Dare to be un-click-worthy
For years, I've suffered from a common writer's ailment.
No, not writer's block.
(Or... I mean, of course, writer's block too, but that's another blog post.)
This is another kind of ailment. It's plagued me ever since I got serious about growing my blog and my freelance business. It's contaminated my voice and made it bland, robotic, devoid of personality. In its later stages, the illness has made me anxious and unhappy, unable to write.
I want to share my experiences with this sickness, in the hopes of helping other suffering writers out there.
I call it Buzzfeed Headline Compulsive Disorder.
It's the involuntary tendency to write content by following a proven template, at the expense of creative freedom and self-expression.
There's a reason why the overwhelming majority of content on sites like Buzzfeed looks like this:
55 Totally Unexpected Ways To Use Coconut Oil (Number 34 Blew Us Away)
I Lived On Cucumber Juice For A Month And This Is What Happened
Watch This Otter Meet A Vacuum Cleaner (You’ll Never Guess What Happens Next)
And that's because it works. So well that we can barely brace ourselves against it. Even when we know better.
We all recognize clickbait when we see it. We jokingly add "you'll NEVER guess what happens next" in conversations with friends. And we feel dirty when, despite our better judgment, we're still seduced by tantalizing headlines and thumbnails. (Because goddamnit, otters ARE adorable and we DO wanna know what happens next!)
This tactic might be defendable for huge content factories that subsist on ad money and earn more for every page view.
But the downfall of conversion-optimizing your content for maximum profitability is that it all starts to look and sound the same. And pull the same type of casual, attention-deficit readers. (Not to bash on those readers. I am one myself.)
Of course we want readers. We're writers.
But do we want to write posts that make others feel dirty when clicking on them? Or empty inside after consuming them?
When we're suffering from BHCD, we get our motives mixed up. We forget about our dream of sharing important ideas, sparking debate or moving people with our stories. We lose our voice and our creative freedom.
All we can think about is our immediate goal of getting eyeballs on our content. Making conversions. Getting the clicks. We're afraid we'll get ignored. We've read too many click-worthy how-to articles on how to "make a living writing".
I'm not saying it's wrong to want to optimize one's headlines. We absolutely should make an effort to make them relevant and interesting. For the sake of our readers.
But when we feel the need to spice things up with a proven formula, to cheapen our message by setting an extra click-worthy headline - that's when we've succumbed to BHCD. We've sacrificed a part of what makes our writing ours.
And then it's usually downhill from there. Because once we've started taking the easy road to clicks and views, it's increasingly harder to steer away from it.
When your most popular blog posts are easily digestible listicles that don't really sound like you. And the posts you're really proud of - the ones you spent three days researching and polishing - are at the bottom of the pile. Then it can feel like you've put on an ill-fitting suit you don't really want to be in.
Let's stop obsessing over keyword density and optimal length and whether our headlines are tantalizing enough. We gain readers because of our voice and message, not because of our click-worthy headlines.
There's another ailment closely related to BCHD that I call Tutorialitis. The involuntary tendency to only publish content in the form of how to's, tutorials and tips.
"Top 10 Tips For Getting More Traffic To Your Website"
"How To Design A Facebook Page Banner In Photoshop"
"8 Great Content Ideas For Your Newsletter"
The internet is swimming with this type of content. And especially as DIY-savvy solopreneurs, we're dependent on good tutorial articles. But it's increasingly difficult to Google a topic and try to find the little nuggets of gold amid all the crap.
Still, we feel forced to add to the noise ourselves. Even if we don't feel like putting on the guru badge. Because that's what content marketing is, right? To "position ourselves as experts in our field." To teach what we know. To be of value.
Look. There's absolutely nothing wrong with putting out great how-to articles. I'm an avid binge reader of those, and eternally grateful to their authors.
But it's not the only way to be of value.
We can be of value with our personal stories and experiences. With our sense of humor. With our use of language. We can share our knowledge in other ways than "top 10 best tips" articles.
I've only recently started recovering from BHCD and Tutorialitis.
My blog has been dead for years. I've tried to work up the motivation to write in it, but all my ideas have bored me to tears. I look at my old posts and their "optimized" headlines, and I'm disgusted. That's not my voice. That's not even what I want to write about.
I've been longing to write from the heart and have FUN. The kind of fun I used to have with my previous blogs. The ones where I was just being myself, not caring too much about conversion and bounce rates.
But then I went into freelancing and all of a sudden, I thought I was expected to behave a certain way. Blog in a certain way. Couldn't just be myself and have fun, that would be UNPROFESSIONAL. No one would take me SERIOUSLY.
Well, as part of my recovery, I'm abandoning the rules. I will write about whatever I feel like writing about in my blog. And I will battle the perfectionism that has suffocated my creativity. The anxiety about staying on-niche, optimizing my headlines and being click-worthy enough.
There are two things more important to me than maximizing clicks.
The first one is to have fun when I write. I need to be myself and enjoy myself, or I can't keep this up.
The second one is to give my readers a good time. If I'm bored by what I write, how can I expect someone else to enjoy it?
Has your blog become a chore that you have to bribe yourself to fill with half-hearted content?
Do you feel like you have to follow a bunch of unwritten rules that diminish your creativity and personality?
Are you tired of feeling like a tutorial factory?
You hereby have my permission to relax and have fun with your blog. To let your personality shine through. To share your message in whatever way feels most inspired and natural to you.
You will probably get way more readers that way than by squeezing yet another keyword into the headline of a post you hated writing. And you most certainly will have more FUN.
We could use more fun in this metrics-obsessed, conversion-crazed online world, don't you think?