by Mike Masnick

This Headline Left Intentionally Boring

from the does-it-work? dept

The New York Times got quite a bit of buzz this weekend for an article about how journalists and editors are changing how they write, to accommodate search engines. Specifically, the claim is that some sites have changed their headline or section naming styles to be more "boring" since search engines don't understand humor. Apparently, the BBC even goes so far as to write two separate headlines on many stories, trying to trick search engines into believing the boring ones are the legit headlines, while showing the catchier ones to humans. The article also notes some other "tricks" that journalists may need to start pulling to attract more search engine traffic. All of this is interesting, especially considering how some newspapers seem to actively try to stop search engines from sending them traffic. Clearly, that's not true in all cases.

Of course, a few other interesting thoughts come out of this. One is the basic worry that things have gone horribly wrong when we're writing headlines for computers, not humans. The computers should be adapting to what the humans want, not the other way around. The other idea, though, comes from Clive Thompson, who relates a story from Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow crediting much of that site's traffic to their boring, but straightforward headlines. Of course, it would be helpful if there were more of a control to compare it to. In our case, over the years, we've found that the catchier headlines definitely tend to receive more traffic (though not necessarily more comments) than straightforward headlines. Of course, much of that depends on how catchy the headline is. Sometimes, in trying to be too clever, you end up in some obscure world where almost no one gets what you were referring too (though, those who do get it seem to appreciate it even more). Catchy headlines also have a second benefit: it's easier to spot when someone else copies your headlines as well.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Headline Nazy, Apr 10th, 2006 @ 3:19am

    I'll surprise you

    Both humans and search engines prefer the "boring" ones. People are suck of retarded jokes and puns that pften mislead of the article's contents.

    Except we don't prefer titles for them being particularly boring, but being descriptive and on topic and pun-free.

    So "This Headline Left Intentionally Boring" actually is totally not working here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2006 @ 3:31am

    "People are suck of retarded jokes and puns"

    Please dont speak for all people - because obviously all people do not agree with you... and your attempt at a "definitive reply to end all further discussion" answer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Shohat, Apr 10th, 2006 @ 3:38am

    People do like humor

    Stop claiming we dont .

    Search engines used to go out of their way to index content . Now content goes out of it's way to get indexed .(c)
    Boris Shohat(tm) 10/04/2006.

    And this is wrong .

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 10th, 2006 @ 4:59am

    Re: I'll surprise you

    I'm sure after posting a comment like that you'll find plenty of people that think you're wrong to speak for everyone. sometimes humans need to actually use the brains we have to decipher headlines and get a joke, and some of us enjoy it that much more when we do. I understood "This Headline Left Intentionally Boring" before the page even finished loading in a back tab on my browser. I guessed right away that it was about headlines that were being left intentionally boring. "headlines being left intentionally boring" I think would be far too boring for me to have read the article. if you want proof that such a headline as this article has draws some people to read it through to its end, you did, and left a comment. you're obviously not too "suck" of it for that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Jah Womble, Apr 10th, 2006 @ 5:50am

    It Worked For Me

    The headline on this story made it the first one I clicked on in my RSS feed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    hmm, Apr 10th, 2006 @ 9:11am

    Re: I'll surprise you

    Anyone who mispells "nazi" and "sick" can speak for me any day!!!


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    buh, Apr 10th, 2006 @ 10:23am

    Re: I'll surprise you

    I think his name was meant to be "lazy"...then again, I'm suck of trying tp read this

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Diane Ensey, Apr 10th, 2006 @ 1:44pm


    Anecdotally I agree with those who like unusual or funny titles. How would research on "boring" vs. unusual titles be done? Any ideas?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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