Last summer, I was asked for my personal definition of the term "linkbait." In a column titled Link Bait Kool-Aid, I wrote that linkbait was "more or less anything you create anywhere on the web that inspires other people to link to it." The link to your bait can come from another web page, from a blog, from a social media sharing site (bookmarks, news, videos or whatever), from a tagging site or even from an email newsletter. In a nutshell, anywhere you are with a mouse and a clickable link can be viewed as a potential target venue for link seeking via linkbait.
There are several motivations for seeking links via linkbait creation. The most obvious motivation is improved search rank. Get a bunch of links, and your site’s search rank will improve. Not every time, but often enough to inspire a whole new micro-niche in what was already a niche industry.
After search rank, another key motivation for seeking links via linkbait is increased click traffic. Get your link on the front page at Digg, Newsvine, Netscape, Reddit, Technorati or for that matter, any of the sources you find at popurls, and the result can be traffic spikes that cause headaches like these and this for webmasters.
For some sites, there can also be a residual linking effect. Some of the people visiting Digg will learn about your site for the first time, and they might like it so much they link to it from their own site or blog or wherever. Call it trickle-down-linking. Links beget links. The filthy linking rich get filthy linking richer.
There are several rarely discussed fundamental flaws to practice of linkbaiting. The most obvious flaw is that the most valuable IBLs (inbound links) for any given piece of content are completely different. Most linkbait strategies I see ignore this fundamental concept.
An example I’ve mentioned before is the Diet Coke/Mentos fountain video. Sure it’s funny. It’s clever, it’s fascinating. I’ve watched it many times. And then I go back to my day. I didn’t buy anything, didn’t click an ad. I didn’t subscribe to anything. I came, I saw. I left.
On the other hand, the flurry of popularity and links the video sparked did actually result in some links that have some residual benefit, as nearly 500 .edu based sites mention or link to it. But not every video goes viral with a scientific angle that inspires links from teachers, and copycats dilute the power of the original.
Whatever your linkbait is, it will appeal to a certain segment of the online population. The rest of us will never see it unless by pure chance. In this regard, there really is no difference between linkbait and other type of online content. You can only expect linkbait to travel so far on its own or via the big buzz venues mentioned earlier. And no matter what steps you take to help ease the sharing of the content, it may never reach the most relevant audience most inclined to link to it.
Some types of content engender links from a wide variety of targets. For me one of the single best example of this is The Weather Channel’s Weather On Your Site. Here’s my announcement of it, nearly four years ago. We didn’t call it linkbait back then, we called it "useful content." The Weather Channel example is also a rarity. After all, anyone with a web site and a zip code can add a weather forecast. The web helped The Weather Channel connect forecasts and zip codes and HTML code, and the rest is linking history. The odds are your linkbait doesn’t have the universal appeal and potential of The Weather Channel or Diet Coke / Mentos. What do you do then?
If you are considering implementing a linkbait strategy, do some homework before you spend money creating the bait. What is the goal? Who is the most likely person to link to your content, and where can those people be found? Can they be found online at all? (Hint: if your content is geared towards an academic or librarian audience, Digg is nearly pointless). What types of content will they link to it from? How do you properly reach out to them when seeking a link? What will the effect of any obtained links be?
The answers to these questions is likely to be as different as the content itself. When I was seeking links for the first Times Square Web Cam (what we now call linkbait), I approached the process in a far different way than I did for the Children’s Hospital Boston Virtual Stem Cell Laboratory.
The universe of potential linkers to your content often cannot be found hanging out at Digg, Newsvine, Netscape, Reddit, Technorati or any other online popularity contest oriented site. I’m not saying ignore these venues. I’m saying you need to take into consideration that the most useful links of all will come from an online audience that doesn’t depend on the collective wisdom of others. These folks must be identified and reached in ways that the linkbaiter usually ignores or misses.
Eric Ward has been in the link building and content publicity game since 1994, providing services ranking from linking strategy to a monthly private newsletters on linking for subscribers, The Ward Report. The Link Week column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.