I go to the Ministry of Justice web site from time to time, partly because I run a law firm’s web site and blog and need to keep abreast of things beyond my own subjects, and partly in the hope of finding the announcement of that massive investment in the civil court’s IT structure which was promised a decade ago. It is not there again today – tomorrow perhaps, or mañana as they say in Spain.
I did find a headline, though, which brought me up short: Jack Straw welcomes black gang violence initiative. I am not sure that this conveys quite the impression the writer intended, suggesting as it does that the Government will send round the Peckham Boyz if you neglect to provide a Home Information Pack or if you light up in the pub. Unpopular measures need radical initiatives to impose acquiescence.
It is a tricky business this headline writing – hard enough if your target is print media, even harder if you have to the grab the attention of the search engines as well as the human eye. The all-time great is the 1942 headline which read
Eighth Army Push Bottles Up Germans
… hotly followed by the article about Vivian Fuchs’ 1953 expedition which was headed
Vivian Fuchs Off To Antartica
This one would work well in Google as it happens – some strong key words and the bonus of visits from dyslexic pornographers.
It is hard to be simultaneously inventive, humorous and Google-friendly especially if, as I do, you write for audiences which are mixed in multiple dimensions – legal and technical, knowledgeable and less so and, not least, English and American.
Ultimately (and rather boringly) the thing which matters most in web writing is getting found. If Google doesn’t find you, no-one will read you. Like it or not, search engine optimisation – SEO – skills are as important now as the quality of the writing (indeed, are part of the skill of modern writing, bound up in every line). Oh, and some knowledge of the subject-matter helps as well.
Perhaps the news of that investment in the UK civil courts is lurking somewhere, just not getting found.