgis, of course, a potent symbol of the perceived relationship of monarchy and Taff. Welsh nationalists have been barking on about the last Welsh Prince of Wales, killed in 1285 (relatively recently in the grand scheme of the cosmos), but they have failed to mention we gave England a Welsh King as recently 1509. (So, we’re probably even).
Welsh publications, determined to focus on our servitude to the English robber barons, desperate for us to swap our salute to the monarchy for a salute to a flag, have been, wisely, going on about King Charles and how rubbish he is at being a socialist or a coal miner or a Welsh speaker or some lava bread or Caernarfon Castle. My god, he is sooooooooo rubbish at being Caernarfon Castle, which is even more of a cheek seeing as his investiture was there in 1286 or sometime around then. “King Charles’ Unusual Connection to Caernarfon Castle”; “Why is King Charles No Good At Being A Famous Welsh Castle?”; “Does King Charles Count As A Second Home?”
As you can see, editors trying to find a chink of light in the narrow squalor of the Google rating SEO racket can be pushed into some odd places. Have pity on us.
God save the editor.
Gary Raymond is a novelist, broadcaster, and editor at Wales Arts Review.
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