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Link bait 101: from getting started to dos and don’ts

Wikipedia defines link bait as “any content or feature, within a website, designed specifically to gain attention or encourage others to link to the website”.

It sounds simple enough and for many people it is simple. Usually, these are the kinds of people who revel in attention in their personal lives and who have no problem regaling audiences with funny anecdotes or milking the drama out of a situation. They’re also usually blessed with more than their fair share of luck. The rest of us wallflowers have to try a little harder.

Let’s start at the very beginning (which, according to Julie Andrews, is a very good place to start).

Link bait is about getting attention. It doesn’t necessarily distinguish between good attention and bad attention; instead it focuses on the volume of direct traffic generated and links gained.

Given this rather broad ambition, link bait could be anything. It could be an article or blog post; an image, slideshow or video; a podcast or whitepaper; a badge, tool or widget. It can be funny, serious, scandalous, educational or newsworthy.

Now that we’ve established that, how does one create linkable link bait?

Link bait how-to

It’s been said that for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. If we take it at its loosest meaning, this means that the less work you put into your link bait efforts the less likely it is to have an impact.

From this we can infer that link bait starts with some work.

1) Narrow down the link bait’s broad objective to something more concrete. Do you want to educate or entertain? Are you willing to risk controversy or would you rather enhance your reputation?

2) Decide who you want to talk to. You must have an audience in mind. Do you want to engage your peers or create something for your customers? Perhaps you want to attract new customers and have decided on the Goth market.

3) Conduct some research on your intended audience. Who exactly are your peers and what are they doing online? What do your customers care about? How big is the Goth market?

4) Pick a topic based on your audience. If you’re in interior design and have indeed decided that Goths are your new target you should know that they are unlikely to be interested in how yellow brightens a room, but if yellow has an obscure effect on depression you might get their attention.

5) Pick a format. Are Goths likely to respond to a humorous blog post or would they find an atmospheric video more compelling?

Link bait format

Now let’s look at some of the different link bait hooks:

  • The scoop: Pretend for a minute that you are an award-winning investigative journalist and sniff out something that no one else knows about. It could be that a particular brand of yellow paint is actually carcinogenic, or perhaps a drug cartel was smuggling opium in paint tins, which were accidentally sold. Maybe it’s less dramatic; orange could be about to usurp yellow as the favourite colour in kitchens.If breaking news is hard to find take something that is old, tried, tested and trusted and turn it on its head. Approach it from an entirely different angle so that it sounds like a scoop. Maybe you’ve conducted some studies and found that yellow isn’t as cheery as people think it is and that it causes nervous breakdowns? That’s something worth knowing.
  • The lesson: People like to learn things (it’s exams they’re not so fond of), so give them something they didn’t know. In your 10 years in the interior design business you’ve learnt the most efficient way to hang wallpaper, so share it. You also have a foolproof technique for getting glue off leather couches; that’s something a lot of people would find handy.
  • The prize: Who doesn’t like to win something? How often have you heard people say, “I’ve never won anything in my life”? You can change that with an easy competition and a worthwhile prize. Not only does the competition have to be easy, but it also has to be easy to enter. Don’t ask people online to send a postcard or call a number. All they want to do is click a button and fill in their email address.Have them guess how many doornails are in a glass jar. You could even get your website developer to make the jar shake with sound effects. You could have a virtual colour wheel which spins when it’s clicked and anyone who lands on yellow gets a 10% discount on their next purchase (include a unique bar code or number for them to quote or print out).
  • Aim for the funny bone: This is easier said than done because humour is subjective. There are, however, a few common themes which most people seem to find funny, such as falling down. Put together a video compilation of (mostly harmless) accidents while on the job. People will get a kick out of watching your assistant step into a paint tray and then walk on an uncovered carpet, or seeing your client’s Maltese Poodle rub herself on a freshly painted wall.Be very careful not to overdo it though. Avoid toilet humour and don’t work too hard for the laughs.
  • Walk on the wild side: Throw caution to the wind and create something controversial. This comes with certain warnings though: don’t pick on a competitor (mudslinging tends to backfire) and don’t lie (you will be caught out).

Other general link bait do nots include:

  • Don’t spam.
  • Don’t ignore comments or feedback.
  • Don’t go over the top.
  • Don’t plagiarise.
  • Don’t forget to credit your sources.

What other tips and warnings do you have for successful link baiting?

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