Written by Media, Misc

The SEO of Titles

I’ve moaned for a long time about the lack of imagination in television programme titles – particularly in one-off documentaries. The producers’ theory seems to state that if you don’t adopt the “Ronseal” approach, then nobody will know what your programme is about. We browse EPGs rather than use the Radio Times or newspaper television supplements. So we need to understand very quickly what a programme is about.

Channel 4 is especially good at this. In the next day or so alone we have:

Worst Place to be a Pilot
Dogs: Their Secret Lives
Roayl Marines Commando School
The Gypsy Matchmaker
Sarah Beeny’s Double Your House For Half The Money

And with series 2 in production, most famously, or infamously, since it only got its final title close to transmission: Benefits Street.

The downside is that I won’t even bother trying any of those programmes. I already know from the title that I’m not interested. The titles say what the programme is, but they’ve removed a level of creativity. They might be brilliant. But the titles have put me off.

With search functionality becoming increasingly important, they’re the television equivalent of those Mail Online headlines that tell you vast amounts of the story before you get there. Current example headlines:

“Newlyweds’ terror as severe turbulence on easyJet honeymoon leaves one steward unconscious and another with ‘broken hip’ after they were flung at plane ceiling”
“Are YOU less tech savvy than a 5-year-old? Take this quiz to see if you’re among the 25% of adults who would struggle with the new computer curriculum”
“Mother ordered to remove her truanting son’s X-box and cigarettes and send him to school after 13-year-old turns up for just 40 days in seven months of classes”
“‘There’s an asteroid with our name on it’: Brian Cox warns a space rock could wipe out humanity (if robots don’t get there first)”

No sub-editor would dare let any of those go into the paper.

(And no – I’m not going to include links)

But this now extends to books – non-fiction anyway. I religiously watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the show has plenty of authors coming in as guests. And their books are always of the form:

[Mildly Imaginative Title]:[Elevator pitch on what the book’s about]

So, the last few episodes have featured:

“City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death, and the Search for Truth in Tehran”
“The Todd Glass Situation: A Bunch of Lies about My Personal Life and a Bunch of True Stories about My 30-Year Career in Stand-Up Comedy”
“The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier”
“Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things”
“Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War”

Honestly – I didn’t edit that list. They’re just all the same. The only books this isn’t true for are those that are so famous, the title doesn’t matter – e.g. the Hilary Clinton book. Who cares what that’s called? We just know she had a book out.

I suppose this format is adopted because I want to convey to the average reader that my book is about life in Tehran or whatever, but these titles are really aimed to reach readers via searches on Amazon or Google. The more curious will probably have found out about the book in the media, or seen it in a bookshop.

I do understand why producers, editors, publishers and their like do these things. It’s just all a bit dull and unimaginative.