The Importance of Kicking Puppies

Posted by | January 17, 2010 | The Written Word | 29 Comments
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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

Arguments Against

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.

In Summation

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

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About Casey Brazeal

Casey Brazeal writes and records an interview blog/podcast called North and Clark. His recent interviews include a graffiti artist, a man who ran a gold mine, and more!

29 Comments

  • Don Gilbert says:

    I had read that post by Seth Godin a while back. I really think that this is something that we need to keep in mind. Have your title relevant to the content is what my view is. The short term gains such as spikes in traffic and a few cents in AdSense are not worth disappointing readers.

    It’s like the boy who cried wolf of the internet age.
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: Top 10 Tips to Dominate Your Niche for SEO =-.

    • Casey Brazeal says:

      I think that controversy has to be judged on a case by case basis. That Seth Godin post you mention rail against false or controversial titles, but the funny thing is it has a pretty controversial headline itself.
      .-= My Latest Blog Post: We Moved! =-.

  • Tweets that mention The Importance of Kicking Puppies | Site Sketch 101 -- Topsy.com says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Hacking, Nicholas Cardot. Nicholas Cardot said: The Importance of Kicking Puppies http://su.pr/2KHrwr [...]

  • Eric B. says:

    Haha. Cool title for this post.

    I’ve seen tons of sites that use misleading titles just to get more people to click on a much less interesting post. I don’t know how they get away with that.

    If you go to some forums, the topics listed will also show the number of views. You’ll notice that the topics with very vague titles that could mean just about anything, that are still interesting have the most views. When you see a blog post with a title like that and the content is nothing like what you expect, it’s a big letdown.

    I generally try to avoid creating controversy just to get more clicks. The closest I’ve ever gotten to that is writing some not-so-serious posts.
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: Basic CSS3 Techniques to Liven Up Your Design =-.

    • Casey Brazeal says:

      Glad you like the title Eric.

      I think the that it is always good to mix it up and experiment with your blog. That may means trying something funny, controversial, or just out of the ordinary I say go for it. The beauty of a blog is that it active and dynamic.
      .-= My Latest Blog Post: We Moved! =-.

  • scheng1 says:

    haha, I’m about to report you for animal abuse!
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: Determine Your Investment Risk Tolerance =-.

  • Dana @ Blogging Update says:

    A controversy headline but mislead surely will give a harm in long term. Yeah — it may can spike the traffic but it will do not work for long term goal.
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: Why am I so Late for WordPress 2.9 Version Upgrading? =-.

  • Annemieke says:

    I love that kind of headlines and it indeed makes me want to check out the post.

    I do not use them, as my blogging is more of exploring a topic than having an opinion.

    But I sure can imagen the day that I use such a headline.
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: Development, Evolution and Transformation =-.

  • Davor Gasparevic @ Internet marketing ebooks says:

    I avoid controversial and edgy titles, because they are always a 2 way road – you can gain some popularity, but on the other side it can have a great negative impact on your site or blog.

    And when I read the post title I thought:”what the hell?!”, which means that it surely works, but it’s a risky play.
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: The Internet Marketing Dictionary =-.

  • Glen says:

    Newspapers and magazines have used this tactic for years to sell their product.

    Actually I think the use is widespread throughout most forms of media- tv shows, movies,music,self promotion of media personalities and bloggers everywhere.

    Sadly I think that is how the game is played in most cases.
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: Link Like =-.

    • Casey Brazeal says:

      Your point is well taken Glen. Controversy is older than blogs and is prevalent all over.

      Still, while I agree that it can be abused, I think controversy, and salacious titles can make content more exciting.
      .-= My Latest Blog Post: We Moved! =-.

  • Lee Ka Hoong says:

    I love the way on how you write your headline, your headline attracts me to click and read what tips to be covered on this post. But misleading your readers to read something that is different with the headline is going to be bad sometimes because not everyone likes the style.

    But I’m sure this kind of headline is going to be popular on the blogosphere, it’s only for certain niche blog not for all the niche blogs (says Construction blog), that would hurt your blog.

    Best Regards,
    Lee

    • Casey Brazeal says:

      You’re right, it’s definitely not a silver bullet Lee. Like anything else you have got to judge the situation, the niche and the blog.
      .-= My Latest Blog Post: We Moved! =-.

  • Nikki @ Monny Factor says:

    I like that you showed both pros and cons for this. I think having a title that grabs attention can be a good thing if used correctly. I’ve done it a few times but I try and make sure the info that follows fit.
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: New Goals at The Mommy Factor =-.

