Search-engines kill the art of clever headlines

Cnet's Elinor Mills has a great article on the demise of "pithy, witty and provocative headlines" -- the bread-and-butter of print publishing. You can win awards with a headline like "BASTARDS!" over a shot of the Twin Towers in flames, but in a search-engine results-page, that headline is invisible. Instead, you want a clean, informative headline that alphabetizes well (no punctuation, numbers or articles at the start), along with a totally straight, totally informative lede graf.

I first encountered this idea in Jakob Nielsen's "Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and Subject Lines", and we're great fans of it here at Boing Boing (though we sometimes let a great joke come ahead of an informative headline...). I actually think that this is part of the secret of our success -- we write headlines like wire-service stringers, headlines that are meant to be easy to grok from a cluster of RSS links, search-results, and so on.

The Boston Globe is a recent convert to this philosophy, and it's working well for them: though they're ranked 15th in print circulation nationwide, they're number four on the Web, all down to attending to the ways that search engines consume and regurgitate information.


On January 2, The Wall Street Journal Online posted a story with the headline: "Green Beans Comes Marching Home."

It happened to be an article about the Green Beans Coffee Co., which serves overseas U.S. military bases, opening its first cafe in the United States.

Let's say you were interested in the subject but didn't know the Journal had written an article on it. You might type into a search engine some combination of keywords like "Green Beans," "coffee," "U.S. military," "bases" and "soldiers." Various combinations failed to return a link to the article in the first page of results on Google. Using all of the keywords and terms separated like that did find the article, but not on The Wall Street Journal site. Instead, it was on a blog site that had reposted the article word for word.

Link (via /.)