In this webtastic age of search optimisation, one answer is a lot of references to stuff that will get you a high Google ranking. The basic theory goes something like ‘never mind the quality of my story on service-oriented architecture, just check out how many times the headline mentions the recession, Angelina Jolie and Twitter’. Goal.
Or is that an own goal? Back in the world of ink, paper-based headlines are usually short. There’s often a pun involved, too. I worked with a sub who thought song titles by The Smiths made the best headlines. The theory works well to some extent, such as in the case of ‘How Soon is Now?’, ‘What Difference Does it Make?’ and ‘This Charming Man’. But ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ and ‘The Queen is Dead’ have a more limited applicability.
And of course, there’s the online problem. ‘This Charming Man’ is a nice title for a magazine article on a friendly CIO. But most paper-based articles end up on the web and would you click on the article if you weren’t a fan of The Smiths? More importantly, would you be able to find it?
The end result is that puntastic magazine headlines get rewritten for the age of webtastic search optimisation. In fact, stories start to exist simply because people know they will get hits, such as ‘Top 10 tips’ articles. As journalist Andy McCue said to me the other day: “I’ll go mad if I see another ‘Top 10 tips for beating the recession’ article.” Check out Google News, my friend – there are plenty to push you over the edge.
Still, the headline and the content are no guarantee of attention anyway. I heard a woman on the train say to her friend the other day: “So, what was that story about a plane landing on a river? I missed that.”
It is difficult to understand how she could have missed the story of the US Airways plane landing on the Hudson River. Well, unless she’d sold her TV, refused to read, smashed up her radio, disconnected the computer, refused to talk to another human being and moved to Venus.
Which, I assume, she hadn’t. In short, you just can’t grab some people’s attention – even when the headline is great and the content of the story is even better. But good luck trying.