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Chances are you’re not even reading this. Online, it’s been said, people are “flat-out less likely to read funny headlines”. Not that I’m saying the headline’s funny; because it’s not; but I’ve seen far worse.

The “flat-out” quote comes from the article Google Doesn’t Laugh: Saving Witty Headlines in the Age of SEO by David Wheeler.

Wheeler attends the American Copy Editors Society’s annual conference, where delegates are workshopping headlines for a story on Leonard Nimoy’s move into cooking:

“Spice: The Final Frontier” is one; “Spice me up, Scotty,” is another.

Because I write headlines for a living, I can’t help adding, at least in my head: “It’s a knife, Jim, but not as we know it,” and the more laboured: “Star Shifts Enterprise”.

But Wheeler’s article suggests that, in the age of search engine optimisation, funny headlines – such as those with puns – are an endangered species, almost certain to go extinct. The following should give you an sense of the tenor:

“Sharp, witty headlines that stray off the ‘literalness’ line will live, barely, for a little while longer […] As the veterans of newspapers are gradually replaced by younger copy editors who grew up with the Web, we will see such headlines less and less.”

Hands up if you dig really funny headlines.

In a magazine or newspaper, the headline “It’s a knife, Jim, but not as we know it” across a double-page photograph of Leonard Nimoy chopping a carrot would work fine.

But in the cold light of internet, where actual search terms are king, you have to mention Leonard Nimoy, or at least Spock, and somehow communicate the story, ideally in eight words or less. “Spock takes to the wok?” might work, as might the double-barrelled: “Spock and wok: Leonard Nimoy moves into cooking.”

Identifying what people look for online is the goal of content farms, where people work like battery hens, taking words that perform well in SEO terms and weaving them into some kind of (gobbledygook) narrative: they file up to 10 stories a shift, hitting deadlines every 25 minutes.

The sole purpose of such farms is to attract high readership figures – or click-on figures – which in turn are used as leverage to sell ads.

Is this good news, bad news, or neither?

And what happens if you load headlines and copy with sex? More of that later … maybe tomorrow.

Part 1 of 5

Click here for part 2

Click here for part 3

Click here for part 4

Click here for part 5

Related:
Google makes me SEO happy

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Written by Paul Dalgarno

July 4, 2011 at 7:31 am

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