It’ll be interesting to see how this works out:
A growing number of users come to stories on the BBC site from places other than our own front page – for example search engines, other sites, personal recommendations, Twitter or RSS feeds.
So our developers have done a bit of work to allow journalists the scope to create two headlines for a story if they want to — a short one which appears on the front page and our other website indexes, and a longer one which will appear on the story page itself and in search engine results.
One of the challenges in writing for the web is to create careful headlines — they need to:
- be short, but not too short
- be able stand alone
- encapsulate the story
- draw in potential readers.
That’s a tall order for a few words.
Headlines float up
The BBC make a good point that the headlines ‘float up’ — that is, they appear on their own, almost devoid of context, on the front page, in search results, in Twitter and RSS feeds.
Headlines need to make sense, even when taken away from the story they refer to — such as when they appear among a list of other headlines on the front page.
35 characters to tell a story
Those extremely pithy headlines distill a sometimes complex story to its tightest minimum.
In the screenshot above the headline is
UK navy fires on ‘Spanish flag’. It veers a little towards the sensationalist, with the ‘Spanish flag’, but of course they want to give potential readers a reason to click through to the whole story.
What’s more it was in a list where each headline is only around 30 to 35 characters long. And we think conveying a thought on Twitter is hard, where we have the luxury of 140 characters!
Longer headlines are more useful
The story itself tells us that in fact they fired on a buoy. No-one would have bothered to read a story about the Navy firing on a buoy.
A good headline, though, needs to be a little longer and a little more accurate. The headline on the story itself amplifies what happened:
UK ‘sorry’ for shooting at ‘Spanish flag’ buoy.
That one would read well in spots such as Google News, or in a list of results from a web search.
It seems to me there’s a lot of potential for confusion if each story can have 2 headlines, but I like their thinking. What do you think about it?