By: Derek Hobson
The internet is kind of a mean place. And even though there’s so much good that can come from it (i.e. immediate knowledge), without that instant encyclopedia, if I had to narrow the internet into two things, it’d be…
Cats are a given. I mean when the end of the world comes, there’ll be roaches on Earth and cats in the cloud. But the angry comments is a different matter.
A lot of people attribute the rage to the anonymity of the internet.
The comments section on any web page allows your voice to be heard without people seeing it’s you. Plus, most people can kick up their own blog in a day to make their voice heard — likely with more credibility than a simple comment and, likely with more anonymity (since some comments nowadays require an email or telephone number).
All that being said, I feel, as I’ve said in the past, that the job of an SEO is to provide feng shui to the internet, but I think we can all agree that violent, aggressive, sexist, misogynistic, racist, or otherwise psychopathic comments and blogs provide anything but a sense of tranquility.
There was something serene about the (now) old-school term, “Surfing the web,” but I honestly hear more people say they’re “Browsing the interwebs” than “surfing.” However, even more often than that I hear “I was on (Insert Domain Name) and read…”
That’s where it hit me. The branding. Ultimately an SEO is a writer, but what separates a writer from an SEO is the fact that SEOs are marketers first. They are writing content with the purpose of getting people to visit, share, and buy. With a field this massive, and the front page of Google consisting of numerous inflammatory articles, you know there’s something more sinister at work.
First, a look into the startup world:
We have a website domain. It’s been optimized for search engines; it has unique and informative content; it’s linked to all social media platforms. Yet… we’ve had 10 visitors in the last week.
What’s our employee count; 9? So we may have had only one actual… Oh… you told you mom to check out the site? (Sigh) I’m glad she thinks it looks nice.
Not a great feeling, especially when you’re in charge of getting people to your site (i.e. the SEO) and your employer is looking for quantifiable progress.
Well, if you want to get traffic and you want to get shares so that you have quantifiable results, then there are 5 sure-fire ways.
1. Comedic Content
“Dying is easy, comedy is hard. I think Shia LaBeouf said that.”
-Jim Carrey (Edmund Kean).
Comedy is hard to sell especially since it’s so subjective. I say this partially because there are different demographics for comedy (raunchy, witty, slapstick, etc.) and partially because I was the only at my local theater that laughed during the opening scene of Footloose (2011) (skip to minute 2:00 to the end of the clip 2:21):
Although comedy tends to get some shares online (see BuzzFeed or Cracked), it’s still very niche and it won’t appeal to everyone.
Being the first to report on something makes you the credible source.
If OJ came to you and said, “I killed her,” then you’re the eye witness and we’re all gonna quote, requote, retweet, and meme you. You become the sole authority and that’s what makes this second piece of content so hard because in order to be the first, you need to be on-call 24/7.
And content writers are marketers, not journalists.
The main distinction is in voice.
Journalism thrives off of objective writing! By distancing themselves from the material, they allow you (the reader) to make your own moral, emotional, or ethical judgement on the situation. In fact, I’d argue that it’s almost comical how distanced the writers place themselves from the subject matter:
“Smolinsky denied the accusation and said she had thrown the banana at him. But a deputy noticed the girlfriend’s face was slightly red where she said the banana hit her, an arrest affidavit said. The deputy also found the banana in the garbage and parts of the peel on the ground.” –(“Florida Man Accused of Attacking GirlFriend With Banana.” NBC News.)
In short, journalism is not condescending and although people make the debate, “They write for a fourth-grade reading level,” I say, “Good! Now people can get through legal jargon and don’t fall prey to right-clicking for synonyms!”
However, because SEOs know that the journalist to “break the news” is going to be hot in the search, they use “copywriting”. Essentially, they rewrite the story in different words — like synonym plagiarism.
Not just any synonym plagiarism however, as the story on its own won’t get people sharing — since that journalist is still the key source — so the SEO’s job is to rid the public’s ability to make their own judgements on objective content and instead, take an entirely subjective approach; bringing us to 3-5.
