My content nightmares: Five frightful tales from the internet graveyard

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As we get older, the things that give us the chills change. As a child I was scared of ghosts, skeletons and erm, animated crocodiles coming out of the TV and possessing my family. Glad I’ve finally got that one off my chest!

As you age, however, the things that haunt your nightmares become slightly less fantastical - ghouls, goblins and ghosts turn into bad credit ratings, awkward online dates and confusing French restaurants that are, frankly, too fancy for your plebeian tastes.

And the one thing that is really freaking me out this Halloween is - of course - terrible online content!!! What else?!? (Cue generic Halloween sound effects).

Yes indeed! After months of becoming increasingly frustrated with the types of articles floating around the internet, this year I might actually bin my legendary zombie costume and go trick or treatin' as a bad piece of content. (Not really though, I don’t want to look TOO sexy...).

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With it being the season to creep ourselves out, I’ve decided to (trick or) treat you to a compilation of some of the most ghastly content trends on the web. Warning: I’ll be carving up plenty of PUN-kins in the process... continue if you dare!

1. Creepy Clickbait

How many times have you seen an article claiming to have discovered “the most important cat to ever exist” and thought “BY GOD! THE MOST IMPORTANT CAT TO EVER EXIST! THIS IS A NEWSWORTHY EVENT INDEED! WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE!!!” before clicking on the article and finding out - to your disappointment - that the cat in question is not really all that important at all?

Similarly, when it comes to headlines beginning with “You’ll never guess what…”, nine times out of ten you actually COULD have guessed what, thank you very much. And, while we’re at it, any headlines using the word “literally” generally do not LITERALLY mean “literally” (apart from maybe in the new sense of the word - for the pedants).

When writing headlines, it’s important to keep from over-egging your pumpkin pie, as it were. There are so many of these clickbait-y headlines littering the web now, that not only will your content seem less reputable and more spammy, but it will struggle to stand out at all.

Takeaway: If you do, by some trick of fate, ever discover THE MOST IMPORTANT CAT TO EVER EXIST - by all means use that headline. However, among all the other pretenders to the feline throne, no-one will ever believe you. You’ll be just like The Boy Who Cried...erm...Cat.  

2. Gruelling GIFs

Gifs - and images in general - are a great way to add a bit of colour to your article, to inject it with some relevance and to help entertain and engage your audience.

However, there has to be a bit more to it than just choosing 20 gifs at random and shoving them on a page!

Relevance to the article is rule number one in the gif game - use them to enhance your text rather than to replace or displace it.

Tone is another important consideration - your article on “The 10 Best Things The Coalition Has Done for the UK” may not work quite so well when it’s “...as told by American Horror Story: Freak Show gifs”. Or maybe it would - depending on your political stance...

Takeaway: Be relevant, be topical and use some originality - try to avoid the gifs you’ve seen so often they haunt your dreams! The above gif, for example, is one of the most overused on the web, meaning it's easy to skim over and doesn't really add much to the article.     

3. Copycats 

Internet jokes are a lot of fun when you’re lost in the murky depths of Tumblr at 3am, but when you’re creating content, you don’t want to be jumping on the back of trends that have already taken off - you need to be new and original. You should be the one driving the content bandwagon!

Some of the worst offenders are those whose solution to engaging a 20-something audience is that famous four letter word - CATS.

Listicles are also up there when it comes to internet imitating. Don’t get me wrong, I love a list as much as the next serial procrastinator, but when they are done badly they are frightful!

Typically, copycat lists will be text-poor and based on broad themes like “10 feelings you have when you’re drunk” and then just feature a rotating series of gifs starring Kristin Wiig, Mindy Kaling, Zooey Deschanel, Taylor Swift and Lena Dunham, with little text to support any sort of narrative.

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This type of article can come across as lazy clickbait for authors who want to seem like internet-literate yet kitsch 20 or 30-somethings, but have unfortunately waylaid their sense of irony along the way.

Takeaway: If you have new information as to why Jennifer Lawrence genuinely is my very own spirit animal, then go ahead and write that list. If, however, you’re adding nothing informative or entertaining to the debate then your readers may feel like they wasted a click and be less generous in future.

Essentially, don’t be the person that posts lists of cat gifs on the internet - be the person that INVENTED cats. Well, sort of…

4. Scary sales

Anyone who has ever been in a sales pitch - or watched an episode of Dragon’s Den - will agree that sales is not a comfortable concept. Trying to convince people that you are the best, your product is the best, and they should give up their money for it has got to be one of the most un-English things ever: frankly it’s up there among queue-pusher-inners and The Kardashians.  

The only difference between a full-blown sales pitch and overtly sales-y content is that as a writer, you don’t have to watch the awkward, pitying expressions of your audience as your dreams get crushed to dust.

No-one likes being sold to - especially when they’re just trying to chill by way of a bit of internet browsing. So while inbound marketers might be able to get away with linking back to their product at the end of a strong piece of content, or posting a piece that is ‘sponsored by’ the company, producing 50 pieces of content all about your product every month is just not going to work. In fact, it could even generate negative feeling towards your brand! Unless your product is very, very interesting, that is.

Takeaway: Even your target audience is unlikely to want to read your sales content in their downtime. Try appealing to them by producing content that is interesting and useful, and in this way building a great brand reputation.

5. Eerie "empty" content

The problem with the word ‘content’ is that it implies an empty space that needs to be filled by something - it doesn’t matter what - as long as it passes the Google test and attracts those beautiful, life-giving search engine spiders. But, as SEO experts are queuing up to point out, Google is now demanding GOOD, relevant and organic content, meaning those old keyword-crammed, link-filled blocks of text are just not revving its (search) engine anymore.

While this is both true, and important to note for those using inbound marketing techniques, for me, there are more important reasons that content should not be mere filler for empty webspace, and instead should actually contribute something informative or entertaining to the world. Offending people’s eyes with insipid, repetitive content isn’t doing anything for anyone - creator, audience or brand. And it's just not what the internet was made for!

At its best, the internet is a creative hub - writers, graphic designers and videographers need to feel inspired to contribute, rather than just adding to the noise because they’re under pressure to fill that empty webspace. You need creative ideas rather than content types - just chucking a snazzy infographic at a bounce rate problem is not enough without a solid idea behind it. It’s the same flawed concept as deciding to make a viral video before you have any idea what it’s going to be about.

Takeaway: Care about what you create! You are Dr Frankenstein, the content is your monster! Go crazy!

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