  • Shane says:

    This is a very interesting topic. I often come up spontanaeously with completely over-the-top titles that would draw tons of attention, but are on the very limit of still having anything to do with my actual content. I never use them, but I’m always tempted. :D

    But generally, I do tend to give my titles a bit of leeway, just for the attention-grabbing factor.

    Cheers,
    Shane
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: Gary Vaynerchuk Doesn’t Like Internet Marketers =-.

  • Chad @ Tech201 says:

    I absolutely love catchy and humorous headlines… that are in sync with the article’s content.

    Not only does it potentially make people more willing to click/read, but more importantly (I think) it lets the readers know almost immediately a little about your personality.

    We (as bloggers) read so much about the importance of finding your voice in order to appeal to your audience. What better way to let readers know what your “voice” is than with a creative headline.
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: A Few Tools To Fight Common Computer Threats =-.

  • Tony says:

    I think headlines should be written to match the tone of the article itself. If the post is laid-back and uncontroversial, the headline should follow accordingly. “How to Find the Right Gift For your Girlfriend” shouldn’t be “The Perfect Gift that will get you laid.”
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: Technorati Verification =-.

  • Andrew says:

    Hey did I say it works above all other strategies? Maybe that was a very slight exaggeration.

    Of course I totally agree with your arguments in this post. The only issue I see here Casey is that you’ve made the ultimate mistake by not supporting the headline with related content.

    I would have put in some short analogy on the behavioral science of kicking puppies and how it relates to writing link bait titles. ;)

    None the less I believe when used correctly it can work very well no matter the niche. It just depends on your creativity.

    Someone said construction was not a fit. I say why not? Lets say a new occupational health and safety law was passed that you want to write a post on and you know a breach of this law could cost you $100K in fines.

    You could use the title “New Law Passed” or your could say “How To Save $100K on Your Next Contract” or maybe “How To NOT Lose $100K on Your Next Contract”.

    And that’s just an off the top of my head example.
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: How To Digg Your Way to The Front Page =-.

    • Casey Brazeal says:

      Can I blame my editor about the title? Nick Cardot (the awesome guy who built and maintains Site Sketch 101) has a strict limit on characters in a title so while I originally had the title: “The Importance of Kicking Puppies: Salacious Titles, Controversial Content, and Maintaining Credibility.” We ended up sacrificing clarity for effect.

      As to the quote, I double checked it and I seem to have used the word strategy instead of tactic. But otherwise the meaning was preserved here is a larger it comes from the topic sentence of your fourth paragraph.

      Anyway I am glad you noticed your shout out and I hope the link gets you a little extra traffic to your blog. Always love reading you and hearing from you, and I hope to talk to you more soon.
      .-= My Latest Blog Post: This Man Will Fashion Your Brain Waves Into a Hat =-.

  • Mary E. Ulrich says:

    I was expecting something along the line of the famous quote for fiction writers: “Kill your darlings” or there must be an antagonist….

    This was great. Also, don’t apologize for helping us all make sense of the guru’s. The world is vast and complex, we need all the connections we can get.

  • mk akan says:

    very true,having a great post title and not delivering on the promise in the post is a slow way to kill a blog.
    having a title that just tells people what the will get from the post, i think is a better approach.

    i most times drop a benefit in the title of the post

  • Blake @ Props Blog Reviews says:

    I absolutely think controversial headlines are okay when used in moderation. One of my most popular post retweeted by Chris Brogan himself was “Chris Brogan, Problogger, and Copyblogger hang out in their underwear.”
    (Thanks Nick for helping me pick the title btw)

    The title wasn’t exactly related to the topic, although there was a reason behind the title.

    The key is not relying on the shock tactic. It’s like April Fool’s webpage pranks; great the first time, but people catch on.

    Sorry if this double posts :(
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: Sometimes Not Enough Is Still Too Much =-.

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      Blake @ Props Blog Reviews » I remember that post. Another great reason why that post was so popular was that it got retweeted by those big names. Using something like that is a terrific way to gain some exposure.

  • Ron Leyba says:

    Controversy is really effective. I tried it once in my blog and I was shocked by the huge response, negative and positive.

    Also, I just wanna add this one. To make sure that your controversy post will be recognized by your audience, try to post it on social media sites like twitter and fb. It works very well.
    .-= My Latest Blog Post: Sikat Ang Pinoy =-.

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