3-5. Articles that Appeal to the Emotional Fallacy: Sadness, Fear, & Anger
Social Media Marketing Manager, Martin Jones, purports that there are six emotions content writers (SEOs) appeal to to get the most shares; more shares = more traffic; more traffic = larger window of customers.
So content writers appeal to:
However, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Jones is a content writer and is trying to sell me on those latter 3 emotions.
See, although Upworthy makes a killing with those inspirational quotes and stories, that’s more of a Facebook-driven company and Facebook is an addictive drug where everything is up-up-up.
Facebook — when used properly — chronicles your life’s highlights, not your divorces and bad days. In fact, when someone posts:
“Burying the dog.”
“Jury duty :(“
It kinda feels like they’re fishing for the up-up-up.
Even though we have those friends who feel compelled to share their political, religious, and philosophical views, most people on Facebook appear like this:
So that we don’t need to see them, like this:
Those are the things you want to keep hidden (i.e. private).
It’s like the good neighbor rule: smile and wave, but keep your fences high and your voices low.
So, I feel Jones really means “Joy” as the emotional term for “Humor,” because I get like thirty BuzzFeed articles in my newsfeed a day.
Again, Jones is using the emotional equivalent of journalism. Surprise is a headline, it’s the breaking story.
Even Martin Jones admits that “disgust,” appeals to a very niche demographic and “may become viral among small groups, but generally does not appeal to the masses” (Business2Community).
Yeah, disgust are those videos that our friends make us watch and we can’t look away, but sometimes you can find a callback to “disgust” in the mainstream media.
So that leaves Sadness, Fear, and Anger.
Sadly, the least threatening of the three emotions is sadness and it usually gets the least amount of shares. But we’ve all seen these articles. That movie Wanderlust does a good job of satirizing it when Jennifer Aniston tries to sell a documentary (or something) about penguin AIDs.
Of course, the latter two are much more aggressive emotions and are basically Jon Stewart’s problem with Fox News (i.e. Glenn Beck = appeal to fear; O’Rilley Factor = anger).
Fear makes sense, because it implies, “Without this product, you’re worse off” or “You will die.”
And anger, well, that’s an easy one; make a post titled “Mother Theresa is a Whore” and you’re bound to get more views than the one that praises her as a saint.
But you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, if a company is trying to get customers, then why would they want to make me angry?” But the answer to this is what’s bad for PR may be good for Google.
If I’m Making You Mad, I’m Trying to Sell You Something
It’s kinda surprising how much companies approve of it.
“No publicity is bad publicity.”
“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
It’s a common mantra for businesses, and especially with celebrity agents, whose primary function is to vicariously dictate a person’s values — you know, PR.
Who would’ve thought that “Public Relations” would be an occupation and not an inherent trait?
So when Selena Gomez says “Don’t see my movie, it has bad morals,” it’s hard to tell if she really felt that way, or if her agent told her to feel that way so she could maintain a following (coming off the Disney bandwagon), or if she was told to say that from the studio because the movie wasn’t selling and reverse psychology will.
Worked for Gossip Girl.
It’s also why when Mortal Kombat or — heaven forbid – Grand Theft Auto gets negative media attention for killing cops and hookers, it goes video game platinum. In fact, the franchise’s marketing strategy is to take the most controversial element/scene of their product and make sure everyone hears about it.
It’s also why when Samantha Brick writes about how hard it is to be blonde and beautiful, it gets shared, commented on, reposted, and is – ironically – hotly contested.
Or when 4AutoInsuranceQuote used Paul Walker’s death as a way to blast social media:
You might say the outcry was fast and furious, but that would be in bad taste.
But “Auto Insurance” and all the variations of it, are some of the MOST competitive keywords to rank for in Google; primarily because everyone needs auto insurance (or some form of liability coverage) in America. 4AutoInsuranceQuote is one of thousands — if not millions — of websites competing to get your business.
And of course, that week, who ranked on top?
Bad press, maybe, but sure made immediate results at the top of Google’s search page. They even waited for awhile before apologizing just to keep the story hot, so articles could come out saying, “Still no apology!”
