Link Bait: The Path To An Improved Web

    November 15, 2006

With link bait becoming such a popular and successful tactic in SEO it was only a matter of time before people started rallying against it as the most evil thing to hit the world of marketing sincewellsince, whatever was the last successful SEO tactic.

Maybe it hasn’t gotten quite that bad, but there’s an awful lot of cynicism surrounding the idea of link bait now and I have to ask why that is.

Take this thread at the Cre8site forums, which asks Is Link-bait Ruining The Web?, which actually raises a lot of valid points about how content is being sensationalized and built with a temporary goal in mind in this the era of link baiting. A slightly older thread that turned a cynical eye toward link bait is this one from Small Business Brief that wonders When Are SEO Firms Going To Start Offering Link Baiting Services?.

At it’s core I still think link bait is about creating quality content that people want to link to naturally. However turning good content into link bait requires a viral component in which you gather your network and bait them into linking to your content. If your network is strong enough you can get a quick influx of authoritative links that will bring a lot of eyes and hopefully a lot more links at your content. In theory if your content isn’t good then you won’t get links. Unfortunately that’s not always the case.

The Argument Against Link Bait

There have always been ways to get people to do what you want them to do. Isn’t that to a degree what marketing and optimizing your website is all about. You add calls to action to induce someone to click to your order form. You choose colors to evoke an emotional response. You write copy convincing your visitors it’s you they absolutely need to buy from. With link bait you might use top 10 lists or speak out against a popular person or thought to gain links or sensationalize your page titles for some quick links. The content might then become something less likely to be of value beyond the initial push to get links into the page. And it’s this lessening of quality that is leading to the roar against link bait in general.

Link bait also suffers from an unfortunate name that calls to mind bait and switch’ and has you looking at your visitors as fish to be hooked on a line. The name, extremely honest in a sense, does bring with it some negative connotations. It’s unfortunate since I think the tactic itself is perfectly fine and even something that will in time improve quality on the web.

I agree it’s leading to it’s fair share of garbage at the moment, but that’s no different than what happens with just about everything that involves money in some way. And links are the currency of the web. Someone creates something of quality that proves to be useful to a large group of people and profits in some way. Others seeing this, attempt to copy the success and little by little erode the quality of what was once a very good idea. That’s the current situation with link bait. Many SEOs and bloggers are doing anything they can in an effort to get dugg and in the process ignoring the quality that originally made link bait so successful.

Link Bait’s Evolutionary Path

Like most things the cream will eventually rise to the top. As more and more webmasters create temporary garbage in order to bring in links other webmasters will get tired of linking to it. It will stop standing out and in effect cease to be link worthy. Those that are still willing to put in the work to create something of quality and deserving of being linked to will need to work harder to create better and more useful tools and write more creative and original articles in order to stand out in all the noise. The market for link bait is a self correcting market that will in time work to improve the overall quality of the web.

There’s the evolution.

Create good content. Good content get many links. Good. See good content get good links. Hmm? Me need create something get link for me. My content not so good, but still get links. Crap content now get links. Creative need to get better to get links. Good content gets better. Now gets links again. Crap content needs to be less crappy to get links now. Need to work harder to get more links. Good content needs to get even better than before if want links. Hmm? Crap content needs to be even less crappy than before to get links again.

Now that I’ve offended Geico cavemen everywhere I hope you get the point. We’re at a stage now where instead of being creative and producing quality some SEOs are applying the tactics within link baiting to hype what would otherwise be unlinkworthy. But this will do two things. It will lead to a lot of link bait noise that will stop pulling in the links it once was, because of how loud the noise will get. It will also lead the truly creative to come up with better ideas to become a signal again in all that noise. As the signal stands out the noise will gravitate toward it and once again try to emulate it. It will improve itself out of necessity and become even just a little bit more like the signal drawing the traffic. And just like before it will begin to drown out the signal leading to an even stronger signal developing in order to be heard. The cream rises and then draws everything to itself only to rise again and again.

