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SEO Follies: ‘Walking Dead’ Actress? Well, Sort of, but…

Linking the ricin mailing suspect to the AMC drama is a familiar stretch

I was eating lunch when the news hit that a “‘Walking Dead’ actress” had been implicated in mailing ricin-tinged letters to President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Then I clicked on the link: “Shannon who?” I thought.

Having seen every episode of the AMC zombie drama, it was a little jarring. For a supposed “Walking Dead” actress, I wouldn’t know who this woman was if she bit me.

To be fair, almost everyone spun that angle — not just Variety, but the Hollywood Reporter and Huffington Post and virtually any other site interested in traffic.

Welcome to the Search Engine Optimization Follies. See, it’s very simple. Pick a term likely to get a lot of traffic anyway, then use that. Say, George Clooney. I have met George Clooney, even interviewed George Clooney. I’m sure my posts would get more traffic if they were written by George Clooney, or at least offered tantalizing info about him.

But since I really have no excuse to write about George Clooney, it’s kind of gratuitous to use his name.

Which doesn’t stop anyone from trying — in the same way people picked the highest-profile credit associated with Shannon Rogers Richardson, “The Walking Dead,” and ran with that. Never mind that even the show’s former exec producer, Glen Mazzara, apparently had no idea who she is.

Most of the time, it’s fairly harmless and not worth making a federal case out of it (which is more than can be said for Ms. Richardson should the allegations be true), reflecting the kind of crafty tricks local TV stations have long played in trying to tease viewers into their newcasts.

Moreover, it clearly works, which is why Huffington Post and the Drudge Report are so brazen about using such salacious teases. Indeed, the former’s please-click-through headlines have inspired a Twitter account, HuffPo Spoilers, specifically devoted to decoding its cryptic messages.

Still, there’s no denying that these practices can also be misleading. And they do have a way of dragging people who were just minding their own business into stories that really have nothing to do with them.

I wonder what George Clooney would have to say about that. Or even someone genuinely associated with “The Walking Dead” who I’ve actually heard of.

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