I recently spent a day in Ohio at The Columbus Dispatch at the invitation of editors at the newspaper there. My visit was part of a week of training for the newsroom staff.
One of the topics we discussed was writing headlines for the newspaper’s website. The Dispatch has recently made it easier for copy editors to write separate headlines for the print and online editions.
To prepare for my visit, I looked at several issues of the newspapers and its website. I noticed that the Dispatch routinely uses “OSU” as a short form for Ohio State University in print and online.
I hadn’t thought to abbreviate the school in that way, though I can see how it would be helpful to do so in a one-column headline or similarly tight space in print. But what about Oklahoma State University or Oregon State University? Wouldn’t they be OSUs also?
It would make perfect sense to use those abbreviations in Stillwater or Corvallis, not just in Columbus. Readers in each place see that OSU as their OSU. As one person put it when I asked about this on Twitter:
OSU = Oregon State University … But then I live near Seattle and have friends in Oregon.
But what about online headlines, where audience is not defined by geography? Would sports fans outside of Ohio search for news about Ohio State football or basketball using “OSU”? Or would they try “Ohio State” or “Buckeyes”?
Google gives us mixed messages. On the Google homepage, typing in “OSU” offers us the Ohio State University website as the top item. (It probably helps that the university has “osu.edu” as its domain.)
But in Google News, the top “OSU” hit is a story about Oregon State baseball. (The Beavers swept Hartford over the weekend.) Next are links to Ohio State basketball and Oklahoma State Cowboys basketball.
So what to do? I asked SEO/social media expert Erika Napoletano of Redhead Writing to point me in the right direction. She suggested that I use the keyword tool in Google AdWords. There, I found that “Ohio State” is searched on Google about twice as much as “OSU.” Perhaps that is our answer.
I’ve added further exploration of this part of Google to my to “to do” list for the summer. In the meantime, my overall advice on writing headlines for online media remains the same. Write for people first, then Google. Here’s a handout (PDF) that I use in class and other settings.
Of course, for some people, OSU may mean something completely different. As one Twitter friend wrote:
Ohio State University or some religious order I can’t think of right now. I remember seeing it after a nun’s name.
That would be the Order of Ursuline Sisters. Or, as that OSU’s sports teams might be called, the Fightin’ Nuns.