Headlines have become more and more important because of social media.
Once upon a time, headlines were critical because they helped persuade news stand passers-by to buy newspapers.
Now of course, most people are likely to ask, “What’s a news stand? What’s a newspaper?”
Nonetheless, the importance of headlines remains. The headline is what convinces you whether or not to click on a link, whether on Twitter, Facebook, or even that old dinosaur, email (where it is referred to as a subject line).
But I can’t help but feel that we’re nearing “peak headline.” Too many companies are strip-mining the psychology of headlines for traffic; the result will be a jaded and cynical audience that will stop clicking on anything.
Once upon a time, Huffington Post was criticized for simply republishing content. Now we long for those halcyon days. Upworthy doesn’t even bother with republishing–the typical Upworthy post is simply a YouTube video with a catchy headline.
Now “viral” sites are proliferating with all the speed of a cat-based meme:
Perhaps the most extreme examples come from the British press, where Fleet Street specializes in bait-and-switch headlines. Take this recent one, for example:
“Exciting new BRAZILIAN PUSSY FINGERED by overjoyed boffins”
Don’t worry, puns aside, the content is perfectly SFW (this is a story about Brazilian scientists discovering a new breed of large cat), as are other stories like:
- “Rare BLOWJOB-GIVING APES ‘face extinction from interacting with HUMANS'”
- “Japanese pussies slurp ‘meow meow’ sex wine”
- “Man killed by own cock”
I predict that the natural response will be an even greater emphasis on the reputation of the source, rather than simply relying on the catchiness of the headline. The viral sites that are best able to deliver on the promise of their headlines will be the ones that persist over time.