See what I did there? That’s called linkbait.
It doesn’t matter what I write down here in the body of the post. It could be three paragraphs of complete nonsense. It could be recycled BS from some lame e-book I am trying to push. It could be page after page of stock photos with lame captions nobody bothered to fact-check or spell-check. All that matters is you saw that interesting looking title and you clicked on the link, and now here you are.
Don’t worry, I haven’t suddenly decided to join the snake-oil machine. I just wanted to bring your attention to something that has been bothering me for a very long time and is still going strong. Certain types of bloggers use this trick almost every day to pull traffic onto their sites. Not to educate you or hand over insights that will help you solve real problems, but to pull you in and trick you into giving them a bit of your attention. Why?
1. Too boost their blog’s search engine and technorati/Ad-Age/etc rankings, which in turn a) brings in more visitors and b) boosts their ego.
2. Because more visitors = more ad revenue. ($$$)
3. Because more visitors = more click-throughs on affiliate links. ($$$)
4. Because more visitors = higher “influence” scores, which can be turned into higher speaking and consulting fees, regardless of whether or not they actually have anything relevant to say.
It’s just a numbers’ game. There doesn’t have to be an ounce of real insight in the post. SEO-optimization? Yes. Well-placed links and ads? Yes. A well-placed share button so “readers” can push the piece back out to their networks without necessarily having read it? Yes. But relevance or expert commentary? Nope. That’s optional. Just bring them in.
“Content is king?” Bullshit. Traffic is king. “Content,” or rather the promise of content is just the pull, the pitch, the promise. The real carrot is the revenue from that traffic. When you feel about it that way, quantity quickly begins to trump quality. Blogs become automated cash machines. And because conversion rates tend to be mostly inelastic, that pushes the need for more inbound volume. So you start drafting titles you know will make people want to click, and what they read will have taken less than five minutes to write.
These guys don’t want to be boutique brands anymore. They want to be WalMart. What they give up in quality, they will make up in transient, commodity visitors. In spite of all that talk about humanizing the web and being authentic and having conversations, that’s the relationship model behind linkbait blogs.
So for the next two weeks, every time you see a title like this one, give some thought to why it was chosen, how the “content” of that blog post has anything to do with the Games or business lessons, whether or not it really taught you anything. Some will. Most won’t. It’s up to you to decide what’s what. The litmus test is simple: read the title and the post, then ask yourself what the writer’s intent really was when he (or she) wrote that piece and chose that title. Then go back in their archives and see how often they use that trick. It will give you some idea of whether or not the manipulation was a one-time thing or an M.O.
Intent matters, by the way. Intent is everything. Intent is the very foundation of trust between people. The question is always this: “does this writer really care about helping me out with something, or is he just using me to fluff up his numbers, with no consideration whatsoever to the value it brings to his audience?”
5 Essential Social Media Lessons from the Olympic Games
10 Digital Strategy Insights from NBC’s Olympic Coverage
15 Business Management Lessons from the London Olympics
The Olympic Games Top 20 most retweeted tweets.
25 Inspiring Facebook Updates from the Olympic Games
30 Ways of Bringing Olympic Excellence To Your Digital Practice
35 Brands Using Social Media at the Olympics
2012 Olympics: 40 Gold Medal Social Media Strategies You Can Implement Today!
… and on and on and on.
How about Top 10 Ways to erode Trust and Relevance on the Interwebs? That’s one that might actually be worth reading.
Today’s lesson, if there is one: respect your readers.
There is nothing wrong with making money off affiliate links and traffic, but don’t trick your readers. Don’t promise them relevance or expert analysis and then slap them with lazy, useless bullshit you wrote between brushing your teeth and checking your Klout score.
Remember that blogs are commodities and opinions are even lower in the totem pole. Self-serving schemes might work pretty well for a while, but they all lead to the same orbit decay. Sooner or later, you will have to work harder and harder to trick people back into coming to your blog. Instead of a healthy community of readers, you will have to cast your net wider and wider into the busy waters of digital attention. And what you will discover out there is that bloggers and writers who take the time to produce helpful, relevant content will almost effortlessly pull all that traffic you used to take for granted. Good luck rebuilding your reputation after that. The most painful part: You will have no one but yourself to blame.
The guys who bring the most value to the table win. Be on that team, if not out of self-respect and professional courtesy, at least out of self-preservation.
PS: Sorry for the necessary subterfuge. I hope I made up for it by giving you something of value.
* * *
And now, for a little light reading…
Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.
(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)