Having read about the trials and tribulations faced by Scarlett Johansson in the past week, the SEO in me couldn’t help but think about the link bait of any such high profile leak. Whilst the content of the stolen imagery alone was enough to help it go viral, the frenzy it caused on Twitter (where it was in the trending charts for two days) and on the search engines prove just how simple link bait can be – even if it is ill-gotten.
Now, I’m not suggesting that the publishers of the images were thinking only of their inbound link profiles, or even that webmasters should use this as a model for future SEO efforts. Far from it in fact. However, it does perhaps demonstrate the concept of link bait better than anything else.
The truth is that link bait isn’t easy. If it was, the life of an SEO would be much simpler. There are numerous variables and intangibles that need to come together in order for it to succeed. Using Scarlett as an example, the following factors need to fall in to place:
Salacious images of a young Hollywood starlet are bound to attract the attention of at least 50% of Internet users. There again, a sneezing baby panda or piano playing cat can also have the same affect. Industry-based link bait, i.e. exclusively for those who are in online marketing for instance, has a certain appeal, but it is unlikely to garner the same attention as a truly viral image, newspaper article or video.
So the broader the appeal, the bigger the audience, the more links you can expect to receive. You can’t go around just publishing random things on your business blog though, so be sensible. TMZ might be able to get away with celebrity tattle and scandal, your plumbing blog probably isn’t quite as suitable.
Good link bait should market itself. If you’re constantly having to promote it to try to get traction, it’s failed before it’s even begun. You need to prick the interest of relevant people, preferably those with some authority in your industry, but if you start desperately seeking views and links, it will reflect badly on you.
Most can spot link bait a mile off and as such may not wish to give it the time of day, particularly if you are pestering them to share it. So play it cool. Give it a little promotion, just to get things rolling, then see how it does. If it has enough appeal, it should succeed on its own merits, if not then it was doomed to fail anyway.
I have to tread a little carefully here, particularly given the example used, but fundamentally effective link bait lives or dies on the content itself. If you attract lots of visits but everybody decides that your content is rubbish, then that initial surge of interest will soon peter out. However, if it is deemed interesting enough, then visitors will want to share it with others.
It certainly helps when your link bait becomes a major story, published across a number of blogs and news portals. Once again though, we can’t all have the same mass global appeal as is befitting of a Hollywood actress, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t create something that will resonate with a major audience.
What not to do
As I’ve touched on earlier, you never want to publish anything that you’re not happy with. If it doesn’t represent your business or personal views, bin it. Links aren’t so important that you should sacrifice your integrity. As soon as you start trying to force the issue, standards will drop and it will become obvious to all and sundry.
So if you’re not prepared to hack into someone’s phone and steal private photos, look to use your skills and knowledge to the best possible effect. Create interesting videos, informative blog posts or anything else that has appeal. If it’s good and fails to ignite the public’s interest, then so be it, at least you tried and still have something valuable on your site for future visitors.
Scarlett Johansson may not be best pleased and the FBI certainly takes a dim view, but ultimately link bait is about the content. Get that right and the social sphere should do everything else for you. It’s not easy and it certainly can backfire, but the rewards are there for all to see.