Linkbait can be a very effective tool for search engine optimization. Social media is important for marketing your small or large business in 2009. The sky is blue. Women have secrets. Thanks for nothing, Dave. We’re actually dumber for having listened to you just now. You’re so very welcome, and do you know of a bank in the vicinity where I can cash your seminar check?
Preach vs. Practice
You learned absolutely nothing from that first paragraph which you didn’t already know. Simply telling someone to consider linkbait, link building or general social media as a means to drive both direct and eventually organic traffic to their site is like lending them your car and forgetting to give them the keys. A big heap of useless nothing. Don’t be that guy. The interwebnets are already flooded with them. And for God’s sake don’t pay them to tell you all those things. Ask for specific examples of their own linkbait work that can actually teach you something practical about applying the strategy to your own business. Don’t let them get away with simply talking about those damned blender videos again.
One of the reasons I am a fan of Montreal SEO maven Gab Goldenberg’s blog is that he provides real-world examples of work he has done for actual clients. As a result he is never even in the running on those days when I get so overwhelmed by my Google Reader backlog that I decide to start culling the RSS feed herd. I thought of possible ways in which I too could provide something particularly helpful today and dug out six of my previous linkbait project URLs. I’m not saying they’re ground-breaking or even especially good – but I did learn a lot from them and maybe you can too.
What is Linkbait?
Simply put, linkbaiting is the creation of something online which you feel has the potential to go viral. “Going viral” means a piece of content is so engaging, funny, helpful, life-saving, disturbing or a combination of all five that people feverishly pass it around amongst their friends via IM and email. Scores of bloggers link to it because they want to share it with their audience. It becomes bookmarked naturally in tons of social media sites. The benefits are twofold. In the short term the popular webpage gets tons of direct traffic and brand recognition. In the long term the domain encourages many one-way incoming links which is a crucial factor the major search engines take into account when deciding where to rank your site for specific keywords.
Here are some great articles regarding the construction of effective linkbait if you’d like to read more on the basics. I’d rather spend my bloggy time today showing you some real and original examples of linkbait I myself created – and then looking into the reasons they worked, didn’t work or could have been improved upon. I didn’t make these with enormous production budgets or teams of semi-conscious, hungover marketing interns at my disposal – but I did use my imagination with some degree of tangible success. Perhaps this article should be called Linkbait Ideas for Small to Medium-Sized Businesses. Perhaps this article should be skipped altogether.
Linkbait Best Practices
I tried to follow the golden (and vague) rules that I’d been reading about since the term “linkbait” was originally coined. Use media. Make it informative. Make it funny. Put it in a “top 10” format. Include prominent social media submission buttons. Include an “email this to a friend” form. Make sharing easy. Consider paying off some prominent Diggers (did I say that out loud?). Put it in a subfolder on the client’s domain without any branding and then move it under the main template after it has been live for a few weeks to disguise its true marketing purpose. Sacrifice a chicken and pray. Read up on Chaos Theory.
Original Linkbait Examples
I’m going to link to these 6 examples using the specific keyword phrases they were designed to draw traffic for. This is partially because I’d like that strategy to be abundantly clear and partially because this is my blog and it’s my perogative to keep flogging these pieces even years after they were created should I want to. A good, timeless piece of bait can continue to draw relevant traffic indefinitely.
Valentine’s Day History
A client wanted to drive traffic for terms related to Valentine’s Day because they sold many products specific to the holiday. Product terms (“valentine’s day cards” etc.) were understandably extremely competitive. There were some related terms, however, that were far less contentious yet still had reasonable relevant search volume attached to them. I had a glance at the day’s Wikipedia entry and was fascinated to learn how many truly awful things had transpired on February 14th over the centuries. The dim, filthy lightbulb in my head clicked on and thus “14 Horrible Moments in Valentine’s Day History” was born.
- The Good: The piece definitely went viral, doing well in networks like Digg and Reddit, attracting many natural links from bloggers and was even linked to by some high profile news sites. It continues to attract lots of seasonal traffic and new incoming links to this day.
- The Bad: Not much – this was definitely a success and made the client very happy.
- Lesson Learned: The vague advice I’d been hearing was true – Decent linkbait can indeed drive tons of direct, relevant traffic and have considerable ongoing SEO benefits lasting years.
In the middle of Summer 2007 I was asked to create a linkbait piece designed to attract grill and barbecue related keywords to a client’s bbq review section. I wondered if I’d be able to find photos of some custom made rigs having recently seen a homemade beer keg smoker at a friend’s house. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Yeeee Haaaa! You’ve got a pretty mouth.
- The Good: Although it had a disappointing social media run, it resulted in quite a few links from blogs.
- The Bad: In retrospect the subject matter probably had a very limited audience. Again, failed virally.
- Lesson Learned: If possible focus on a subject related to your client’s goods or services with the broadest potential appeal – men and women, old and young, kids and adults. And never, ever launch a linkbait the day before one of the biggest holidays of the year.
NCAA Buzzer Beaters
This time last year March Madness was upon us and I had a client with a lot of tournament tickets to move. Being more of a hockey/football fan I researched some popular online NCAA discussion topics and quickly decided a list of “buzzer beaters” would be a good idea. I’d yet to use videos for a piece and got myself all excited about it. Everyone from the Director of Marketing to the CEO approved my final piece which took several days for me to write, research, collect and code. Then the NCAA (who were partnered with my clients in some respects) refused to let us use it. “Why on Earth did you even show it to them?” I remember asking them in frustration. I ended up using a revised, non-video version of it on my own semi-related hockey fights site. Cause hockey is a sport too, get it? I really just didn’t want it to go to waste. You can see the original video linkbait preserved for all time on my personal blog.
- The Good: It was a good exercise in incorporating video into linkbait and I was able to repurpose it as an NCAA article (with SEO-friendly links) on several blogs and free article directories without alerting any ambulance chasers.
- The Bad: It was nipped in the bud. Also, I found out that the client-side resource who offered to help with my bulletpoints and research completely plagiarized them from another website and had to re-write the entire thing the night before it was supposed to launch.
- Lesson Learned: Let the CEO, Directors and lawyers see your proposed idea before you spend 20 hours putting it all together. Also, with a little re-writing many linkbaits can be repurposed in text form for alternate uses.
I have three more examples to share with you if you’re still awake, but regret I must get back to my company duties for the rest of today. Namely – plotting my next big viral
failure success. Stay tuned for part two and I would love it if people shared their own linkbait creations with everyone right here in the comments.