Bad headlines

If there’s one thing that really annoys me it’s chapter headings and article headlines where you can’t tell what the subject matter is until you read it. Who needs a situation in which you don’t know if you want to read something until you have read it? The way I look at it is that if the author can’t even be bothered being clear when he’s trying to entice you to read his stuff, why should you be bothered to oblige him by reading it?

So article titles like “Here comes Clarence” or chapter headings like “All that glitters” leave me cold, and lead me elsewhere. I’d rather spend my time reading something I am reasonably sure will be relevant: I don’t have the time or inclination for guessing games.

On the internet, there are two other reasons why clarity is better than cleverness. First, people tend not to spend more than 8 seconds on a web page before deciding to move on. They’re not going to spend time trying to figure out what the article is about from the headline.

Second, search engines don’t have a clue who “Clarence” is or what “glitters”. If you want your article to be found by the sort of people who are likely to want to read it, you need it to be crystal clear from a search engine’s point of view.

Thus, a headline like “Bad headlines”may not be very good in terms of word play, but it perfectly describes what this article is about, which makes it good!