It’s much easier to get traffic to a film website chasing clickbait and easy headlines – but surely there’s a better way.

Between you and me, this isn’t a website known for its big sweeping revelations, and rest assured that’s not about to be the case here. Radically, thought, I’d like to reveal that it’s far easier to get clicks to a website through writing hate and punching down headlines than it is to fight for something positive. There’s a reason why so many outlets have to join this battle, and the path to getting large amounts of web traffic tends to be quite a downbeat one.

Appreciating I’ve got a vested interest in all of this, I think it makes it all the more important to salute those who are doing word that’s actually swimming against that tide a bit. For instance, I remember just as I was leaving Den Of Geek in 2018 that The Guardian ran a terrific piece revisiting the Street Fighter movie of the 1990s. It wasn’t just an excellent piece of work, it was also an article that found the light in an often-maligned film. It certainly wasn’t blinkered, but the piece turned into – from the outside looking in – something of a social media sensation. Certainly on my social feeds there was no shortage at all of people talking about it.

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I’ve long held stuff like that up as the gold standard: a really good, considered article, well presented, that goes bananas for the right reasons. I remember talking about it at the time, about how that’s the kind of thing we should try and aim for. I’ve tried to since, albeit not with a great deal of luck.

After all: it’s a hard trick to replicate, and the hard truth is that the majority of pieces of that ilk go pretty much unread. There’s no fair line between how much work goes into a piece and how many eyeballs end up reading it, and I wonder if that’s partly behind The Guardian’s recent change of direction.

A few caveats first: I think The Guardian’s coverage is amongst the best out there, and I happily pay to support its website. Secondly, even though it may sound it, this isn’t all about one outlet.

Yet it’s notable that the two film articles from its site that appear to have gone haywire of last are a pair of pieces lambasting respectively Shrek and Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. Two films that lots of people like or at least enjoy, but the headlines to the articles concerned have little shrift with that.

‘Shrek at 20: an unfunny and overrated low for blockbuster animation’ ran a piece on its site last month. A deliberately provocative headline that had the desired effect: it incited a loud defence of Shrek on social media, all whilst giving The Guardian plenty of namechecks and a fair few hateclicks for its efforts.

Then, this week, it was ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves at 30: a joyless hit that should stay in the 90s’. The same effect. The clicks keep rolling in.

I have no quarrel with something not liking either film, of course. You pays your money, you take your choice. Furthermore, I’m fully aware that writers don’t always choose headlines for pieces, and even as a Costner die hard, Robin Hood is a film I have a sizeable list of problems with. Strong arguments, agree or otherwise, tend to lie behind the headlines.

But my question is this: why, when you have a platform, use it for this? Why go for a punch down?

I see that there’s a spectator sport for some in the initial outrage, and then in watching people fighting for the film (the ‘ha ha, you’ve stirred people up, look at how angry they are’ reaction, etc). But also, outlets have a finite amount of budget. To see an outlet that’s not built up by taking a hostile position take a footstep towards the many that do is disappointing. Of course, The Guardian is much better and far more successful than me, so I’m clearly in the wrong and the idiot here. But still.

It reminds me of a national tabloid that ran an article once by a woman who wrote a piece questioning why women hate her for being beautiful. A headline designed to rattle cages, and the impact of that – and heck, was it sizeable – has rippled through news outlets since I’d suggest. If you can stir up social media, you’re pretty much guaranteed the clicks.

With that in mind, perhaps it’s time I started doing the same thing with this site. Rather than running longform articles about the stories behind films, might I suggest you take your pick from some of these instead?

  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: he should have gone to school instead
  • Terminator 2: why it’s out of date in the shadow of Sharknado
  • Mad Max Fury Road is no Transformers: The Last Knight, is it?
  • Citizen Kane: who gives two hoots about his sled anyway?
  • It’s A Wonderful Life: no it isn’t
  • Why AvP – Requiem is the best Alien movie
  • Toy Story: playthings coming to life? F*cking pathetic, m8.
  • Star Wars: ridiculously far-fetched, and why are the ships all basically model kits
  • Why everything you love is basically shit

How about that little lot (with thanks to the many people on Twitter who helped me compile some of those)? The depressing thing is that if I cranked out any of those, there’s a growing number of clicks in material like that. Where it’s not the goal to have an interesting conversation about a movie: the target is now to upset Twitter. Not that that’s a particularly testing challenge.

My mantra remains though let’s try and turn some of the piss into a positive. That brilliant Guardian Street Fighter article is here, and if you see an excellent film piece on another site, feel free to add it in the comments below. If the Disqus auto-filter in the comments section chews it up, I’ll unclog it. But let’s salute the articles – and there are lots of them – that go for the more rounded approached, that aren’t trying to incite us with headlines (something that’s evidently working).

It’s very hard work to try and get people to read articles without clickbait headlines on a website: for those who are trying, please keep fighting that fight. I do actually think it matters. And I’m still going to keep aiming for the standard of that Street Fighter piece.

The best to you all.

Lead image: BigStock

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