Link bait is an ugly term. Unless you’re a fisherman, ‘bait’ in particular, whether used as a noun or a verb, doesn’t paint a very nice picture. Personally I imagine impaled worms wiggling on hooks or the act of luring someone in with an empty promise or offering. Not nice.
In the web world, the use of link bait is quite common and in contrast to its ugly name, it can be an effective, above-board way of gaining traffic, attention and the much sought after incoming links to your website: all good things. But first the basics: what is link bait? Here’s my working definition:
Good link bait – the kind that will have positive outcomes for your reputation and business – is compelling content that is on point with your brand and offering. It is created strategically around a topic that holds a particular level of current relevance and interest. Ideally, you want people to get so excited about this content that they share it with their networks and link to it on their own websites.
The Good Content Conundrum
One of the most common pieces of advice you will get about how to improve the popularity and increase the traffic of your blog is: write good content. That’s great advice that should be taken to heart, but it isn’t always enough.
According to a study by Royal Pingdom, as of December 2009 there were 234 million websites online, with 47 million of those being added in 2009 alone. As web technologies become faster, cheaper and more accessible, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see that number rise exponentially. Of those 234 million sites, 126 million were blogs. At the time Pingdom published their report there were 27.3 million daily Tweets, 350 million people on Facebook, 500,000 active Facebook applications, 4 billion images hosted by Flickr and one billion videos on Youtube. That’s a lot of content to compete with. It’s true that much of it is rubbish, but there are a lot of people creating brilliant, thoughtful and intelligent content and many of them are individuals you’ve never heard of because they get lost in the noise of the online space.
So yes, it’s important to write good content, but you probably need to do more, particularly if you are blogging to meet a business need. Paying the rent and putting food on the table is far from being an abstract concept.
At Contentini we’ve had some success with creating strategic content that has resulted in a huge amount of traffic and incoming links from reputable sites like Boing Boing. In previous incarnations, we’ve attracted mentions and incoming links from the likes of Robert Scoble, Smashing Magazine, Kevin Kelly and O’Reilly, which is the main force behind the page rank of 7 that website still maintains. It’s important for you to know that none of this happened by accident. As part of our content and SEO strategy, we knew that in order to get attention we would need to be thoughtful about crafting content aimed towards certain high traffic sites and power people. It’s about writing to your ideal audience member and then doing your best to let them know about it.
Six Things You Need to Know About Link Bait
Link bait needs to be relevant to who you are and what you do. If you are a web consultancy with no interest in pop culture, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense for you to write a puff piece about the television show Glee and then vie for the attention of Perez Hilton. I often see links with titles like: “How Your SEO Strategy is Like a Bruce Willis Movie” and it’s pretty rare that I click on them because they are usually filler with very little real substance. The titles of your posts are important, but you will do damage to your reputation if you lure people to your site under false pretences. The same rules apply to link bait as to your other content – don’t be phoney and don’t waste people’s time.
Timing is everything. One of the most popular posts we wrote on Contentini was An Analysis of UK Parliamentary Language: 1935 – 2010. We wrote the post shortly after the national election in the UK, when political change and disillusionment were at the forefront of the minds of many people. The unpopular Digital Economy Bill had also recently been weaselled through the system, which had people more engaged in politics, particularly in the web-sphere, then probably had been in a long time. If we were to publish the same article today, I don’t know that it would have had the same response.
Apart from keeping up with news and pop culture, always with a mind to how you can add value to mainstream hot topics, you may want to occasionally check in with the Google Trends tool, which allows you to view a list of the most popular search terms in real-time. Twitter trending information is another great barometer for measuring what people are talking about.
Knowledgeable and conscientious promotion of your content is essential. Although there are never any guarantees, if you write something that is highly relevant and you promote it knowledgeably through the right channels, there is a decent chance that someone will pick up on it. In our case we were fortunate enough that Cory Doctorow linked to our post on Boing Boing, driving tens of thousands of visitors our way, many who also linked to and circulated the post.
In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character is told, “If you build it, they will come.” Perhaps this is true once you reach the level of the likes of Gary Vaynerchuk (a man with notorious hustle), but for the thousands (millions?) of us working in the middle, it’s a naïve dream to think that your job is done once you’ve hit the ‘Publish’ button on a post. It’s crucial to be well read and to keep up with bloggers and websites that publish content relevant to your niche. Make a list of the top twenty websites you want to be featured on and make sure to include their special interests and the names of writers who tend to cover the kind of content that is most relevant to you. When you are planning your upcoming posts, consider which, if any should be promoted to these top twenty, keeping in mind that you may gain speedy entry to the spam folder if you regularly send submissions that are off point. Although few things beat a great mention and link from a website you admire, it’s also important to share your content on Twitter, Facebook and various relevant forums like LinkedIn; take every honest action you can to ensure your content gets eyeballs on it.
Value-added link bait is a lot of work. For our post on Parliamentary Language, we downloaded the parliamentary debates as raw data and wrote a script that removed common words (the, at, sir, etc.). We grouped the remaining words into a database by year and then proceeded to analyse the information – looking for patterns, reasons for those patterns and eventually, expressing what we found in easy-to-understand charts. It was a lot of work and we did it all with no guarantee that we would have any kind of success.
There are two ways to improve your odds of creating content that gets attention: say something over-the-top, rude or contentious and risk your readers and potential customers thinking you are an out-of-touch ass, or invest time and energy in creating content that offers something new and valuable.
Unless you really are a jerk and it’s part of your brand, don’t act like one. Many people think that in order to get attention on the web they must be contrary or offensive. Like the child who throws a tantrum in the supermarket, many who use this tactic will almost certainly elicit a reaction in the form of comments, links, and the storm of tweets that sometimes surround these kinds of posts. But unless you are Bill O’Reilly and you make your living by saying often insulting, ill-informed or wrong-minded things to others, all that attention will probably do you more harm than good. The kid who acts out just for the sake of doing so is usually not invited to the birthday parties. Remember that.
Plan to prolong the connection. With some hard work and a bit of luck, you may suddenly see a huge influx of new visitors on your website. They will come and quite quickly they will move on, and likely they’ll forget all about you and your brilliant content. Make sure you are providing the right cues that encourage people to form a lasting connection with you and your site: how noticeable is your subscribe button?; is your call to action prominent?; is it easy for people to find links to your social media profiles?; is it easy for them to share your content? These elements should be considered well in advance of a link bait related boost in visitors. How do you convert first time readers to regular visitors?
Link Bait and Editorial Strategy
Content strategists generally agree that there is an important business case to be made for investing in a plan for your content that is founded on a scientific process. There’s no black magic: just strategy that leads to actionable items and measurable outcomes. We want to make sure that what you have on your website makes sense, is well considered, designed with the user in mind, has your business objectives at heart, and that your content isn’t so unwieldy that you are unable to keep it relevant.
Creating link bait should not take precedence over any of these things, but for the person or business that has done everything right but is still not seeing the kind of return on readership numbers they are hoping for, it is an option worthy of consideration. It takes the ‘write good content’ tip a step further into actionable steps that can improve the odds that your website is read, talked about and linked to. Contrary to what some people think, link bait is neither quick or easy and doing it right requires a lot of thoughtful consideration.
One of my favourite definitions for ‘link bait’ is on The Hatcher Group site. They define it as “useful or entertaining web content, which compels users to link.” Now if only we could think of less offensive term to describe this practice … maybe link candy? Then we could leave baiting for the spammers.
Image Credit: Mom’s Bait Shop by Protoflux