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SES 2006: The School Of Link Bait

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Creating link bait, or Web content so compelling it spreads faster than a stomach flu on a cruise ship, is a lot like developing a sense of humor – or like figuring out when its okay to use a metaphor and a simile in the same sentence.

SES 2006: The School Of Link Bait
What Site Characteristics Improve Linkability?

Doug Caverly diligently relays his notes from the Link Bait and Viral Search Success session at SES 2006 in San Jose.

Good link bait is not really something that can be taught, but that doesn’t keep online marketers from trying to stuff the concepts into neat little boxes for analysis.

SearchEngineWatch’s Danny Sullivan brings in heavy hitters Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz.org, Jennifer Laycock of Search Engine Guide, and Cameron Olthuis of Advantage Consulting Services to help spread the gospel of viral marketing.

Fishkin begins the presentation with a baker’s dozen of link bait steps (the entirety of which will be provided at the bottom of this article). As discussed before, Fishkin emphasizes the power of social networks, like Digg.com, Del.icio.us, and Slashdot, to overload your servers if just the right content tickles (or enrages) their respective fancies. Fishkin’s overall message is akin to the Boy Scout motto: be prepared. Research, target, shoot, and wait.

Part of that social targeting may (and probably should) include setting up a blog. That doesn’t mean just throwing it out there into the nebulous that is Blogspot, however. Fishkin advises to host the blog on your site instead.

When brainstorming about how to set up a viral campaign, he told the crowd to look at examples of “brilliant” ideas. Last year’s round-and-round of the notorious GPS-enabled panties, which fooled even the Associated Press, comes to mind, as does the campaign’s competitor CryingWhileEating.com.

Cameron Olthuis follows with a bit of reputation and buzz monitoring advice, as viral doesn’t necessarily mean completely uncontrolled. Keep an eye on your brand through the blog search engines. Employ conversation tracking and message boards to track buzz about your campaign. He recommends Yahoo! Site Explorer, Google Trends, and Opinmind.

Whether what people are saying is good or bad, says Olthuis, “it’s important to join the conversation.”

Olthuis mentions the recent Mentos/Diet Coke ghettofied volcano demonstrations that made it from the Web to the Today Show and David Letterman. While Mentos, perhaps a bit hipper company, understood that the viral component of the event was a boon for the brand, Coca-Cola didn’t like it one bit.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s good, bad, ugly, whatever,” said Olthuis. “You’ve got to embrace [the buzz].

Laycock joins the conversation, warning that just “any [link bait or viral marketing] idea isn’t going to do. It really has to be something worth talking about.” It’s also important to remember that it isn’t always about sales. It’s about brand awareness.

Whether or not Burger King’s “Subservient Chicken,” a webcam broadcast of a guy in a chicken suit and lingerie that responds to audience commands, sold more chicken is irrelevant, says Laycock. The site received hundreds of millions of visits.

A viral campaign can backfire. Depending on the nature of your business, the lack of brand control can come back to haunt you. General Motors knows from experience that giving free range to visitors to create online video ads for SUVs was a bad idea. Anti-SUV activists had a field day creating environmental promos.

The success of a viral campaign, says Laycock, is always in the hands of the consumer. Because of that, giving away products and services can be a good way to get started.

“Humor is probably the easiest way to get something to spread,” she said.

Fishkin interjects to poop the party. “Humor can backfire,” he said, “and so can controversy. I would stick to content if you’re worried about safety.”

So if you’ve made it this far, you may ask, “is there a right way to virally market?” Well, no. And yes. Well, there’s definitely a wrong way anyway. Just to cover our bases, here’s Fishkin’s Guide to Link Baiting:

    Step 1: Researching a Sector’s Link-Worthiness

    Step 2: Discovery of Big’ Players in Your Field — do a search at Technorati with your keywords.

    Step 3: Targeting YDDS (Yahoo!, Digg, Del.icio.us/Popular, Slashdot

    Step 4: Targeting Offline Media

    Step 5: Selecting a Content Focus

    Step 6: Melding Branding & Viral Elements

    Step 7: Targeting Keywords/Search Traffic

    Step 8: Look at Examples of Brilliants Ideas’

    Step 9: The Value of a Web 2.0′ Look & Feel – “The look and feel oftentimes is critical.”

    Step 10: Elements that Encourage Linking

    Step 11: Pre-Launch Public Relations

    Step 12: Managing Launch Traffic – “Be careful not to be suckered into a debate you don’t really need to be part of.”

    Step 13: Continuing to Get Value from Linkbait -”Update it with timely information.”

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