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Brand Protection vs. Link Baiting

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Any publicity is good publicity…

I’ve never believed this old adage – I think it’s an arrogant dismissal by incompetent marketers who can’t manage their public relations properly. Until recently it has never really been a big concern in the online world, but with an explosion of online communities over the past few years and the more recent increase in link baiting and brand protection services, perhaps online marketing professionals should be taking their branding more seriously?

If I could be bothered hunting down “how to” link bait articles, you’d see that most recommend undertaking some kind of negative efforts in order to spark off some link love to your site. A war with another blogger. A campaign against a well known brand. Posting inaccurate information to tempt righteous bloggers to correct you. Etc. I’m sure most people who read this blog have already seen such articles, so no need to rehash them here.

Let’s consider some examples.

A while back, Brett Tabke banned all bots from WebmasterWorld. While this wasn’t intended link bait as such (it had a technical justification), it did serve as link bait for WmW. Did they get more links and coverage? Yes. Did they suffer any negative impact? No.

They didn’t lose any traffic (that they didn’t want to get rid of). They didn’t lose any users over the experiment. The site and business hasn’t suffered from it – in fact, a lot of people had a little more respect for Brett & WmW at the time for having the balls to ditch all search traffic as an experiment.

While this isn’t a great example (it wasn’t an intentional link bait exercise), it does show how positive link bait can lead to positive results.

On the other hand, 2006 saw countless cases of companies screwing up their branding online by handling their online PR badly. While not all of these are because of stupid link baiting, the end results are the same. Perhaps the companies have received more exposure because of it, but what is the long term impact of this?

Zipatoni launched a splog for the Sony PSP and ended up getting slated by pretty much everyone over it. What’s worse is that their response was grossly inadequate for the scale of their screw up and ended up compounding their failure. Now search for “Zipatoni” and you find a great deal of negative results in the top 20.

Another example from 2006 is Big Mouth Media’s ban from Google. While this is an embarrassing slip up in itself (which was rectified pretty quickly), their response to critics in the SEO community was arrogant and badly presented and made the whole affair much worse for them when Matt Cutts told the SEO world that they were in fact penalised from Google (and it wasn’t a mistake as BMM claimed). Again, search for “Big Mouth Media” and you find negative results (this from a company that offers online brand protection services).

In both these examples it was entirely within the control of the companies to manage these negative situations properly, but in both cases they failed to do so and it resulted in much more negative publicity.

Was any publicity, good publicity in these cases?

Well, there is the SEO argument that says “yes”. After all, they did get a lot of link love from various sources so perhaps it will help them in the long term in terms of improved rankings and traffic. Notice I haven’t linked out to them just now – I’m not a link scrooge – I just do see any point in rewarding stupidity. If I thought for a second that these were well planned link bait campaigns and not simple screw ups I’d probably have more respect for them!

However, what happens when clients carry out due diligence before they sign up for services provided by these marketing agencies? While a Google search might not be the first thing they do, it is fairly likely it will be part of the research. Will a client want the services of an agency that has caused an international uproar for a major brand client or an agency that have themselves been unable to assure the service they are offering?

The overall impact is debatable and obviously there are many other factors in the client decision making process, but the point is do we really want to throw some negative factors into the mix?

Link baiting is a short term exercise that can potentially have long term positive results, but I think that all too often people neglect to consider the long term negative results as well.

Credit to those who do link bait well – it can be a useful tool, just as SEO can be. But as with SEO, many take the basic concepts and run with them without looking too deeply into the strategic implications they can have on their site, business or brand.

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Scott Boyd (aka Marketing Guy) is an Edinburgh based online marketing consultant with over 6 years experience in the industry. He is the founder of SEO agency eFlaunt, where he mixes a
blend of traditional marketing and SEO.

Scott’s musings relating to the marketing and SEO industries can be found on his blog – Fused Nation.

Brand Protection vs. Link Baiting
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