But they did apologize, maybe they even fired their Social Media Manager (pssst, doubt it) and they’re still in business… but now they have all these links to their site from CNN, Fox, and other news networks. Win!
Or hey, remember when Abercrombie & Fitch made Derek Zoolander their spokesperson?
But Abercrombie didn’t fail because someone made the comment about fat people. The company was already failing due to the Hipster movement (Hollar!):
“Abercrombie & Fitch failed to realize that teens’ values have shifted from the 90′s to present day. Instead of wanting to fit the mold, Ashley Lutz at Business Insider says teens today want to be unique and not look like everyone else. Also, in today’s economy, a lot of American parents find Abercrombie & Fitch’s clothing to be too expensive. And, after all, they are often the ones footing the bill in this case.” -(Jacques, Renee. “9 Iconic Brands That Could Soon Be Dead.” HuffingtonPost.)
I’m betting the “fat” comment was for more publicity because — let’s face it — there are always going to be those assholes that agree, but more importantly, there are going to be women with self-image issues and therefore think to themselves, “If I can fit into Abercrombie’s clothes, then I can’t be overweight.“
Yes, in a twisted way, Abercrombie is brilliant. Now, they can sell a woman a “Large” or even an “XL” and it won’t matter because they just rebranded; Abercrombie & Fitch is now synonymous with “small”.
And then of course, we all remember the first cat site to go viral.
Sarcastic humor, maybe, but played so straight that the outcry of anger was palpable.
And then of course there’s the “comment” window on websites. If the site allows you to comment, it’s because they want comments. They want you to get ENRAGED because each new comment feeds directly into Google, telling the algorithm, “Oh, people are ENGAGED with this content.”
Even worse, if the comment function is turned off, but the content enrages you, then it’s an SEO effort to get you to copy and share it across social media.
People have been using anger for marketing purposes for years — centuries if you include Jonathon Swift’s A Modest Proposal.
In the same way that some people pursue art for art’s sake, many SEOs pursue controversy for controversy’s sake. The goal is to get the word out, get noticed, and get shared.
People often follow the term “Sex Sells” but that’s a symptom, not a condition. Sex sells because it’s controversial what with all the varying views, risks involved, yadda, yadda, yadda.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Dogma and Religulous owed a great deal of their ticket sales to church-goers. In fairness, I haven’t read any articles to prove this, but I did meet with a pastor once who took his youth group to The DaVinci Code just to be able to counter-argue it the following week.
Be the Hero, Not the Hulk
In a brilliant article by Dr. Ryan Martin (what is it with “Martins” in this post?), he analyzes why we get mad.
Specifically, he points to our appraisal of situation. He has a friend that gets carded for a rated-R movie and is livid for the rest of the night — it’s insulting! However, a 30-year-old woman may have been flattered.
David Foster Wallace (author of Infinite Jest) purports this as well in his 2005 speech at Kenyon College:
“The Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.
“Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.”
He even admits that these things probably aren’t true, but it’s how you perceive them; your conscious decision to appraise them.
In short, it was on a Halloween night in Mission Viejo, California (2008-9?) where I met a drunk Australian man and was not only sucked in to his speech due to his wicked awesome accent, but also for the “Australian philosophy” — his words, not mine. He slurred:
“If aye get mad at what yore saying, then that’s my problem. Ain’t no rayson for me ta be getting mad at you for somethin’ aye get offended by. If aye get mad at what yore doing, that’s MOI problem.”
Fitting that I should meet my guru on a night where I was dressed as Casual Jesus and took Jagermeister shots with Dr. Manhattan. Ah…
Without being too didactic, it’s our conscious choice to get angry, but if you find yourself getting angry, just know that they’re trying to sell you something — even if it’s to people you’ve never met from another state — and there’s something intellectually gratifying in knowing that you’ve beaten them at their own game.
Oh, and you should click “Back” instead of ‘X-ing’ out of a window, because they get dinged for the former.
And if I’ve succeeded, and you’ve had a yuck or two, then you may be wondering, “What’s this guy trying to sell me?” And in the words of the late and great Charles Bukowski:
“What a writer has to sell is confidence.”