The perfect headline. Many are written but few are chosen.
But in an age of social media referral, is the headline redundant? This montage from 1988 – yes, before the web when papers slugged it out above the fold in 48 point and WOB – are British daily and Sunday tabloids at their peak.
Literally millions EACH of the tabloids shifted daily. The Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express, the Daily Mail and their Sunday stablemates such as the mighty News Of The World, flew off news stands.
Designed to stop you dead in your tracks, words are wielded as blunt instruments. No consensual ‘call to action’ headlines here. No ‘Watch This Skateboarding Cat And Be Amazed’ YouTube links. Fury, Lovenest, Shoot the Bastard, UFO. And of course, Sex. They instruct the passing shopper to stop, engage with the story, buy the paper. Combined with classic design, they did their job.
Space and design meant KISS. Keep It Short, Stupid. Headlines from the 80s are a masterclass in economy of effort.
But today we have unlimited digital space. Trillions of pages compete for our attention. If a landing page does not do its job within 8 seconds, the user will move on.
So how do we keep readers?
If the war of the news stand was a bloody war of attrition forcing the reader to emote, the online headline has to do more with less. Designs are invariably less fluid, space is tight, time is precious. Yet crammed on busy rich content pages, headlines have actually got longer. And instead of forcing us to emote – they have mutated into Headline-As-Intro. The emotional link to the story may already have been resolved long before the click through thanks to social media and referral. Often it is the facebook posting and its comments or the pointed re-tweet of an URL that has engaged the reader prior to the act of reading the headline.
It is little surprise that MailOnline, spun out of a British tabloid tradition, has led the way. Combining acute news sense, informative and call to action headlines, more than one of us has found themselves well beyond the eight second dwell time and scrolling down for more long after we intended to call it quits.
But the headline’s work is not over. It’s role is no longer just to catch a reader’s eye. It has now been called upon to be a primary SEO device. Google’s robots are the new readers, and they will decide where a page appears in the rankings. We search for our content rather than rely on the newstand to dictate what is relevant. And google knows this. Next time you search, look at the recommended searches popping up before you’ve finished typing.
This brings us to a new vista for headlines and lovers of beautiful economic headlines.
In an era of increasingly salacious and grabby content: which is the better headline?
POP STAR IN SECRET LOVE NEST BID!
I know which is the better headline. But only one will show up at the top of google.