When I discovered a recent blog post on how many sunscreens may be accelerating cancer, and after moving through many You are not so smart blog entries, I noticed a disturbing trend about my browsing tendencies given the styles of these specific entry types. For these kinds of posts – ones that have “fact declarations” either in the title or in the very beginning, content consumption takes on a very shallow, dangerous trend.
Fact draw -> Page View -> Fact Confirmation -> Immediate Bounce
By “fact declarations”, I mean the post title offers up what seems, to the casual reader, as a summation of the entire entry before the entry has ever been opened. This draws the reader in, but the dilemma of this strategy is that it creates a large influx of “car crash” traffic, which drops in and almost instantly bounces.
The normal browsing path of this kind of draw is to load the page, find a fact/sentence line, and then eject on the assumption that the rest of the post is six paragraphs of fluff. Sometimes, this browsing strategy is based on reality, but that’s not always the case.
In situations like the sunscreen article, I face potentially dangerous life consequences if I decide to forgo sunscreen without real evaluation of the article, its datasets, and the conclusions it comes to. But – based on my rudimentary evaluation of its synopsis, I (prior to making this blog entry), will decide to drop sunscreen and instead face the perils of the sun bare-chested.
You Are Not So Smart follows a similar path, but the declaration isn’t made in the post title – it’s in the first two sentences. My reading style for these blog entries is to consume the first two sentences and then move on to the next.
Value Creation for the Content Provider
Beyond the immediate danger of assumption of fact, this style is another big dilemma for the content creator – the traffic creates no real value. 99% of these people will leave without converting in any fashion. If I like the first sentence, but expect the rest to be fluff – the request to subscribe to your e-mail at the conclusion of the post will go completely ignored. If I stumble across your blog through viral dissemination, the likelihood I subscribe to your blog is beyond infinitesimal. AOL News, here, offers many “sharing” buttons at the top of the post, but beyond deathly vapid traffic surges, it’s worth nothing more than an extremely inflated number on an advertising rates sheet.
The ethical solution (as it comes to posts like the sunscreen article), is to offer a more ambiguous post, one that invites the reader to consume completely, and not fall into the open-confirm-bounce mentality. If the sunscreen post had been titled “The danger of sunscreen” I might not have opened it, but if I did, I would’ve been much more likely to prequalify the post as something worth reading from start to finish – and much more likely to convert into a long-term reader of the blog or news source in question.
Many of these news sites run ads on a per-impression basis, so it is not in their best interest to create an “ethically strong” content creation strategy. For you or me, the personal blogger, it does – because I do not run on that basis, or ever expect to – and even then, professing “authenticity”, it would not be acceptable to do so.
Book creators often operate in a similar fashion. For example, there is a recent release by Nicholas Carr called “The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains” (ironically, this post is an application of his theory). He isn’t quite as explicit as most, but after reading that book title and the summary in the back – that the internet is causing us to look at things on a shallow level, and not go to the depths of information ingestion as we once had – do I really feel like I need to read his book?
I already know the hypothesis, and my impression – whether or not it is true – is that the rest is just fluff to support the argument. Is that fluff really worth our time?
A Good Headline is Like an Extremely Hot Girl With Her Clothes On
A good book or blog post title should both grab your attention AND inspire you to read the contents within, not just the former. Books, though, operate similar to impression-basis ads – if they can get you to purchase based on that one tagline, they’ve done their job – even if the contents truly are fluff. However, I am a sophisticated enough buyer to not purchase – whether or not this “fact based title” strategy works for a more general public, though, I am not certain.
You Are Not So Smart works within this pretense because they do everything else well. The website is aesthetically pleasing, and the way their fact declarations are presented makes it obvious that every post will be of a similar nature — meaning I will get engaging fact declaration pulls over, and over, and over again. The news site makes it so less certain – for all I know, the electronic paper is subject to the unpredictable ebbs and flows of research discoveries, and is more likely to be saturated with other boring news.
For the creator who still decides to use the fact title pull for their post, their potential for conversion is only possible if they take drastic measures, and treat their blog post like a presell page for a PPC ad. Above the fold calls-to-action, flashy buttons, and VERY strong aesthetics are all requirements for conversion.
A page without these prequalifications are basically men strolling into Times Square wearing a bright pink shirt – you’ll get thousands of people willing to give you a quick glance, but once they’re past, they’re past, and you’ll never be thought of again.