You didn’t take this seriously, and now you must face the consequences.

March 4 by

You didn’t take this seriously, and now you must face the consequences.

An alarming email landed in my account not long ago.

The subject line said:

“[Company Name] Background Checks: You didn’t take this seriously, and now you must face the consequences.”

My brain raced for a second, trying to think of things I could have done wrong. I haven’t robbed any banks lately. Didn’t kick any puppies. I don’t cheat on my taxes or run around on my spouse. What could it be?

Maybe there was a traffic-cam at that stoplight I accidentally rolled through in Nashville the other week.  Ooh, driving — maybe it was that I let my license have a few day lapse before I renewed it, and they needed more money than I’d sent! Had I been driving illegally without knowing it? I know I paid the insurance. Wait — maybe I ticked the wrong box or wrote too sloppily on that insurance claim, and now I’m going to find out I owe them a million zillion dollars. Maybe…

You get the idea. My mind threw everything it could at me, recent history and ancient alike.

I have images set to “disabled” in my email program, and I opened the email as text-only so it wouldn’t harm my computer. This is what it said (except for personally identifiable information and any spammy links):


Spam is bad, m'kay?


Oh. Duh.

Plain old spam.

And yet as long as I’ve been doing this, and as much as I know better, my heart rate still jumps up just a couple of notches when I see language like that.


Because we’re all wrapped up in our own minds. We all second-guess ourselves, and “DANGER, DANGER!” messages work against our logical minds, going straight for a throat-grip on our natural instincts. It’s the mild form of fight-or-flight.

“Someone’s talking about you — and it’s really bad.”

Reading something that emotional doesn’t always register as a ploy right away. The more common first thought is to take it personally with a knee-jerk reaction: “The nerve of that jerk!  I bet it’s Joe Schmoe, and he’s still ticked off about that stupid thing at the meeting last week…” or, “Oh, it’s got to be Jane Doe. Terrific. I knew she couldn’t keep from running her big mouth….”

On the one hand, spammers are horrible. Let’s not ever forget that. And nothing I say that follows should be interpreted as taking that back. (Got me?)

But on the other hand, if I’m being objective and honest, I do have to admit that they moved me.

Not to action, like they were hoping, because that would be dumb.

But they made my brain jump ahead without my consent, and they had me feeling real, important emotions about my everyday life. They bypassed my filter and got straight to “oh — this was written just for me!”

Don’t be spammers, kids. Spammers are bad, m’kay?

But do notice — in your inbox, in sales ads in the paper, in commercials, and even in those crappy “From Around the Web” paylinks that occasionally pop up under suggested content on major sites — notice what words make you click.

Which words make you insanely curious? Which ones make you angry?  Which ones get you to ignore the voice in your head that says it’s time to log out and do real work, and click on just ooooone more little thing to read?

Again — let me be crystal clear:  do not manipulate! Strive always to be genuine, true and valuable in your posts. Scare tactics are not anyone’s friend, and if you do try to play the black-hat character and use them, you won’t end up with readers, only angry passersby.

But do notice action words in the online world you’re working in, and take stock every once in a while. Could they be used in your context? Keep a list of the ones you like, or tuck headline ideas into an unpublished post draft just for your own reference. Title those wonderful posts of yours with the kind of words that would move you, and you’ll be sure to move others, too.

Personally, I tend to get sucked into the maze of grabby headlines at places like Cracked (though offensive), the HuffPost Science section, and Buzzfeed Books. They overdo it sometimes, sure; but more often, I find myself later with twenty-five tabs open and my whole afternoon spent.

Figure out what language makes you follow those links, and you’ll be well on your way to getting readers to click on your own content.

You can learn from all examples, good and evil. Just remember to use YOUR powers for good and substance!

(Image credit.)

Tracy Lucas

About Tracy Lucas

Tracy Lucas is a writer, editor, and the co-owner of Inkwell Basics. She owns Four Square Creative and Smash Cake Press, and she blogs about writing and publishing at her personal website. She has written and sold more than one hundred and fifty pieces for print, web, radio, and stage.

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