The Links That Can’t Be Baited

This linkbait buzz is starting to wear a little. Please don’t get the wrong idea. I’m very much pro-linkbait. I’m a fan. Guys like Nick Wilson, Rand Fishkin, Todd Malicoat, Andy Hagans and Aaron Wall are geniuses in how they hook links. But while linkbaiting may be glamorous, what about the links that can’t be baited?

I know it’s fun and exciting to see your shiny new content get on the front page of Digg. Seeing a video go viral is a thrill. Yes, doing the linkbait thing on behalf of a client and having success is a rush. I get it. I’ve even done it inadvertently, unintentionally. LinkMoses Linking Commandments – Part I was not created to attract links. It was done as a joke to get back at those who made fun of my lengthy tenure in this profession. But I’ll take the 3,000 new links, thank you very much.

Still, there are links that can’t be baited — or are extremely unlikely to happen despite your success with the social media sites like Digg or StumbleUpon. These unbaitable links are those that won’t appear unless a human with real knowledge of a subject (and a desire to evaluate and aggregate links) determines your content to be relevant, worthy, and useful enough that they edit the HTML of their site to include a link to it.

Examples are not very exciting, but they are at the heart of the link building challenge. Take the page called Libraries in South Dakota. Yes, I agree, snooze. But that page earned a link right here. It may be the only link the page will ever get, but there it is. Try baiting that link through Digg. It will never happen. OK, almost certainly never happen!

Links that can’t be baited exist in every possible subject area, not just for South Dakota libraries. The unsung heroes of the web are the people who take the time to do sincere content evaluation, selection, and organization with no real motivation other than to help other web users find those great sites and pages that might otherwise never be found.

The Scout Report is a great example. It’s been around as long as I have. If you’ve never heard of it, you just proved my point. Google sure as heck knows about The Scout Report. I have a hunch that the Google link quality algorithm knows about it as well. Susan Calcari is a name you should know. She’s gone now, but not forgotten.

How about a regional example? See San Diego’s Monthly Best of The WebI suppose you could bait that one if you really wanted to. If your site is related to San Diego. And travel. And oh yeah, is useful….

Some venues represent that unique combination of being heavily human edited, huge traffic funnels and also open to linkbait. The classic example is Yahoo Picks of The Week. They took this bait last June. But for every Yahoo Picks of The Week, there’s a thousand links pages run by people with no search engine affiliation, no SEO motivation, no idea about linkbait and no knowledge of Digg, much less what’s on the Digg home page.

Consider these:

  • Links about grease and lubricants
  • Links about the cartoon series The Simpson’s
  • Links about the long-tongued fruit bat

How about a links page for those of you who are deaf, play basketball, and live in the Southwest? Bingo. Bait that, pal.

I’m not making fun, just the opposite. I’m zealously passionate about the link building process. I’ve spent more time at it than any other person in the world, and I’m proud that I can say it, since few people get to be that focused and intense. I love the purity of real link building for real content for the long haul. Every piece of content has its "rightful" links. Links that last.  Not very glamorous, but real.

Such links will come from people with an editorial passion that can’t be bought or baited. And they’ll often come because you roll up your sleeves and do the hard work of reaching out to them one-by-one. More time consuming than linkbait? Sure. Less glamorous. Sure. Important? Absolutely, especially if the algorithms learn to distinguish between links that were baited and links that were netted in, one at a time.

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.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building: Linkbait


About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via

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  • graywolf

    Want to get some SMO links to that South Dakota Library page, hold a Charity read-a-thon and invite some playboy bunnies over. Be sure to publish a full photo set on the web. Know what you’ll probably get a huge onrush of actual foot traffic too.

    Not to say that link baiting should be replaced by more traditional link building, it should be used to augment it. If you only do one without the other it’s like only having a hammer in your toolbox.

    Let’s be honest we live in a world where people have an attention deficit, if you can go that little extra bit to get some extra eyeballs on your piece I say do it.

