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"