Write Interesting Stuff That People Will Link To (In Places They Will See It)

That is a (deliberately) rubbish headline!

“Link bait” is a catchier term.

Nick Wilson wrote a good, if partly defensive, post about link baiting in 2007, a term he coined (?) in 2005. In the post, Nick makes the point that “you need to put thoughts of manipulating the system to one side and focus entirely on providing value to your clients users and making that value easy to link to”.

A good point. However, the aim is to manipulate the system, and I doubt the manipulation will ever be too far from the link baiters mind. Manipulating the system to ones advantage is what marketers and seos do. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The most powerful marketing provides value for both the seller and the buyer, which is Nicks main point.

Link baiting also encapsulates a fundamental truth – in any crowded market, popularity counts. There is a nonsense often perpetrated by some SEOs – “producing quality content will attract links”. It doesn’t. Not by itself, anyway. Quality content needs to be placed somewhere where people will see it, and shaped in such a way as to encourage viral take-up. Quality content published on an unknown site is likely to be read by no one. Garbage content will often be read and parroted by thousands, so long as it is published on a popular site. SEO gurus who believe otherwise can conduct a simple test – publish articles on a new site, under a different pen name, and see if the quality content is enough to attract readers, links and attention.

The web is a popularity contest, thus the demand for marketers and marketing strategy.

However, I think there are more risks to link bait strategy than Nick makes out in that article. I’ll give you a an example. In a recent hacking event, many people didn’t believe that some top SEO blogs had been hacked because they suspected an elaborate link bait stunt. In other words, the past history of advocating and publishing link bait had come back to bite some of the bloggers involved. Readers did not trust what they were seeing, so wary were they of being misled, and who could blame them. Ironically, a reputation for link baiting can result in less links over time as readers become increasingly suspicious.

I find the term link bait to be pejorative. It screams manipulation of the reader, and as my example above illustrates, it can backfire. That is where the bad reputation is coming from, because no one likes to feel like they are being manipulated, and it will no doubt get worse as more people start using the strategy in inappropriate contexts. What’s the first rule of Fight Club? 😉

In some ways, the growing bad reputation is a shame. Link bait is really an old, proven marketing idea concerning popularity and appeals to self-interest. It is the art and craft of getting attention in a crowded space. Compared to some of the alternatives – begging for links – link baiting is a far more useful and productive strategy. In the hands of master marketers, it can be pure gold. But used blatantly, it can have unwanted side effects.

And like SEO, the strategy won’t fit all customers. Do Ferrari need to do SEO or link bait in order to sell more cars? No (although they could use a usability consultant). Their brand is more than enough to carry them. Attention getting stunts will most likely devalue premier brands. Too overt, and it can be perceived as being base and desperate, the very things Ferrari are not. Careful application of any marketing strategy is critical.

I look forward to reading Nicks upcoming ideas on attention getting 🙂

  1. graywolfgraywolf01-19-2007

    Anybody worth their salt would play on a brand’s existing strength and take it to 11 for example

    how about some pictorial linkbait, 50 years of Ferrari cars
    27 ferrari protypes that never made it to production
    Desktop Ferrari’s (lots of folks take pictures of ferrari models http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=ferrari+models)
    How about some videos of Ferrari Owner Fan Clubs from YouTube

  2. Peter Da VanzoPeter Da Vanzo01-19-2007

    Yes, a fair point, GW.

  3. King CobraKing Cobra09-01-2008

    I actually worry about “viral” inbound linking now as I’ve done a bit of that and for no reason other than too many links too fast have been penalized in SERPs and had to back off and lay low for awhile to get back to where I was.

    King Cobra Poker

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