Salacious Titles, Controversial Content, and Maintaining Credibility
I love to write headlines. Loud, in your face, attention grabbing headlines. But most of the time I don’t. It is rare that they fit the kind of content I like to write, and rarer that I can back up some screaming attention grabber like “Panda Bear Meat to Supplant Beef in 2012” with a story that actually merits that headline.
So the question is do you court controversy and link bait or do you avoid it?
I think the answer here is more subtle than bloggers often want it to be. Like many things you want to see this as a complex issue and there are times when it is valuable to go big and times when it is better to stay within yourself and write the post and headline that reflects a more modest approach.
Before I get too deep into this next section, I want to apologize for the obscene amount of blogger name dropping. I know all of these blogger names might be confusing to those new to blogging, but I think its worth laying out a little bit of a blogging landscape to understand how controversy has been used in the past and how its effected some established blogs.
This is a strategy that is often written about and I would like to bring you some of what has already been written on the subject of controversy and how it could effect your blog.
Arguments in Favor of Controversy
My friend Andrew Kolyvas has said of Controversy that “it solved (his) traffic problem.” And that working with controversial material is the “tactic that works above all others.” What he sees in the strategy is the possibility for:
- Quick spikes in traffic
- Link Love (if you get people talking the will want to site what they are talking about)
Most bloggers whether they are entrepreneurs, looking to make money from ads need readers to make money, even those who blog for fun don’t want the work they have done to go unnoticed. One sure fire strategy to being noticed is to say things that cause a stir. Penelope Trunk, a much more successful blogger than myself, has parlayed controversial blog post, like this one, into appearances on CNN.
This is a strategy whose results shouldn’t be ignored
I was inspired to write this article by Seth Godin who makes a great argument about how articles with racy headlines and tweets that beg for clicks can be counter productive. To me the basic argument against boils down to weighing your short term goals against your long term goals.
As Darren Rowse from Problogger has often emphasized blogging is not a short term practice. It takes work and time to establish readers and gain the credibility that come from being a successful blogger.
Anytime you write something you have to think not only about how popular that idea or post is going to be but also how it fits into your online presence over all. If you write a really popular blog post but its misleading and it torpedos your credibility you may lose more than you stand to gain.
How you choose to approach controversy seems to me to be an important and personal choice. Not every blogger can or should be Tucker Max at the same time I don’t want people to self-censor and avoid opportunities for their writing. As a blogger I would evaluate the importance or relevance of controversy on a case by case basis.
In other words before you break the rules try and figure out what the rules are. Once you know how the game is played then figure out whether or not to play by them.
A Final Word on Puppy Violence
Don’t do it