Budget Deficit, Puppies And iPhones! : Blog Of The Nation Clicks vs. the creative. Does the desire to attract online traffic make a writer less creative? As search engine optimization becomes a bigger part of our lives, a weird sort of online peer pressure has emerged.
NPR logo Budget Deficit, Puppies And iPhones!

Budget Deficit, Puppies And iPhones!

Cute puppies! iStockphoto hide caption

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Cute puppies!


If you were confused into reading this because of the bizarre headline or the adorable picture of puppies, you fell for my trick! Sadly, I have nothing to say about the deficit, puppies or iPhones. I did that to lure you in, to get you to read this post.

I don't know if it actually worked in this particular case, but tactics like that are becoming more and more common. In a piece in the latest issue of Good Magazine, writer Alissa Walker writes that the age of instant feedback is actually complicating the concept of creativity.

All too often it feels like the choices made by writers and designers aren't as much creative as they are knee-jerk, robotic operations to capture more clicks. With one eye always trained on the traffic numbers, do we ignore our own creative intuition?

As search engine optimization becomes a bigger part of our lives, new questions arise about the motives for creative work. Do we write, create, make music, etc. to express feelings? To get a point across? Or is the goal to get a certain number of clicks or Likes on Facebook?

"I actually enjoy the rush of attracting traffic," Walker writes. "But does it make me any less of a creative person?" It's a fine line to walk.

And there's another side to this, as Walker points out:

Ostensibly, having this data at our fingertips would mean that we're producing better ideas.The more you know about what your audience wants, the better you can create stories and infographics and art for them. If writing a certain headline or choosing a certain color for a button means that the most people will get access, shouldn't you do it?

This is kind of like a weird kind of creative, online peer pressure. How often do we watch a video or read an article, just because our friends Liked it on Facebook? Everyone's doing it! Everyone's turning their articles into lists. Why don't you try it?

I remember when our own Guy Raz was guest blogging for James Fallows on the Atlantic. Out of concern that the presence of a guest blogger would drive away some of the normal traffic, he tried to include a lot of keywords and cute videos. Here's part of that post:

I will do everything I can in the coming days to experiment with search engine optimization by mentioning the terms vaccines, autism, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk (or, in case of alternate spellings, Ataturk), and Ayn Rand and quite possibly may post some original video of my very cute cats wrestling.

The piece actually went on to talk about his life that is part-NPR host, part-stay-at-home dad. But I've gotta say that video of the baby laughing really drew me in.

Oh, also, that article in Good Magazine... I found it because a friend liked it on Facebook.