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Stephen Logan

Link Baiting: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

18th Dec 2009 SEO, Link Building | 1 Comment


A determining factor in the strength of a site is the number of (quality) links it attracts. A determining factor in how a site ranks in search engines is its strength. Ergo, if you want to your site to perform better in Google, you need to get yourself a fair smattering of inbound links.

Links are the currency of SEO. You don’t want to be too flippant about giving links away and you can never have too much coming in (as long as it’s legal tender of course, toxic links won’t help), it is simple online economics. The challenging aspect of all this though is actually encouraging links.

In terms of providing a little gentle encouragement in boosting your SEO coffers, nothing works better than a little bit of link baiting. Write something amazing, create something unique or just cause flagrant controversy; however you choose to go about it, the more eyes that see your work and the more mouths (virtual or otherwise) discuss it, the better your chances of getting a viral stream of priceless, yet free, inbound links.

If you’re looking to lure people in with a blog post, the first (and arguably most important) thing to consider is the title. Do you want to go with something dour yet informative, or something eye-catching, engaging or very possibly enraging?

What is Bad Link Baiting?

The inspiration for this particular musing came from a recent blog post by renowned blogger Robert Scoble. Earlier this week he posted a piece entitled ‘2010: the year SEO isn’t important anymore?’. This was an example of both a good and bad title. Bad in so far as it posed a question that was a little far-fetched and sowed seeds of doubt with a worrying laissez-faire nonchalance towards any consequences of these words. Good, because it irked SEOers everywhere and gave some cheer to those doubters, encouraging both to kick up a storm of editorials and replies – much like this one.

I’m a Copywriter for Koozai, a search engine marketing company, so you don’t have to guess what side of the fence I’m on when it comes to articles like this. They are by no means unique, in fact anti-SEO posts are ten a penny, but often don’t have the same promotional vehicle behind them. In fact it reminds me of an article by a man named Derek Powazek just a couple of months ago. His post, ‘Spammers, Evildoers and Opportunists’ was a rant against SEO that enjoyed a similarly vociferous response back from those within the industry.

I won’t rake up old graves (or provide any more links), but you can read my own response to the aforementioned Powazek article in my earlier post – Is SEO Essential or an Outmoded Scam Touted By Charlatans? Part I (there’s also a part II and part III if you’re really interested.) – needless to  say, it isn’t glowing with praise.

Robert Scoble’s latest blog aberration, if I can call it such, is far from being tirade; in fact it offers a question, thus asking for a response (good link baiting once again.) Whilst I don’t agree that SEO is becoming less relevant to SMEs or to the wider world of websites, the content is far less bile-laden and vitriolic. But, for my money at least, it still fails as a blog post and doesn’t deliver on what the title promises – very much the bad side of SEO.

Link Baiting Bridges SEO and Social Media

Returning to my earlier point, the one thing that Scoble and Powazek enjoy is a strong online presence. Both have popular Twitter accounts and are visible members of the Internet blogging community. This gives their work an immediate readership, ensuring that a viral spread right throughout the social Internet will invariably happen – given the right title and content.

This tie-in between SEO, importing links and visible in SERPs, and social media, creating word of mouth campaigns that are capable of spreading like wildfire is what Internet marketing is all about today – just in a very compressed form. Not all that long ago I posed the question, Is Social SEO the Future of Internet Marketing, this covered the subject in a little more depth. But essentially, link bait, SEO and social media are all being drawn into the same collective marketing category. SEO is still entirely necessary, hence why people who deride it still write articles implicitly seeking links and courting controversy, but social media is very much a worthy marketing cohort.

But I digress. Returning to the point at hand, the issue of Robert Scoble’s article is largely in the disparity between the title and content. Whilst the content is incendiary in so far as it claims that smaller companies should be looking at avenues other than SEO for their marketing in 2010, not true, but the title suggests that ‘SEO isn’t important’ – that’s a fallacy by most standards.

To counteract this, there is a way of writing a controversial title, helping to attract attention, but without the need for stirring outrage. A very good example of this can be found on the pages of Econsultancy.

What is Good Link Baiting?

A mere two days prior to the publication of Robert Scoble’s blog post, Patricio Robles wrote a piece, entitled ‘SEO is dead, long live SEO’. Alarm bells ringing, is this another SEO attack? Well it is and it isn’t. The post tackles the many issues surrounding the future of SEO and offers a reasoned argument to engage the audience and encourage discussion. This is good link baiting, it is positive and it works. Better still, the title is both SEO friendly (despite actually saying it’s dead) and will catch the attention of its target audience – Internet marketers.

There’s a lot to be said for stirring up the online hornet’s nest. Yes it will get you plenty of attention, but it could also end up stinging you – not least in terms of your reputation. You have to be thick-skinned if you are going to take this route, because invariably you will polarise an audience and in all likelihood will have a number of hacks, like myself, putting their two scents in with varying levels of vitriol.

Good link bait has a catchy title, offers something to debate and treads the fine line between the sensible and the controversial. It gets plenty of links and will have a largely positive. For me, bad link bait is just being controversial for the sake of it. Almost like a child taunting classmates in order to get a reaction; yes it will work, but the consequences are rarely worth the aggravation.

…and The Ugly

What’s the ugly side of link baiting? Well, using film analogies in your title,  writing over 1,000 words and publishing it on the Friday afternoon before Christmas are all probably up there. But essentially, if you are looking to attract attention and fail, then you have succumbed to the ugly side of link baiting. Whilst the good should always prevail over the bad, the ugly is always left behind unseen and largely.

Even by talking about it here, I am giving credence to the link baiting success of the aforementioned articles’; whether they be good or bad. So if you are looking to draw in some links and think that link baiting could be your thing, make sure you do your research first. Sometimes things will attract links organically and somewhat unexpectedly – perfect; but trying to force it by flying in the face of logic and stirring things up a little.

What are your opinions on link baiting? How much is down to the title alone and how important is it that the content justifies this heading? Do you agree with the good, bad and ugly analogy?

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Stephen Logan About the author

Stephen Logan

Stephen Logan is our Senior Content Marketer at Koozai. With four years experience writing exclusively for the search engine marketing industry, he has amassed a wealth of industry related knowledge. He will be breaking news stories and contributing compelling SEO related stories.

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