The truth is, I would never pen an article about anything essential or that you “need to know.” Most things in articles about things you need to know are things you do not need to know and no exercise is essential.
It’s funny, I just saw an article pop up from Redbook with a similar title, 8 Essential Whiskey Drinks You Need to Know How to Make. And, people love it! They share it, like it, pin it, etc.
How many people absolutely NEED to know how to make a bunch of whiskey drinks? Are there more bartenders out there than I thought? Why would a drink be “essential” unless you actually like it? How could anyone tell you then what drinks are essential to you?
You may think that exercise and fitness is a different matter. I would disagree. However, regardless of whether you think that there are essential exercises, or things you absolutely need to do, I am writing this post to inform you about how some bloggers or content creators work and why they write such articles. You can be sure that there are hundreds of fitness articles with titles similar to this one, and hardly any of them are actually concerned about whether the information is correct or useful.
Instead, they simply know how to “craft a good headline.” This may seem cynical and I would not blame you at all for accusing me of being a negative Nancy. Yet, all you have to do is research “how to write a good headline” or “how to go viral” and you are going to see the writing on the wall, as it were.
You see, words like you, need, must, essential, and even do are words that blogging experts have noticed cause more people to share or click. The reason bloggers use these titles is because they hope it will help their post get shared more, and maybe even go viral, getting them floods of traffic.
In fact, there are list of example headlines, where you just need to fill in the blanks! Something like…
Blank blanks You Need To blank.
Couple this with the fact that list posts are more popular than almost any other kind of post, and you have yourself a “clickbait” headline.
Most articles of these sort will just recount the same mundane information about exercises, but the title imparts a sense of urgency. Often, in fact, an author will go so far as to add something like “right now” or “it is urgent” just to seal the deal.
As well, you may see words like everyday or every week added. This too, helps add to the sense of importance and urgency. Should, by the way, can be used instead of must, but must is probably better.
Once you click over to the article, you see nothing special. Squats, deadlifts, crunches, pullups, pushups, whatever. A more clever author will try to pick a few things that you don’t see just anywhere, hoping that the fact that it is not run-of-the-mill will make it seem more credible.
Owing to my clever searching skills, I was able to bring up a list on Google using a wild card. I even used the number 8, even though any number would do. By searching “8 exercises* + must” I got a huge list of articles regarding lists of eight exercises. Google, in its wisdom, allowed essential, and should to also count. Just a smattering of them are:
- The 8 Exercises You Should do Before Every Workout – menshealth
- Shoulder Exercises You Must Do – bodybuilding.com
- The Essential Eight Exercises That will Get You Ripped (good one!) – bodybuilding.com
- 8 Exercises Every Woman Should Do – muscleandperformance.com
- 8 Core Exercises Every Cyclist Should Do (wow, so targeted) – active.com
If we search other numbers and combinations we will find a never-ending list of must do exercises. Of course, many of them will be repeats.
If These Articles are Trash, How Can They Get So Many Shares?
Shares are not just about traffic, they are about social proof. Those share numbers lend a huge amount of credibility to a post. Still, you’d think that when a shallow article is written simply for the purpose of using a compelling headline, and to get shares, likes, etc. that it wouldn’t succeed since people would notice it was crap and not share it. All you need is to visit a site like BuzzFeed or UpWorthy once and you are dissuaded of that notion.
Blogging experts count on something else: Many sharers share but do not read! You see, after I publish this article, even if I manage to get 20 Facebook likes or shares, perhaps only 3 or 4 of those will represent actual readers. And even if there are more people who actually visit, some of those will just skim. The shares may distribute the content, but this does not mean that it gets widely read. Most people who like posted links articles on Facebook itself, I can guarantee you, do not read the article.
The truth is that the headline of an article is the one most important aspect of shareability. Not of quality, but only of shareability! This may sound like a clickbait title but in this case it is true. The One Most Important Aspect of Sharing is the Headline.
Sure, other things count, like the first few lines of the article, it’s organization, whether its helpful, entertaining, etc. but all of this is part of what is conveyed in the title. For example, if I hadn’t immediately informed you that I was being facetious with my title, you would have expected that this article would be organized as a list of eight exercises, and that is was meant to help you with something that was very important. For some, this is enough to get the social sharing off the ground.
Of course, this does not guarantee a viral post. If it did this article would go viral automatically. There are many factors that go into it, some controllable, some not. However, if you look at sites like BuzzFeed, ViralNova, UpWorthy, etc. you will see that the number one thing IS the headline. The content is almost always crap, and rarely if ever delivers on the promise of the title. ViralNova even shares its intention it the name of the site! Yet, it still works. In fact, the same people offer blueprints for you to start your own such site. Or, you could go to flippa.com and buy one that is already made. You just have to know how to write the clickbait headlines.
Blogging experts have mined headlines to analyse the most popular words, using sites like those named above and other very popular sites. Many of the most oft-used words, of course, are the most commonly used words in the English language. We cannot make much of the frequent use of the word “the” for example. Many of the most common words in viral headlines are also the most common words used in everyday conversation. Perhaps this is telling, I really do not know. You can read more about this here.
Did you notice something about the silly title of this article? I used an ungrammatical combination of words “most essential.” Most important would have been better but I wanted to use the word essential, and I wanted to incorporate the word most as in “the most” simply because it is used often in viral headlines. The example I’ve used here is only one of many ways bloggers write headlines designed for sharing.
You must ask (see what I did there?), if a writer writes a headline designed to get people to click and share, does that mean the article is bad? Well, just because an author wants to try to ensure that people will notice and share his or her article does not mean the article is not high quality, well-researched, credible, and helpful. Still, if you also know that bloggers actually keep list of headlines examples and simply decide “I’ll write something using this type of headline,” you start to question how invested they may be. You see, bloggers are often taught to write the headline first, before they have even thought about what they are going to be writing in an article. I am one of those silly folks who thinks that what is written should inform the title, not the other way around!
But, Eric, you just did it. Actually, I didn’t. I already knew what I was going to write before I wrote this article. Seeing the whiskey article I mentioned above reminded me of this particular type of headline, so I used this as my example. I could have written the same article, with much the same intent, using another example headline. So, in this case, it was a little of both. The content I had in mind helped me to take note of this particular type of headline, so that the content informed the headline, and vice versa. It could be that this happens often, even when a blogger uses a canned headline, but…probably not. After all, many bloggers use canned headlines constantly. I only did it this once.