Look, daily-content websites. We get it. You want people to click on your articles because advertisers pay for impressions, and that sweet, sweet green is what keeps food on the table. But in your mad scramble for the clicks necessary to support your food and shelter habits, you have created monsters.
Definition: noun – "exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally."
We’ve all seen the articles. They proliferate through social media and aggregator sites. RSS users probably have their feeds clogged with articles like 5 Shocking Facts You Didn’t Know About This One Weird Thing.
If the article title doesn’t bombastically dare you to have your life changed by the power of cute puppy GIF collections, or celebrity non-events, it might try to challenge your assumptions or shock you out of complacency.
Too often, the shocking fact is not very shocking, the weird thing not so weird. And we defy anyone to admit they’ve had their lives changed by anything they read on Buzzfeed. At best, it’s clickbait; at worst, it is a scam attempt. In every case, such sensationalism has something of a desensitizing effect. The constant breathless reporting of banalities can make people too jaded and worn out to care about real social concerns.
You’ll Never Believe How Long This Has Been Going On
Unfortunately, this sort of thing has been going on for as long as the media has existed. What we’re seeing online is merely an extension of the ridiculous pap served up by generations of desperate hacks.
Those folks have had to work harder to attract interest, because people paid for newspapers with money instead of the far more precious coin of time. So sometimes they don’t do a great proofreading job. Or fact-checking. And the results are glorious.
This went so far beyond the pale that a whole class of “newspaper” birthed itself from the media cesspool: the tabloids. To greater or lesser degree, these publications abandoned any possibility of being taken seriously. Whether they covered celebrity shenanigans or human-simian hybrids, no one who didn’t grow up snacking on lead chips believed these headlines.
This Subhead Will Change Your Life!
Humor notwithstanding, writing headlines for SEO or for clickbait is doing it wrong. The key is and always has been creating good content. Story, images, design, all of these come together to make something people would want to read. Should you be advertising, that interest can then translate into interest in the product. For many of these news sites, the stories are the product, but that is not an excuse for sloppy, irresponsible writing.
To the Internet’s credit, there’s been some kickback. There’s a browser plugin called Downworthy, for example. Quoting from its web page:
Downworthy replaces hyperbolic headlines from bombastic viral websites with a slightly more realistic version. For example:
- "Literally" becomes "Figuratively"
- "Will Blow Your Mind" becomes "Might Perhaps Mildly Entertain You For a Moment"
- "One Weird Trick" becomes "One Piece of Completely Anecdotal Horseshit"
- "Go Viral" becomes "Be Overused So Much That You’ll Silently Pray for the Sweet Release of Death to Make it Stop"
- "Can’t Even Handle" becomes "Can Totally Handle Without Any Significant Issue"
- "Incredible" becomes "Painfully Ordinary"
- "You Won’t Believe" becomes "In All Likelihood, You’ll Believe"
- … and so on.
This backlash is, fortunately, already effecting a change. Compared to as recently as a year ago, the headlines we’re seeing online today are improving.
Let’s all just agree to take it the rest of the way.
Rigney Graphics is a Pasadena graphic arts company that can help you create an impact with design and marketing solutions for print and web.