Link Bait: The Down Side

One of the hot topics in the SEO community over the past couple of years has been link bait. It is often characterized as an obvious good – why wouldn’t anyone try and get links – however, as with any marketing strategy, it has pros and cons.

What is link bait?

Link bait is content that is predominately published to attract links, usually as part of an overall inbound linking strategy. Otherwise, the “bait” would presumably be called content.

What’s the problem?

The success of link bait depends on how well the activity supports a marketing strategy.

If your marketing strategy demands you get links, then publishing an article people want to link to makes obvious sense.

However, let’s take a step back.

  • What links do you need, and what is the true cost of acquiring them?
  • What visitors do you want to follow the links?
  • What action do you want visitors to take?

While receiving links and attention from tech geeks in, say, Digg might be a success in terms of attracting inbounds, will it really help you if you want to sell, say, trucks? You may gain some side-effect SEO benefits in terms of boosted rankings due to the increased number of links (maybe), but there may also be an opportunity cost. The time spent writing the link bait and tracking performance could have been better spent placing a “Trucks for Sale” advertisement on a trucking site.

Seth Godin has two great pieces of marketing advice which relate to link bait.

1) Be remarkable i.e. be worth remarking upon. The best link bait has this quality, with an emphasis on the word “worth”, but it should also exist in the context of your marketing strategy. If you’re a computer hardware vendor, being remarked on by teenagers might not help you shift many high-end routers, compared to other avenues.

2) Being noticed is not the same as being remarkable – Running down the street naked will get you noticed, but it won’t accomplish much. It’s easy to pull off a stunt, but not useful.

This second point is a potential downside with link bait, depending on the type of relationship you wish to have with your audience. Would Bill Gates have sold more copies of his operating system to corporates if he had ran around naked? Maybe. More likely, his credibility may have suffered with those customers. Likewise, if link bait drifts away from being worth remarking on in terms of its utility to readers, and towards being a stunt simply designed to get noticed, then there is a danger that your audience may take you less seriously than if you had used another approach.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with link bait, and it can certainly be worthwhile. Personally, I don’t particularly like the term, or the tactic. For one thing, it demeans the reader. Secondly, it often brings out the worst aspects of viral marketing – the annoying aspects. The short-termism. The stunt. The running around naked. It can get tedious, unless the person doing the running is Cameron Diaz. Perhaps even that might get tedious, after a while.

There is one concept of link-baiting strategy I find valuable, however. Unfortunately, good content doesn’t promote itself. Good content is just as likely to get buried as bad content, because the web has increasingly become a popularity contest. Good content often needs to be marketed, in order to be seen, in order to become more popular.

How far you’re prepared to go in order to become popular is for you to decide.

But the first consideration should be: popular with whom?

  1. Natasha RobinsonNatasha Robinson01-09-2007

    And the other downside for the reader: If you are constantly assualted by linkbait from a favorite source, your trust in that source declines. And instead of naturally clicking over to read the article, you think to yourself, “Is this Linkbait?”.

    Side rant: If I have to see another title that has Matt Cutts or Google in it for no other reason than LinkBait, I’m gonna sing (bet you thought I would say scream). And I am a terrible singer!

  2. Peter Da VanzoPeter Da Vanzo01-09-2007

    Natasha, indeed.

    I think the reader feels like they’re someone being conned, which is a serious downside in terms of brand and relationship building.

    Aaron Wall had a good quote recently (can’t find it at the moment – perhaps Aaron will chime in) – he was talking about search engines have made everything ubiquitous.

    The only way to differentiate will be with brand and with relationships. So, we should think carefully before we risk compromising either of those two things.

Leave a Reply