Bait Me All You Want As Long As You Give Me Something I Want To Link To

One of the arguments I’ve seen often against link bait is that because your content is created in order to gain links that it’s dishonest. Because you’re motivated by selfish concerns first it somehow makes the the content less valuable and something to be held in contempt. I always find this argument somewhat ridiculous. If someone can write an article or blog post that is informative and entertaining and teaches me something in the process, then what do I care why that article was written. I’ve read many good books that I’m sure came into existence so someone could make a buck.

If I find a tool online that helps me identify the competion and helps me understand better what I need to do to compete with them it doesn’t matter to me if the person who created that tool was motivated more by the hope that I would link to the page than to help me do my job. From my perspective someone created something I found helpful and I’m happy. The person who developed the tool should dervive some benefit from it. About the only way I might even be slightly annoyed is for not having thought of it first.

The term link baiting is new, but it’s been going on for awhile. When Aaron Wall first started releasing search engine optimization tools I don’t believe it was called link bait, but that’s exactly what those tools were and are. They just baited me and will many more times. The tools are good. They’re useful and make my job easier and Aaron even gives them all away. I have no idea what he was thinking when he decided to add them to his site, but I’m sure in part he was hoping people would link to them and increase the links pointing at the site. Maybe I’m wrong and the term predates the tools, but again I really don’t care. Those tools make my life easier and I’ll be happy to continue to link to them. They helped me and I’m happy to point you to them, because I think they’ll help you as well.

Quadzilla at SEO Black Hat is probably someone who might be seen as creating sensationalized posts in an effort to bait links. Of course given the black hat theme of the site and blog should it be any different? Some might say his recent post on the 250 Best Movies Made in the Last 30 Years is exactly why they think link bait is a bad idea. But did you read the follow up to that post, 3 Link Bait Lessons From a Master Baiter? The follow up post is one of the more informative posts about how to create link bait that I’ve seen. Yes it does offer advice that might at first glance seem to be about artificially turning an ordinary post into link bait, but look again. It’s filled with good and sound advice on marketing and copy writing. Lesson 1 tells you to focus on the reader and not the author. Every book I’ve ever read about copywriting has offered the same advice. It’s good advice. Will people still be reading that post six months from now? I can’t say. But assuming he’s still writing they’ll be reading Quadzilla. He’s one of the better writers online and one of the few who is both entertaining and informative at the same time. Maybe some of the posts will be temporary, but they are still informative and entertaining and I will link to them, because I think others will find them informative and entertaining too.

Perhaps the king of link baiting is Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz. I don’t think he even needs to try to create something worth linking to. Rand writes some of the most informative posts I’ve ever seen. He somehow finds a way to sum up everything I wanted to know in a single post and it seems after I’ve read one I really understand what a subject is all about. Have a look through the site and start counting the number of pages you want to link to. And again it makes no difference to me if Rand created that content to help me or get me to link to it. It does both so it’s a win-win for both of us.

Will every idea that someone develops as link bait be valuable? No. Neither will every idea that is developed solely to help mankind. And no matter where you look people will be trying to game anything they think can work in their favor. How long after you had your first email account did you get your first spam. Did you stop using email because of it? Not every link bait is going to be quality content. Some never has any intention of being quality and some simply just won’t make it. But that doesn’t mean link bait in itself is a bad thing. And as I said above I believe its evolutionary progress will lead to more quality online and not less. It will lead more SEOs and webmasters to raise the bar, which ultimately has the effect of dragging the rest of us up with it to try to reach that bar. The best of today tends to be the ordinary of tomorrow. And when today’s best becomes ordinary a new best is created tomorrow.

Not long ago many SEOs began to rally around the idea of content is king.’ Others gathered around the idea that it was all about links. While in truth both sides have always agreed that both were important. Well link bait merges both ideas. It may be misused and abused by some, but the idea is to create content that is of such a high degree of quality that it will attract links naturally. The best link bait will bring links into a site long after the buzz about it is gone. It will bring links because it is worth link to. And if given a chance to follow its natural evolution link bait will ultimately improve the overall quality of the web.



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Steven Bradley is a web designer and search engine optimization
specialist. Known to many in the webmaster/seo community by the username
vangogh, he is the author of TheVanBlog, which focuses on how to build
and optimize websites and market them online.