Why are the headlines on your content so boring?

Some call the dominance of SEO in choosing topics and headlines is The Death of Wit

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Atlantic writer David Wheeler also cites complaints by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten complained about a Post story about Conan O'Brien's refusal to give up his 11:30 Tonight Show slot in favor of a returning Jay Leno, and move to a later time for O'Brien's own show. "Better never than late" became "Conan O'Briend won't give up 'Tonight Shot' time slot to make room for Jay Leno."

SEO analysts don't like witty headlines because their research (sometimes scientific, sometimes just their individual assumptions based on web server logs) show that people don't read funny or clever headlines.

Readers also don't click on headlines they never see; so even the cleverest headline will draw no readers if it is never picked up by Google News or one of the other big aggregators.

Headlines written only according to SEO criteria are incredibly boring and tend to attract fewer readers. That is largely because (my own subjective experience and analysis here) heds written only to impress algorithms bore human brains stupid.

Not always, of course. No matter how dull you try to make it, everyone will click on a story about Michael Jackson being arrested while riding nude on an elephant and making out with a pet monkey.

Take all the zip out of a story in favor of a pile of SEO-friendly nouns and verbs with little or no humor, analysis or indication of what the reader will gain by clicking other than the bare facts of the story, and you don't give readers any reason other than the facts you already gave them in the headline to click on the story.

So they won't.

No one really knows what the golden center is on the spectrum between clever, human-enticing word play and pure-SEO labelling of news stories, feature stories and the kind of content your company didn't know it was in the business of publishing until it had to put it all up on web sites and get people to look at it.

It's a discussion close to the hearts (and workflow and job descriptions) of every journalist who works on line (every journalist) and every corporate marketing drone, content aggregator, PR operative or communications professional.

It's an evolving picture, complicated by click farms trying to identify Google's priorities so they can game the system, legitimate content sites trying to make their content as Google-friendly as possible, and Google itself, which seems to think everyone's just obsessed with the way it likes to categorize content (they are).

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