April 11th, 2006
In the article, technology author Steve Lohr writes how newspaper authors are changing they way they write headlines because they want the search engine crawlers to find them:
News organizations [...] are making titles and headlines easier for search engines to find and fathom. About a year ago, The Sacramento Bee changed online section titles. “Real Estate” became “Homes,” “Scene” turned into “Lifestyle,” and dining information found in newsprint under “Taste,” is online under “Taste/Food.”
Some news sites offer two headlines. One headline, often on the first Web page, is clever, meant to attract human readers. Then, one click to a second Web page, a more quotidian, factual headline appears with the article itself. The popular BBC News Web site does this routinely on longer articles.
Nic Newman, head of product development and technology at BBC News Interactive, pointed to a few examples from last Wednesday. The first headline a human reader sees: “Unsafe sex: Has Jacob Zuma’s rape trial hit South Africa’s war on AIDS?” One click down: “Zuma testimony sparks HIV fear.” Another headline meant to lure the human reader: “Tulsa star: The life and career of much-loved 1960′s singer.” One click down: “Obituary: Gene Pitney.”
One thing the article misses is that the purpose of headlines is different on the web than in print papers.
Like web pages, newspaper pages are often scanned. And like their web counterparts, newspaper headlines are intended to attract the reader’s eyes to a particular story.
But, unlike the web, the rest of story is located next to the headline. The headline gets the user to stop scanning and start reading. But the cost to the reader is low. If it’s not a story that turns out to be of interest, the reader can pick right up where they left off and continue scanning. Often, other visual clues, such as sub-headings, images, and charts contribute to helping the reader quickly and efficiently assess their interest in the story.
On the web, the headline is often doubling as a link. This is a duty it was never originally designed for.
Effective print headlines, when translated to the web, suddenly become less effective. Check out these headlines from today’s New York Post home page:
It seems these links do not give off effective scent. It is unlikely they have the right trigger words to help people decide if they story is something they want to read. Users have to decide if clicking is worth it, with all of its associated costs: waiting for the page to load, having to scan the new page, finding the way to get back, waiting for the original page to load, finding where you left off and starting the scanning phase again.
Traversing a web page is very different from scanning pages in a newspaper. And the once-headlines-now-links need to adapt to their new role.
It’s interesting to note that what makes things easier for the robot search engine crawlers also makes things easier for human readers. Links with strong scent work for both people and computers.Tweet