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Stephen Logan

The Anatomy of Effective Linkbait

8th Nov 2010 SEO, Link Building | 1 Comment


We’ve all seen flagrant attempts to create a little online stir. Whether it’s from content that’s obtuse, innovative, controversial or informative, linkbait comes in many guises. The purpose though is always the same – get attention, go viral, create inbound links.

But pulling off the perfect linkbait takes a certain amount of skill – even if you are treading a well worn path. That skill has to be off-set with a fair chunk of luck (in so far as it has to get picked up) and a little judgement – ensuring that you market it correctly.

Not all linkbait is deviously premeditated of course. Often a great piece of investigative work, new online technology or entertaining writing will take off – completely independently of the author. That’s the luck of the draw (and the benefit of being original, insightful and talented).

So what is the formula for the perfect piece of linkbait?

Like any good chemical compound, a combination of elements need to be perfectly aligned for it to succeed [see: Link Baiting: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly]. But there are variables, dependent on the method and desired reaction to your content. Below are three of the most common linkbait genres.

Controversial

If you want to get noticed, causing universal outrage can be surprisingly effective. Those who simply toe the line might be safe from reputational damage, but they aren’t likely to get massive exposure either.

So what do you do, stir the hornet’s nest a little? No, you have get up there and head-butt it! The more outlandish your proposition (assuming some level of plausibility), the more successful it will be. Let’s take one of the more obvious and (over) used examples.

In online marketing circles, the best way to get a lot of attention quickly is to proclaim that SEO is dead. You don’t even need to be clever or cute about it, you don’t even need to believe what you’re saying. If you write it, they will come.

Not convinced? Search for “SEO is Dead” (quotation marks included) on Google. You’ll find 47,700 exact matches.

Alright, not entirely convincing evidence in itself.

But let’s take a recent example – SEO Is Dead, And The New King Is ‘SMO’. The article is just a plug within a plug, nothing special at all in terms of originality or concept. It’s been cobbled together by the founder of Wetpaint, Ben Elowitz, and hosted on paidcontent.org – neither of whom, I think it would be fair to say, are household names.

The truly clever part of the article is its title. If it was simply ‘SMO is the future for online businesses’ it would probably have received a moderate level of interest. Chuck ‘SEO is Dead’ at the front, bingo – you’ve got linkbait.

But did it work?

The article got a fair amount of interest from industry blogs and news sites, including Econsultancy – SEO is Dead. Again. It was tweeted by 1,908 people, shared 838 times on Facebook and garnered 71 comments – pretty decent. Whilst this is great for a profile boost, the long-term benefits are found in the amount of links it encouraged.

So how many links do you think this one article received (using Site Explorer as the measuring tool)?

50? 100? 200 perhaps? Wrong on all counts. SEO Is Dead, And The New King Is ‘SMO’ attracted 1,703 links (albeit a good number are from internal pages). That’s more than a lot of sites ever achieve.

This isn’t the first time this type of article has surfaced and succeed, and, more likely than not, it won’t be the last either.

Why attack a person when you can go after an entire industry? The bigger your target, the more hubbub you can cause.

Informative

If you’re not of an argumentative persuasion you might instead fancy creating something that visitors will value. It might not have that massive initial impact, but slow burners can often snowball into long-term sources of linking love.

The big boys tend to dominate these areas. Professional journalists who are better connected than a silver screen mob boss, have a distinct advantage when it comes to souring stories – leaving most with the scraps.

If cutting edge news isn’t your thing, then perhaps research and development is. If you’re testing things for your day job and find something exciting or new, share it with the world.

Informative guides can attract clicks from all over your industry, resulting in bookmarked content and a lovely slew of links. But you have to be presenting something fresh and with a broad appeal to get the uptake you deserve. A new spin on an old story isn’t going to cut it.

You have to be dynamic and offer something new – preferably with the evidence to back it up. SEOmoz is always a great resource for this. Besides their weekly Whiteboard Friday presentation, which always attracts the assembled hordes, the site also features regular posts from their in-house team of experts with data-aplenty to back up tutorials as well as guest articles from industry professionals.

This isn’t an advert for SEOmoz, there are plenty of others who provide a similar kind of service, but if you can create content of this ilk then your linkbait credentials can improve many times over.

Innovative

Linkbait isn’t the solve preserve of content though. If you’re a programmer, designer, photographer or graphical artist, you can create something entirely unique and innovative and enjoy the linking benefits.

Whether it’s a piece of free software or just a funny picture, innovation that appeals to the masses has every chance of going viral. Once people are aware of what you’re producing, half the battle is already won. Reputation and popularity are catalysts in the linkbaiting cycle.

If you want to see how simple creating innovative content that resonates with people is, visit The Oatmeal. Essentially it is just a site with a long line of humorous, oddball cartoons. Nothing more complicated than that.

As a copywriter, I’m particularly fond of their ‘How To Use An Apostrophe‘ guide. It’s simple, funny and actually quite helpful. But clearly I’m not alone as the page has so far generated 4,137 links (as well as 26,000 Facebook shares and 2,486 Tweets). That dwarfs the ‘SEO is Dead’ diatribe and is far less offensive (or inaccurate).

Conclusion

If you want to create linkbait you have to be able to stand out. If it’s a written piece, give it a title that will get attention (and also explains the piece of course). You want to attract clicks when people are sifting through their social feeds and search engine results so give it impact.

It can’t be a rehashing of ideas that have been presented (better) elsewhere. People will share things that they find interesting or that might help others – they don’t just pass on generic nonsense. Like in any business, if you’re offering something that your competitors can’t you stand a better chance of attracting a broader audience.

Don’t assume that you can force linkbaiting, it doesn’t always work like that. Look to be creative, innovative and get a leg up on the competition. The link rewards will come if you are able to succeed with all of the above.

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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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