Online Marketing Lesson 25: The Art of Link baiting

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In this lesson, we will explain the link bait concept. We will begin with the abstract idea, and then we will list some practical types of link baits that people use every day on the Internet, and that you can use on your website, too.

What Is a Linkbait?

Simply put, a link bait is a piece of web content that has the aim of attracting as many backlinks from external websites as possible.

This piece of web content usually takes the form of a written article, but that is not necessarily the case. One could also create a link bait using a video, a collection of images, an interactive page or a quiz, for example.

Link baits, Social baits, and Viral Content

In theory, it is possible to differentiate among the terms link bait, social bait, and viral content. Link bait is a piece of content that has the aim of attracting as many backlinks as possible. Socialbait is a piece of content that has the aim of attracting as much traffic as possible from social media sites. Both of these forms emerge deliberately from the actions of a site owner. Viral content is different from them in the sense that it emerges spontaneously, and it refers to some content that spreads incredibly fast on the web, through links and mentions on a wide range of sites (e.g., forums, blogs, social sites and so on).

Often times, however, a link bait will also behave as a social bait and vice-versa. Sometimes it is also possible for a link bait to assume the characteristics of viral content, and viral content itself will almost always behave as a link bait because people want to share it.

For the sake of simplicity, therefore, throughout this article we will just talk about link baits, but the information also applies to the other forms.

The Importance of Link baits

As we explain under the SEO module, links are the currency of the Internet. Basically, Google and other search engines consider each link as a vote of trust. If site A links to a certain page inside site B, for example, Google will understand that site A endorses the content that is published on that page.

Needless to say that the higher the number of links that your site or pages have, the higher their search rankings will be, and the higher the search traffic that they will receive.

That is why link baits are so important. They represent one of the main sources of links for your site. It is not a coincidence that we have online companies and SEO consultants specialized in link baiting. Some of them charge as much as $5,000 for a single link bait piece with some promotion.

It Is About Value

Once in a while, some criticism about link baiting emerges on the Internet. The people who criticize it use the argument that link baits are deceptive and that they falsely try to persuade people to link to your content or website.

The flaw in this argument lies in the assumption that Internet users and website owners are stupid. After all, this would be the only way to deceive them into linking to your content. In reality, Internet users and website owners are very smart, and you can’t fool them.

If link baits do not work by deceiving people, then, how do they work? It is simple, they work by providing a piece of content that is incredibly valuable to a certain segment of bloggers and website owners. So valuable that those people will want to share it with their respective readers and friends, thus linking to your article.

The 9 Types of Link baits

By now you should already have a good understanding of the link baiting concept. We will, therefore, cover nine practical types of link baits that you can use in your own website.

Notice that in this section we will only talk about link baiting techniques that work with written content (i.e. articles and blog posts). There are other techniques that are slightly more complex, including quizzes, widgets, and contests. We cover those under the Linkbuilding lesson.

1. Breaking News

If you are the first one to write about a specific news item, you will certainly receive a good amount of backlinks. If the news you broke is important or relevant to your niche, many website owners will want to write about it as well, sharing their point of view, and usually, they include a link to the original source.

Example: Mashable.com was one of the first blogs to announce Google’s acquisition of the messaging service Jaiku. The event was not particularly important, yet that post received 386 backlinks for breaking the news.

How to: If you want to be able to break news in your website, you need to be on top of things in your niche. This involves tracking via RSS as many related sites as possible, being a member of active communities that talk about your topics and so on. To have an edge on other websites, you will also need to develop close relationships with key players, to make sure that they will get in touch with you when they have something important to reveal. If you blog about credit cards, for example, you should try to build relationships with employees of the major credit card companies. It is not easy and it takes time, but it can definitely be done.

2. In-depth Analysis

The majority of the content on the Internet is short and superficial. This is because writing longer articles that carry an in-depth analysis of a certain issue takes a lot of time and effort. Often times the results are worth it, though. Take the time to expand and explore a certain topic and people will be more inclined to link to it.

Example: Steve Pavlina is a very prolific personal development blogger, and most of his articles bring an in-depth analysis of a topic to his readers. One example is the post titled The Law of Attraction, where Steve used more than 1,500 words to describe the concept. It received 436 backlinks.

How to: The first step towards writing an in-depth analysis is to identify the topic that you will analyze. Examine popular blogs in your niche and look for posts that drew attention but that were not exhaustive in their coverage of the topic. Alternatively, look inside online forums and social networks to get an idea of what people want to know more about. Once you have the topic, it will be just a matter of researching and writing an article that explores all the angles and that presents a robust analytical framework.

3. How-to Articles

A small variation of the in-depth analysis is the how-to article. These articles will basically teach something to your readers. If your article solves a very common problem or need, people will gladly link to it to share the solution with their readers.

Example: Maki from Doshdosh.com writes many articles that are focused on teaching his readers something. One example is the article titled How to Get More Twitter Followers. It attracted 355 backlinks from people that liked the explanation offered there.

How to: Writing a how-to article is mainly a matter of identifying a problem that your readers have or something that they are trying to accomplish but don’t know how. Once you find the problem, simply present to them the answer, possibly with an easy step-by-step guide.