    Also people need to be mindful of the new changes google is making toward personalization, I’ve been saying it for a long time but getting your URL to pass through someone’s google toolbar, in there gmail inbox with a correspondingly tracked click, or added to their google reader list of feeds is more important now than ever.

  • Philipp Lenssen

    “Linkability” should always be a secondary thought, and related as much as possible to accessibility. If you create something just to be linked, not because you are passionate about it, you are wasting your life time.

  • graywolf

    Writing, creating, building, producing, or doing something that is interesting, humorous, entertaining, intellectually stimulating, or thought proviking is never bad. Things like that are always going to have a high “linkability” factor, and if you don’t toot your own horn about them no one else will.

    So what if I did something “shocking” to get people’s attention, if they enjoyed “the story” you were telling, the only people who lose are the people who won’t “advertise” to get your attention.

  • Brian Clark

    With a little imagination anything can be publicized, which can then result in links. Some things are tougher than others, but resigning yourself to an “unbaitable” conclusion for certain topics sounds like giving up to me.

    For example, there are tons of San Diego local bloggers, and likely even directories that make them easy to find (I know that’s true in DFW). So how hard is it to come up with an angle that catches the attention of those bloggers? Sure you have to mix in a little email promotion to kick it off, but once it gets going it can easily turn viral in a closed loop community like that, where everyone reads one another.

  • eric_ward

    I agree that ANY link is baitable. That’s holistic linking at it’s most clever. Ten years ago web cams were the bait for
    But just because you *can* wont make it strategically valuable. Like white papers, or widgits, or toolbars, or wikis, or whatever comes next. Crap is crap is crap. The art of baiting isn’t in getting the links, it’s in recognizing what your bait should be and why.

  • Brian Clark

    From your article:

    “what about the links that can’t be baited?”

    From your comment:

    “I agree that ANY link is baitable.”

    Which is it?

  • eric_ward

    What I’m saying is if you really want to, you can create content that will be bait for any links page. But why would a site that sells industrial lubricants want to create link bait for a page about long-tongued fruit bats? Re-read what I’m saying. An unbaitable link is when human editors with a passion for a topic will only link to content that matches their criteria for links. Yes, you can spend your life creating the content that will appeal to that editor, but if it has nothing to do with your business, then why?

  • graywolf

    >But why would a site that sells industrial lubricants want to create link bait for a page about long-tongued fruit bats?

    The point with linkbait isn’t to appeal to a narrow niche audience, that’s where your traditional link building, or precision link building ninja’s come in.

    The key point of link baiting is to target a wide segment of the population. Appeal to the masses, or more specifically the masses who are out-link friendly.

  • eric_ward

    > The point with linkbait isn’t to appeal to a narrow niche audience

    I respectfully disagree. Linkbaiting the widest possible audience is certainly a viable strategy, but so is linkbaiting a narrow audience. The whole link ninja thing is clever, but as a person doing targeted link baiting since those ninjas were toddlers, for me it’s far more challenging–and fun– when you have a very specific audience you want to appeal to. Once upon a time I was working with a site devoted to long distance running. This is a site that today is known by anyone who runs marathons. When they launched they had a fairly narrow audience of targets for publicity and links. I asked them if they had a way to create an online marathon training calendar, or some other types of running training calculators. After some discussion they built them, and they still exist today. The calculators were the bait that took them from a handful of links to hundreds of thousands of links. All from running specific sites. Natural links over time, never requested, never ninja’d.

    That said, note that I proudly call myself the original ninja. I was seeking topical links for sites in 1993. I remember one project for a southern coffee manufacturer. There were less than 20 places to seek links for such a site back then (like usenet newsgroups)and believe me, it took every bit of ninja I could muster to find them :) That site is long gone now, but the seeds from the linking work still exist, thanks to Google. Have a look.

    OK. now I feel REAL old…


  • graywolf

    {quietly loosens a few screws on Eric’s walker when he’s not looking}

  • TheFounder

    LOL!! Graywolf — is this where all the old threadwatch members live now?

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