Google Blog: Please Get Descriptive With Your Headlines!

A public rant, and I'm sorry -- but I've had it with the Official Google Blog having post headlines that give people no idea what the post is about. First some recent examples, then why this is bad in general. (Note: Be sure to see my postscript below)

Here are some recent entries that leave you guessing:

  • Greetings, Earthlings!: Gives you no idea this is about Googlers taking part in a 24 hour bike race.
  • Inside Macs at Google: Google's got a new blog about how it supports Macs, but the headline makes you think it's about Macs in use at Google.
  • Got blog? Will ping: Hehe, but what's it mean? How about, "Google Blog Search, Now With Ping Support."
  • The new Groups experience: Which groups experience? Yahoo Groups? Get the word Google in there and maybe highlight a feature or two.
  • Yes, you can have a pony: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! What on earth does that headline mean? It gives no clue that you can now put Google Gadgets on your own pages.
  • Now anyone can Talk: Or dance. Or sing. Or whatever. Make it clear. "Google Talk Now Open, Gmail Not Required."
  • Your inbox for the web: No, nothing to do with Gmail. It's about Google Reader getting cool new features. Pity you have no idea from the headline.

Honestly, I love a witty headline. I never ever ever ever want Good Morning Silicon Valley to give me a headline the explicitly tells me what a story is about (nor do they intend to). But GMSV's headlines work because they know their audience is aware of the stories they are commenting on. The headlines make sense in that context. The Official Google Blog isn't GMSV. They do need to explain what on earth is going on clearly in their blog headlines.

I'll give you one big reason. Every day, we round up headlines of stories we haven't posted separately about. Here's yesterday's recap. Today, I want to mention things like the Google bike race or the new Mac blog in the headlines. But the headlines Google provides are so lame that I either need to rewrite them or point at someone else who is writing about what Google posted. Save me the middleman. Save the confusion. Post with clear headlines, please.

Postscript: In retrospect, I regret not having contacted Google directly about this before posting. I generally like to get a first shot to correct problems with private criticism, and I should have sent a message over to Karen Wickre who acts as managing editor of the blog. My apologies, Karen!

On a positive note, Karen did see my plea and told me Google has heard some complaints about non-descriptive post titles. However, other readers like the distinctive and unstiff Google style. And since they are writing about Google products, Google doesn't necessarily feel it needs to spell out every product name, such as saying "Google Groups" rather than Groups, for example. After all, Karen said, Google Blog readers will assume they're talking about Google Groups rather than Yahoo Groups.

Regardless, Karen tells me she's inclined to move towards more descriptive titles to help readers and those seeking information from the blog.

FYI, I sparked off some other posts on blog writing tips. Good Blog Writing Style from Philipp at Google Blogoscoped has lots of advice I think anyone will find helpful. Over at InsideGoogle, Nathan's The Inverted Pyramid For Bloggers has more tips and a plea that people don't have to entirely mirror a newspaper-style structure. I agree and commented:

Honestly, I doubt most blog posts get long enough that you need to do an hourglass. Nor do I think most authors need to think hmm inverted or hourglass?

I think you do need to consider that your opening paragraph and headline give people some idea about clicking through, especially if you do partial feeds.

But that's it. If you've given the reader a descriptive headline and summary, go hourglass, inverted pyramid, feature style (anecdote leading to a summary “nut” paragraph with a story to follow) or whatever floats your boat — and whatever you think your readers will like. But unless you know they love you so much, that opening paragraph and headline is crucial.

For more on that, see Full Feeds Petition? How About A Copyright Infringement Petition? at my personal blog Daggle. It gets more into tips to especially consider about opening paragraphs and headlines.