Something a bit light-hearted for a Friday evening. A little while back, Rand at SEOmoz wrote about the headline-writing lessons to be learnt from reading trashy magazines (I think, though I can’t seem to find the post now).
We’re talking here about such distinguished titles as:
We were talking here at Distilled about how (while we might arguably be writing about interesting things) our headlines left something to be desired and so I have been looking out for great examples of headline writing. This is not a new skill - newspapers and magazines have been honing this skill for over a century (and our great writers have been at it for even longer; I’m sure that Shakespeare would have preferred to have his skills advertised in a magazine “Juliet’s secret man is a capulet” than a worthy review). And there is no doubt about it; it is an incredibly skillful task.
An acquaintance of mine works on the newsdesk of a national newspaper and, over a few beers, as well as telling stories of famous people up to naughty things (that they know are true, but don’t have quite enough proof to print), he enjoys regaling us with the quick wit of the subs who write most of the headlines. These guys are lewd, competitive, hilarious and lightning-quick. Some of the headlines they can’t use are absolutely brilliant.
Online, we are much less constrained about what we can and can’t write, but unfortunately, we also aren’t aided by a team of witty sub-editors to create brilliant headlines for our writing.
I am trying to improve my headline-writing skills by paying attention when something grabs my attention: in print, on an advertising hoarding, on someone’s website or blog, or on digg. What exactly is it that made me sit up and pay attention? (Incidentally, I’m also trying to hone my eye for design by actually paying attention to what it is about some designs that works - next time you see a pretty product or advert, try to break it down into its constituent parts and you’ll see a lot of the same elements repeated - much like the Web 2.0 design rules - if you haven’t read this beauty from web design from scratch, go and read it now...).
A reputation monitoring challenge
To tie this all back to our core topic, of reputation monitoring, when you are trying to keep up with all the chatter about your company or brand online, you are generally going to be presented with a list of page titles that may or may not be about you. Here the challenge is a slightly different one - more akin to speed-reading than looking out for eye-grabbing headlines. You want to read the stories that are about you regardless of headline, rather than reading the ones that catch your eye because of some clever titling. We have been trying to improve this process in our product, by including snippets from the source to enable easy scanning, but there is more to do.
One feature request that a few people have made recently is for ‘importance’ weighting in order to get an immediate idea of how important the blog or website is that mentions you. We have brainstormed a few metrics for doing this, and it may well make an appearance in some form in future releases, but the fundamental problem is that it slightly goes against the core belief we have about doing online blog monitoring in particular - that even if it isn’t an ‘a-list’ blogger who is writing about you, you do need to know about it (especially if the coverage is negative) because it can balloon out of control very quickly.
If techmeme mentions you, you’re pretty likely to know about it, but if an obscure blogger raises a genuine problem, then finding out about it and having the opportunity to respond is hugely valuable - and I’m worried that we might lose these in the noise if we assign ‘importance’ ranks to the sources... Probably something to explore in more detail another day.