Jakob Nielsen on web headlines

Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group is perhaps the guru of web usability. He’s impressed with the web headline writers at BBC News and identifies several essentials for effective web headlines which should be:

  • short (because people don’t read much online);
  • rich in information scent, clearly summarizing the target article;
  • front-loaded with the most important keywords (because users often scan only the beginning of list items);
  • understandable out of context (because headlines often appear without articles, as in search engine results); and
  • predictable, so users know whether they’ll like the full article before they click (because people don’t return to sites that promise more than they deliver).

Yes, that’s an old article (27 April 2009), but the Nielsen Norman Group recirculated it only a few weeks ago as an “Alertbox” message (a weekly email on user experience).