Being linkbaited to death: How the desperation to get clicks destroyed the internet

In the competition to get traffic to our sites, a few rules evolved based on the understanding on what makes content go viral.  One of these rules emphasizes the use of numbered lists.  You’ve probably seen them before:

“19 things to see in Paris”

“5 different ways you can brush your teeth”

“11 ways to break up with your boyfriend/girlfriend”

“8 tricks to getting a successful colonoscopy “

And so on… to infinity.

Writing is now tailored for easy scanability, because the masses no longer read content so much as they power browse.  The more in-depth content is, the more likely people will click away to something else.  It’s why sites like Buzzfeed have become so popular, despite the utterly vacuous nature of its verbal content and over-emphasis on the use of animated gifs.

Don’t believe me?  Check out this site called Buzzfeed Minus GIFs, where the author quotes the site’s written content, minus the graphics.

So what DOES Buzzfeed look like without gifs?  Here’s one example:

The 19 Worst Things Ever

This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This. This.


Writing on the internet is no longer about the expression of thought so much as it is about generating easy linkbait to boost traffic and ad revenues.  Some people blame corporate marketing for this, but in reality marketers are merely responding to the signals they receive, and those signals clearly indicate a preference for the quickest, shallowest and most meaningless forms of content.

Horse lying on a couch
A horse on a couch. This has nothing to do with anything I’m writing, but market research says that I’ll lose 50% of readers at this point if there isn’t a Funny Animal Picture interrupting the text. (Hat Tip: Nummification of America)

I fell into this “sinkhole of shallow” myself on my old blog, attempting to tailor my writing so it would conform to what the audience at large was demanding.  Sometimes I would blog a post, and the thoughts would keep flowing, and I would thus keep writing, until I’d remember with a violent jolt, “Oh wait, my post here is already 1,000 words too long.  I need to condense it to 350 words for optimal search engine ranking and then break it up into a few bullet points so people can scan the content better, plus add some vaguely relevant thumbnail images, or readers will think I’m utterly and stupendously boring, or be so disgusted with the verbose nature of my content that they’ll hire Israeli hackers to bring my site down and ensure I never show my disgusting presence online again.”

But my mind simply didn’t work that way.  Writing to me was eclectic in nature, an incongruous mixture of thought that could either be short or long, visual or verbal, reflective or reactive.  It spanned a wide spectrum of topics that simply can’t adhere to a rigid structure or schedule.  Until I came to terms with that, my blogging suffered enormously and deteriorated in quality.  It wasn’t until I created A Geek in the Wilderness that I started to find my groove again, deciding it was better to have a medium to express myself freely and appeal to a minority, than to conform to the expectations of society in an attempt to appeal to the majority.

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