Choire Sicha on "The New Way We Make Web Headlines Now"

At The Awl, veteran headline-writer Choire Sicha deconstructs how headline-writing has been transformed by the search for SEO-optimized traffic boostfulness.


  1. My big issue with a lot of the headlines I see on the web is that it seems like they try to pick words and phrasing so as to make you reread the headline a few times in order to understand it, which usually results from trying to summarize the whole article in a phrase or else using words that are both verbs and nouns or adjectives.

    For example: “Clergy abuse victims: ‘We demand justice.”

    Is this saying that clergy members are abusing victims? No, it’s saying “victims of clergy abuse” are saying something. So why not say more clearly, “Victims of clergy abuse?” Oh, but we have to save that precious two extra characters and a space and cause confusion.

    Another example: “Time UN observers left Kashmir: India”

    It’s really saying “India: It is time that UN observers left Kashmir.” I understand getting rid of “that,” but what about rephrasing it as “India: Time for UN observers to leave Kashmir” ? That seems so much clearer and doesn’t take much space.

    1. Those conventions date back to a time when masthead space was at a premium, which is also how our presidents became FDR, JFK and LBJ.  But you’re right, on the web, two extra characters don’t cost a cent.  Clarity is a good thing.

    2. Here’s another one: “Google stems advertising price declines.” It’s not all that hard to figure out, but the word choice is poor. Every single word in that headline is both a noun and a verb.

  2. My mind registers ever single variant as spam. Do they actually link to the articles they sound like?

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