Clickbait, Betting Links, And Rewarding Good Writing

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from someone asking me about advertising for a company through my Twitter account. It wasn't an unusual inquiry in any way, even if it's not something that I've actually done before, just a fairly standard sort of thing that you might expect. Tweet a link for them and they’ll give you some money in return for doing so.

I didn't know what the link was at first (I didn't think to ask and the person didn't directly say), we just kind of discussed figures very briefly. The money offered was hardly life-changing or anything, but for simply tweeting a link out quickly it was pretty decent. Enough to cover a significant portion of my website's domain and registration costs for a year. Understandably, as someone who puts a lot of time and effort into producing stuff for my website and who thought that monetising it further would be rather nice, I thought I may as well.

After saying I'd do it for the fee we decided on, I found out what the link was for. Who the company was and who emailed me on their behalf is pretty irrelevant, so I won't bother naming them. But, as you can probably guess from the heading of this piece, it was for a well-known bookmakers’ website. And that made me feel a bit uneasy straight away.

Gambling is one of many ways in which people fulfil their interest in football, but the sharing of betting links is quite a questionable practice.

Gambling is one of many ways in which people fulfil their interest in football, but the sharing of betting links is quite a questionable practice.

While my personal viewpoint is that there isn’t anything inherently wrong with betting (I’ve placed bets myself numerous times), when done in moderation anyway, I’m not a fan of people regularly posting links like that all over social media or spamming their websites full with similar gambling-based adverts. It gets incredibly irritating after a while. And, to a number of other people, it *is* a sensitive, addicting and risky thing to be involved with. There’s a fairly good reason that it’s meant to be both regulated and age-restricted.

I won’t lie, I – albeit with hesitation – still agreed to post the link initially. I can’t blame people for doing it. Swapping less than a minute of my time to send a tweet in return for paying off quite a bit of my website’s costs is a pretty sweet deal. But when it came to actually posting the link, I didn’t want to go ahead with it. First of all, it would be hypocritical of me to post such a thing when I’ve been critical of it in the past. I also wouldn’t want to become part of the problem. Nor would I like the issue to grow worse. So after deciding that, I emailed the person back and told them that I’d changed my mind.

Unsurprisingly I didn’t get a reply from them after that, although a couple of days ago I received another email from a guy who works for the exact same company. They, presumably, were unaware of my discussion with one of their colleagues before. But like with the first time contact was made, although without even thinking about it this time, I refused to post it. And I’m glad I did.

A lot of people probably wouldn’t have even noticed or cared if I did it. Some might’ve unfollowed me on Twitter or given a little bit of abuse for it if I did. Without doing it I don’t really know, though for the sake of some quick cash I thought it just wasn’t worth it in the end. A lot of the reason being due to the way in which constant promotion of betting is a danger to those more vulnerable people – though also because of the monopoly that the gambling industry seems to have over the ability to monetise football writing.

Well, it’s more of a shared monopoly actually. The other thing is clickbait, which I’m sure most of you reading this are heavily aware of. With headlines like “You won’t *believe* which superstar is set to join this huge European team!” on a website of any size, it’s bound to get you intrigued; then you click the link and see it’s a free agent you’ve never heard of moving to a very average mid-table team. A complete waste of time for the reader, and probably for everyone involved in producing the piece too. Except for those lucky few who get paid because of the advertising revenue that such a thing can bring in.

Earning money from a big audience is totally fair enough in itself. The shop that attracts more customers in is probably going to make more money, right? That’s fine. But if the stuff displayed in that shop’s window which encourages you to go inside isn’t actually on sale, then that’s a whole different thing. In real life you can just leave the shop without buying anything. On the internet though, people simply going onto websites for just a couple of minutes can be enough to get them revenue in return for very minimal effort.

There are other ways you can monetise these sorts of things, like posts affiliated with companies, renting out advertising space or having a paywall, but otherwise those are the two most common methods to monetise sport-related writing and social media content. One is an annoying and somewhat morally questionable practice (depending on your viewpoint), the other based purely on website hits and luring the reader into their site on false premises. Not exactly a great choice.

A very stereotypical image of what blogging looks like.

A very stereotypical image of what blogging looks like.

It probably sounds more extreme than I intend it to, and I don’t want it to seem like some moral crusade or whatever, however I’m sure you can work out what my general premise is – I don’t like how people making money from football content is so dependent on these things. And the other thing, which for most of you reading this will be far more relatable, is the adverse effect that these methods of monetisation consequently have on the quality of stuff published.

I mean, nobody genuinely wants to read those clickbait articles or have to rely on using some form of ad blocker just to get onto the sites in the first place. If owners of blogs, websites and newspapers can be rewarded for these sorts of things though, which require little effort and have no real intention of entertaining or informing their reader, then why spend hours writing? Why bother when you could whip something together in 30 minutes and be rewarded in a pretty similar way? Where’s the incentive to fully focus on creating and hosting good, unique content?

Beyond personal ambitions and a drive to do so (which, don’t get me wrong, is still a hugely powerful motivation to do it!), there isn’t really an overwhelmingly clear set of reasons. Certainly not as much as there should be, anyway. That’s part of the reason why I did “The A - Z Of Football Blogging For 2016” at the start of the year. Giving recognition and a small reward to the people that deserve it. To those who spend ages putting some wonderful pieces of writing together. There needs to be more of that.

How to do it, exactly, is a tricky thing. More awards to congratulate and publicise those who are doing good work, maybe. Perhaps a way to donate money to those who’ve clearly worked particularly hard on something. Even a combination of the two. Hell, something as simple as sharing some work and recommending it to people is a step in the right direction. Anyone who writes things on a public platform like me will know it’s great when a reader actively interacts with what you’ve done in such a positive way.

If anyone’s got any better, more developed ideas of how to help there be a larger drive towards higher quality content, please give me your suggestions. Because I’m quite interested in doing something more to help give greater encouragement to people to work their hardest at producing their absolute best work consistently. Hopefully, after reading this, a lot of you will be too.