How To Use Google Insights to Write Heds, Deks, and Ledes

Steady web traffic comes from knowing what people are looking for and having web pages waiting for them.


Back in the 20th century, newsstands were the default distribution channel. Heds and deks could be written to entice newsstand browsers.

Here in the 21st century your heds and deks still need to entice newsstand browsers, its just that the browser is Firefox, Safari, or Chrome; and the newsstand is The Google. Instead of writing heds and deks to entice people who browse at Barnes & Noble, you need to write heds and deks for people who search on The Google.

That is the new reality of the digital newsstand — it is based on search, not browse.

In The Old World (print), heds, deks, and ledes tell readers what the article is about, why it matters, and if the article is worth the readers’ time to jump in.

In The New World (digital), Heds, deks, and ledes need to do all that and more. They are like billboards on the information superhighway, putting you on The Google road map so that readers can find information.

To do their job, heds, deks, and ledes on the web need to have plenty of relevant keywords to represent the many search possibilities flowing through The Google.

Relevant keywords represent what folks are buying, not what you are selling — give the people what they want

If you don’t know exactly what people are looking for, your heds, deks, and ledes are less likely to be relevant to most people.

Using keywords to write heds, deks, and ledes is not about packing every hed, dek, and lede with every popular keyword in the world*. It is about packing heds, deks, and ledes with hyper-relevant long-tail keywords — words that people are using to describe their needs — so that people can find the information that you publish.

To find out what people are looking for, take a two-step approach to using Google’s Insights for Search keyword tool. The first step is to build a list of top keywords within your area of expertise. Next is to assemble a much larger list of topics that you regularly cover and how alternative versions of the terms stack up against each other  — headline and hed, for example. Your website taxonomy can be helpful on this second list, but also brainstorm variations of the taxonomy terms.

You may want to re-think your taxonomy terms based on the results, but that is another topic altogether.

Step 1: Make a list of the most searched-for keywords

To find the top terms in your topic area, use the filter in the top right corner of Insights — choose location or time range, whichever is more important to you. I’ll pick location.

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You can choose worldwide, or select a particular country, and then drill down to state and metro areas. Next, choose a topic category that you write about: News > Journalism & News Industry, for example.

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Click ‘Search’ for a list of the top keywords and rising keywords that people in CT are searching for in the category of News > Journalism & News Industry.

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Looks like a top Journalism & News Industry  search term for people in Connecticut is the peephole video of Erin Andrews, an ESPN reporter. Christopher Hitchens, WEEI Radio, Rupert Murdoch,  journalism, Quebecor, and Pulitzer are other popular topics. Not necessarily a whole lot of low-hanging fruit there; maybe journalism, Pulitzer, and Quebecor.

These low-hanging fruit are keywords that you have a good chance of owning in The Google. Because we have drilled down to specific topics, fewer people are searching for them; which means less competition for search results. Backing out to ‘News’ yields keywords that larger websites will beat you out of — CNN, New York Times, news, weather, etc,.

To get popular topics that you have a chance of winning in the Google, go all the way to the bottom of your target categories on your list, get the keywords, and back your way out.

Step 2: The big list of long-tail keywords

Next, build the big list of all of the topics that you are likely to write about. See how popular words compare to each other to build a skeleton framework — infographics, headlines, and writing for example. I am going to back out from Connecticut for the search, because the InfoTruck likes the open road, not just little congested states in the northeast.

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Clicking ‘Search’ yields results that show a couple of things:

  • Relative interest
  • Cyclical nature of the search queries

Looks like ‘headlines’ and ‘writing’ trump infographic substantially. In this case there isn’t much of a cyclical nature, but if you search for ‘deck’ under the Home & Garden category, you’ll see a pretty strong pattern.

Insights does not give absolute numbers, it gives relative ones, and you can only compare five words at a time. To build a big list, you need to overlap words from different sets in order to get an accurate-ish hierarchy.

Add a plus sign (+) between two words to include searches for either one of terms.This is a good way to test headlines against each other.

With a few key keywords in place, you’ll know some of your readers’ priorities — their skeleton of needs. You can fill in the guts over time.

Eliminating the popular item (Headline, in this case) can reveal the underlying cycle of the less popular items because it un-flattens their lines.

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Writing actually does seem to have a cycle to it — least popular in the summer months, reasonably popular in the winter, though every December shows a downward spike. You can tell which month it is by mousing over the line and looking in the top right corner of the graph.

Clicking the ‘Growth relative to the News category’ tab shows another story:

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Infographic, which may have been written off earlier as a dead-end keyword, is clearly the keyword with the most growth potential.

In addition to looking for words that are popular, and that you can own, it is wise to look for words that are growing rather than declining.

Happy trolling!

*Of course, I have managed to pack ‘hed, dek, and lede’ into the hed, dek, lede, and main text of this blog quite a bit. Choosing this jargon will help this blog post to come up high in search results of professional editors, bloggers, and producers. In fact, at the time of is writing, InfoTruck is three months old, and a previous article comes up in the top ten search results for ‘hed, dek, and lede.’


One thought on “How To Use Google Insights to Write Heds, Deks, and Ledes

  1. Very informative, although I did not follow all of it, or nealry all of it, I will certianly start at the begining again, and floow the steps through Google Insights and learn how to use it!


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