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Don't be a Pain in the Click

060413a Witty and teasing headlines on web sites give me a headache. Half the time that I give in and click on them, they turn out to be referring to something for which I have no interest. In a traditional newspaper, your eye easily leaps from the cute headline to the first line of the story, but on the internet you usually have to click, then click away. That's two clicks for some cheap misleading headline!

So I have no sympathy for the journalists who bemoan the death of the witty headline. May it rest in peace! You, however, need to read this clip below to understand how incredibly important clear, specific headlines have become to getting the word out.

New York Times: This Boring Headline Is Written for Google, April 9, 2006, by Steve Lohr

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." "The search engine has to get a straightforward, factual headline, so it can understand it," Mr. Newman said. With a little programming sleight-of-hand, the search engine can be steered first to the straightforward, somewhat duller headline, according to some search optimizers.