4. Numbers and Statistics

Facts speak louder than words. If you can research and find the numbers or statistics behind something, people will certainly pay attention. The main advantage of this technique is that you will become the undisputed source for those numbers, and people will need to link to you whenever they mention them.

Example: ReadWriteWeb.com gathered some numbers around the growth of Facebook, and published them under the single post, with some graphs and a breakdown of the findings. The numbers were coming from external sources, yet the elegant interpretation and presentation of them helped the blog to attract 337 backlinks.

How to: Find a topic of interest to readers in your niche, and evaluate whether you could explore the numbers behind it. Notice that sometimes you can also use external sources of data and simply interpret and present the numbers in a user-friendly way, as our example above, illustrates.

5. Funny Content

People are always looking for entertainment. Even if they are in the middle of a business task they will certainly take the time to read something that might make them laugh. More importantly, people will share the stuff that makes them laugh, and that means backlinks.

Example: George Ouzounian, who writes under the Maddox pen name, managed to create one of the most popular sites on the Internet thanks to his humorous writing style. If you want a taste of it, read 9 things I learned about the world according to anonymous stock photo models. That article alone received 842 backlinks.

How to: Writing genuinely funny content is hard. It can be learned, but it takes time and practice. If you think you can be funny while writing, give it a shot and see how people react. Another option is to simply use funny things in your articles, including funny images or funny ideas.

6. Lists

Lists are the bread and butter of web content. They tend to attract links, they generate a lot of traffic, they perform well on social media, and they are also easily digested by readers.

Example: Smashing Magazine is one of the most popular design blogs on the Internet, and they often format their articles as lists. One is an example is the post titled Top Ten Web Typography Sins, which attracted over 600 backlinks.

How to: Whenever you get an idea for a longer article that has different parts or items, consider formatting it as a list. You can also get inspiration for list articles by visiting the homepage of social bookmarking sites, as they are often filled with lists of one sort or another.

7. Lists of Resources

A very efficient variation of the list link bait is a list of resources. That is a post containing a list of links to tutorials, tools, templates, and similar items. Remember that the higher the usefulness of your collection of links, the higher the chances of bloggers and webmasters linking to it.

Example: Noupe.com is a blog that has mastered the technique of publishing lists of resources. If you examine the list of most popular posts on the site, in fact, you will find many examples. One of them is titled 40+ High Quality Adobe Fireworks Tutorials, Resources & PNG files, and it attracted 2650 backlinks.

How to: The advantage of creating a list of resources is that you won’t need to create the resources yourself. You will just need to find and organize them. A good technique to come up with ideas here is the “identify and expand.” You basically need to identify an existing list of resources that was interesting, and expand on it. If someone published a list with “Top 10 Finance Related iPhone Apps,” for instance, you could publish the “Top 50 iPhone Apps for Entrepreneurs”

8. Controversial Content

Controversy attracts people like honey attracts bees. They might not even be interested in the subject, but if they find that it is generating polemic, they will certainly come around to take a look. In a similar way, bloggers and website owners will often link to controversial articles, either to criticize them or to express their agreement.

Example: One of the most popular posts ever on TechCrunch was a very controversial one. Titled The Secret Strategies Behind Many “Viral” Videos, it came from a guest author who explain how he was employing all sorts of unethical strategies to make videos go viral on the Internet. The post got over 700 comments and 2850 backlinks.

How to: First of all keep in mind that writing controversial content can have drawbacks. If nothing else some people will disagree with you, and they might use strong words to express that. We recommend trying to be controversial only if you have a very clear opinion about a specific issue and are not afraid to defend it publicly.

9. Ego baits

Whenever you talk directly about people or about their websites, they will be more likely to pay attention, and possibly to link to it. The simplest kind of ego bait is an interview. You will notice that very often the interviewee will link to the website that published the interview, to share it with his readers. Obviously, you should not try to interview people or mention their websites exclusively because you want them to link to your site. You should do it because you believe that the other person has something interesting to share and because you really want to know more about them.

Example: The NorthxEast blog created a list a while ago with the 50 Most Influential Bloggers on the web. Many of the people that were included on the list blogged about it (either because they wanted to brag or because they felt the list itself was a useful resource). As a consequence, the article spread very fast and attracted over 850 backlinks.

How to: If you want to attract links with this method, you should consider interviews and lists that will include many people inside a niche. You could create a list with the most popular, most controversial, most insightful, most underrated and so on. An alternative approach is to create list of the best websites in a particular niche. Just remember that your aim here is to create content that will be valuable to your readers because it will allow them to discover new bloggers or new websites. In other words, don’t fake a list just to attract backlinks.

Action Points

  1. Go through the types of link baits listed in this lesson, and evaluate which ones can be applied to your blog or website.
  2. Start working on one link bait piece, and make sure to devote enough time to it. Remember that the more value you pack into it, the higher the chances of receiving links.
  3. Track the results and then experiment with another type of link bait. Over time you will discover which strategies work for your niche and which don’t.

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