AP Style, SEO, state names, abbreviations and numbers

Oct 4th, 2009 | By | Category: Advice

By JOE GRIMM

SAN FRANCISCO — The keywords people use to search for news online may be a persuasive argument for tweaking Associated Press style on state abbreviations, acronyms and numbers.

When online readers hunt for news online and a state name is part of the search, they apparently prefer the U.S. Postal Service’s two-letter state abbreviation to the full state name or the AP abbreviation. Good search engine optimization, or SEO, would have us use both terms, or the more prevalent SEO.

At the Online News Association conference Oct. 4, Gradiva Couzin, co-author of Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day, advised using the two-letter abbreviations in page titles to increase the likelihood their stories will get discovered.

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It’s no wonder that readers would use two-letter Postal Service abbreviations. They see them on every piece of mail they get and seen. AP abbreviations, which came first, can be difficult for even the journalists they are prescribed for to remember. While AP style brings order to what journalists do, it is unreasonable to expect readers to adhere to them. If readers’ greater familiarity with another system of abbreviation leads them away from the most reliable news stories — even in a small way — it seems that there should be a style change, at least for online.

Following that logic, news sites should have the name of an organization, such as the Chicago Transit Authority, high in the article as well as better-recognized acronyms or abbreviations, such as CTA. Readers are more likely to use CTA as a search term and news sites want to show up high in those searches. This is why I wrote both search engine optimization and SEO in the second paragraph of this article — to help people find it. It is also why I write both Associated Press and AP.

A third point Couzin made at ONA was that people tend to search on numbers in their numeral form: 4, not four, and those would be more useful in online articles. AP Style is to spell out numbers 10 and above, with a growing array of exceptions.

Search engines present the first opportunity we have had to compare reader preferences to style, and the search argument is a strong one for change.

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One Comment to “AP Style, SEO, state names, abbreviations and numbers”

  1. Oh, how disappointing. I am a big advocate for both SEO and AP style; I am heartbroken to hear the two do not always work together. I have been bugging my co-workers for months to consistently use AP style in headlines. Looks like I must backtrack!

    Thanks for this really fascinating article.

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