The other day, I was suggesting to one of my colleagues that Endeca‘s software could help authors write better (translate, more SEO-friendly) headlines. The details of that discussion are proprietary, but I’m sure you can imagine the gist. But we all wondered whether authors would be willing to stomach such a left-brain infringement on their right-brain creativity.
The Huffington Post applies A/B testing to some of its headlines. Readers are randomly shown one of two headlines for the same story. After five minutes, which is enough time for such a high-traffic site, the version with the most clicks becomes the wood that everyone sees.
NJL also reports that Huffington Post social media editor–and long-time Noisy Channel reader–Josh Young uses Twitter to help crowd-source better headlines.
I’m sure this approach must rattle some old-school journalists. And there is a real danger of optimizing for the wrong outcome. For example, including the word “sex” in this message might improve its traffic (the popularity of this post attests to that), but to what end?
Still, I don’t see this use of technology as cramping anyone’s style. Most of us write to be read–especially those in the media industry who are trying to monetize their audiences. Measurable success matters, and there’s no harm in trying to maximize it.