Headlines that suck: "Topless" "waitress" "coffee" sounds interesting, right?

Just one for y’all this time around. It’s from The Associated Press, appearing on The Philadelphia Inquirer’s area of the Philly.com website. It’s almost the makings of a fantastic tabloid stream-of-consciousness headline, and it certainly is the makings of SEO and Web hit dreams (I came across it on the most-viewed list), but it instead just makes you wonder if someone spilled several of those refrigerator word magnets.

As you can see below, the story was not about “topless coffee,” nor a topless suspect who started a coffee fire. It is true, though, that he was mad at a waitress. But really, it’s his girlfriend he’s mad at — he’s not just some guy who hates waitresses.

But it gets worse.

Obviously, there’s a real danger in having bots automatically load stories in, as often happens with Associated Press and other newswire stories. I can’t tell you for sure that was the case here, but that headline ran unchanged on Google, Boston.com, CBS and other locations.

Some places slightly changed the wording, but it did little, like the USA Today: 

I think of all the words in the headline, “mad” was probably the most useful.

At WMTV in Portland, Maine, the folks there dropped “Maine.” Unfortunately, I think, it emphasized the incorrect notion that the suspect was topless, rather than the waitresses:

To the site’s credit, the subhead explains what the headline does not.

What’s the lesson?
Don’t write awful, awful headlines? Well, yes. But beyond that, realize that charged words — whether for effect or for Google’s love — still might want to make sense for readers. Even a little bit of sense.