Competing with clickbait: Why and how quality writing trumps fast content

You won’t BELIEVE the amount of content that’s published online. An average of 500 million tweets are shared every day; 300 hours of footage are uploaded to YouTube every minute; and 75 million users check their Instagram feed on a daily basis.

Alongside this (primarily) user-generated content, there are dedicated publishers releasing their own material. Whether it’s a news organisation or a brand, there’s a lot of noise bombarding audiences – all clamouring for attention, shares, comments and, sometimes, conversions.

Recent trends have seen the rise of ‘fast content’ – material that’s quick and cheap to produce. This fast content is normally coupled with something that ‘baits’ a user to ‘click’ the link to the post (hence the term ‘clickbait’). This style used to be reserved for dodgy advertising on torrent sites (from ‘Hot Girls in Your Area’ to ‘This Grandma’s Doctor HATES Her One Anti-Aging Secret’), but has steadily crept into a huge spectrum of published content on so-called quality sites.

The trends of fast content go beyond headlines. Such posts usually discuss very little, choosing instead to rewrite Reddit threads or shoehorn some tired topic into a 25-point list. Fast content is commonly illustrated with gifs, other people’s tweets or half-hidden images that compel the user to click the link to see the picture in full.

This type of material can be heavily shared on Facebook, and is well-worn by the likes of Buzzfeed, The LAD Bible and Pretty 52 – all names you’ve probably come to expect to feature on your news feed.

It cuts through the noise, provides readers with a quick chuckle and, occasionally, sparks conversation, particularly in regards to controversial topics. So, should brands be adopting these techniques to provide quick, easily-sharable content in the hopes of beating their competitors? Short answer; absolutely not.

The long answer

The problem with fast content is the same as the problem with fast fashion; it’s cheap, and as such, it has very little long-term value. If you manage to create a Buzzfeed-style post that isn’t slow to load, badly formatted and decidedly unfunny, your brand might gain some traction on Facebook for a couple of hours. But chances are, you won’t see any type of valuable conversion or even a larger audience for your product or service.

High-quality, well-written and beautifully formatted content will help you to create a dedicated user base, even when it doesn’t go viral. The best content marketing strategies recognise the needs of the target user, and create content that answers questions, genuinely entertains and showcases the brand as a high-quality entity that invests in its audience before they’ve even made a purchase.

The most successful businesses recognise that every piece of content they publish – whether that’s a blog post, a tweet or a creative asset – needs to be an extension of their overall branding and marketing campaign, and should work as a long-term investment, rather than an attempt to win fleeting attention.

Most brands want to be seen as a quality, customer-focussed entity. Well-executed content helps to promote this ethos, and showcases the brand as one which cares enough to provide its target audience with worthwhile articles.

How to dodge dodgy content

The best quality content is created by trained, experienced writers, but there are a few basic building blocks any aspiring wordsmith should implement to help dodge the clickbait trap and create user-focussed content.

  • Carefully consider your headline

It can be tempting to try and draw a reader into clicking your post with teasing information, but doing so is an injustice to the writing within. Avoid clichéd, emotive language (such as “unbelievable” or “shocking”). If the topic you’re discussing is actually shocking, stating the subject matter in the headline should be motivation enough to read the article.

It’s also advisable to avoid mystifying the issue you’re exploring. Some (bored) readers might be interested enough to find out what the article is about by actually reading the post, but these aren’t the users you necessarily want. Your target audience is looking for answers, and they’re only going to read the posts they believe will actually answer their questions – which should be made apparent by the headline.

This isn’t to say you should give everything away in the title, or that it should be flat-out boring. Readers are driven by both a need for information (logic) and a desire to be entertained (emotion). Your headline should aim to satisfy both of these requirements without selling yourself short with cheap tactics.

  • Only discuss what’s relevant to your business

If you sell bath salts in the UK, no-one cares about your hot take on the US election, no matter how witty or gif-illustrated it might be. Just because a topic is generating a lot of discussion among people, including your target audience, that doesn’t mean you should jump on the bandwagon when it’s not relevant to your business.

Sticking to topics about which you’re an actual expert for a narrow (but valuable) target audience is much more beneficial to your business than attempting to raise awareness through broad, irrelevant discussion. Not only are you likely to get lost in the mass of other articles discussing the topic, but if your brand even gets recognised, it’s not going to be associated with your actual service.

The fact you’re running a business means you already know that there is an audience out there for what you sell. There’s no need to stick to a single, very narrow topic, but the themes you cover should be consistent with your brand. If you sell bath salts, chances are members of your audience are going to use them in their bathrooms. So, articles about bathroom style and design, as well as associated sub-topics, are relevant.

  • Actually say something – and not just at the end of the post

As user attention can diminish quickly, fast content does its best to keep the reader on the page for as long as possible with teasing information throughout the length of the article, and having a big reveal at the end. This is a risky approach for brands to employ, especially as users are unlikely to stay on the page unless the topic is particularly controversial or risqué.

Well-written content will discuss the subject matter in depth throughout the entire post, providing answers to the questions initially raised by the headline. When this is the case, readers are much more likely to stay on the page as there are indications from the outset that the article will be a valuable investment of their time, and that they’ll leave the post more knowledgeable.

To avoid losing readers due to short attention spans, formatting is essential. Concise paragraphs, relevant and interesting imagery, and informative sub-headings are all effective methods of keeping your readers’ attention.

Investing in quality content isn’t the easiest option, but as in all parts of life, what’s easy isn’t always right. Avoid the trap of clickbaiting fast content, and show your audience that you value their time by offering them high-quality writing.

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