Every morning I spend half an hour looking at news and commentary from a wide variety of sources. Yet it’s only recently that I’ve become aware of how the quality and creativity of the headlines and titles have improved dramatically over the years.
I think that David Ogilvy may be to blame. And yes there is blame:
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
The quotation is a great one, but I don’t think it applies to the web.
My newsreader is full of eye-catching headlines. Yet the majority of them fail to deliver when it comes to the article itself.
Today, for example, there were 43 articles whose titles caught my attention, enough to make me drag the link to a new tab in my browser.
Of the 43, 24 fell by the first two sentences. Eleven lasted two paragraphs. Five were briefly skimmed, and I read three of them properly.
Now let’s consider how the writers of these articles gained from my exposure to their content.
Most of them simply didn’t register as being in any way significant, at least not on a positive way. I didn’t notice who the writers were and certainly didn’t go to explore their websites for more information. Crappy content doesn’t entice me to do anything other than move away fast.
The three articles that I did read, however, produced an altogether different experience.
One of the writers was already known to me, and his article reinforced the fact that he is indeed a source of interesting material. I had never come across the other two writers before, so quickly looked at their websites to see who they are and what they sell. I’ll be following both of them now. Interestingly there’s a reasonable chance that I will be buying a product that the second writer sells. I’m taking a look at it in more detail later today.
But what about the signals that we send to Google?
Of the 24 articles that fell at two sentences or less, there were two or three that appeared to be potentially reasonable, but not what I was looking for. The headline was more enticing than the content. Yet other people may have found the article interesting, and so overall the signals sent to Google (at least in terms of time spent) may have been positive.
The remaining 21 or so articles were simply bad. Poorly written, uninspiring, nothing of interest other than an eye-catching headline.
The data sent to Google by those pages was probably that a very short amount of time was spent there (no more than a few seconds), and no-one engaged with the site in any way before leaving. In other words: this content is of no value.
Poor content serves no purpose. It wastes time, puts people off what you sell, damages your reputation and sends poor signals to Google.
Ogilvy’s quotation was typically brilliant, but the web is a different medium. Great headlines should at the very least lead to reasonable content.