Is Linkbait The Web’s Paparazzi?

    March 16, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

SEOmoz’s Rand Fishkin wonders if the unsavory real world of celebrity photographers has an online equivalent in linkbaited content.

Is Linkbait The Web's Paparazzi?
Is Linkbait The Web’s Paparazzi?

How much attention is too much? Online, site publishers crave the massive boost of traffic a front page link on Digg or Slashdot can give it. Compared to the interest millions of people have in celebrities, the latest list on 12 ways to keep your blog fresh represents barely a drop in the riptide of traffic someone like Britney Spears can attract.

That led to a dilemma posted at Rand’s website. Originally a forum post, Rand brought it to his blog to generate further discussion.

The post began as a SEM pro asked whether or not, or how to, take advantage of Britney’s presence at a rehab facility run by Promises Treatment Centers. The SEM has Promises as a client. What to do, the SEM wondered:

Ideas from the crass (like a "Where in the World is Britney Spears" game) to the noble (a site expressing support for Britney during her treatment at Promises) ran through my head. What better form of linkbait? People are swamping our site – most of them in vain attempts to find out information about her treatment.

In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. Aside from it being counter to how Promises runs their facilities, Britney Spears, for all of her flaws, is a human being and deserves not to be exploited. Sometimes, search has to take the backseat to common decency.

Rand opined on this in response:

Is linkbait the paparazzi of the web? Where do we draw the line on exploiting events for links? I’ve personally been accused quite a bit of exploiting my own engagement in much the same way and have seen that criticism extend to other linkbait plays as well. Are we playing in dangerous territory by creating viral content that is intentionally manipulative (as opposed to the old SEO tactics of creating standard content that was intentionally manipulative, but less popular so fewer people complained)?

Lisa Barone considered the issue in a post at the Bruce Clay blog about the reputation of SEMs who might go for the viral gusto:

Even if you were able to create something “funny” and you gained some links and exposure, the long-term effects could be forever damaging. You’ll lose credibility with your target audience, respect (and links) from your colleagues, and likely tarnish the brand you’ve worked so hard to create.

If you’re saying, publishing, or creating something that hurts others and/or is potentially damaging, to anyone, you’ve crossed the line and you need to reevaluate your business goals. At some point (it) is not about what kind of a site you’re running, but what kind of a person you are.

What kind of person are you, dear reader? What price SEM glory? Comments are open.