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The Inexact Science of Link Bait’s Appeal

May 17th, 2011 | | Link Bait, Link Building

Can anyone actually explain what it is that makes people decide to share a link?  Thinking back on my online activity in the past 24 hours, I’ve managed to share 4 links on my Facebook page, 10 links across my two Twitter accounts, and 4 links across professional and personal blogs.  That being said, I’m pretty sure I’m on the low end of sharing compared to others, however, you can see how quickly information can spread and end up as a followed link.

Looking back across my shares, obviously they are subjects that I’m interested in and bring some sort of worth to my life.  So how do we begin to apply this to content created just for the links (aka link bait)?  We know what we like when we see it, but can we define the characteristics that make us like it?

Link bait has changed drastically since its inception, and it will continue to develop as technology continues to grow and change.   It’s important to remember that link bait is not limited to a list.  Creativity in link bait is key, and there are truly endless possibilities for creating the next cool thing.  That being said, here are a few examples with my not-so-humble opinion alongside some of them:

  • Widgets and useful tools
  • Images/Cartoons/Illustrations – (E.g. The Oatmeal is a natural link baiter).
  • Groundbreaking information or research
  • Controversy
  • Videos
  • Using Tweets/Facebook and sites like Digg, Reddit, and Stumble Upon
  • Infographics
  • Quizzes (With a pay off – Maybe your quiz generates an automatic Tweet for your account with a link back to the website?)
  • Polls and surveys (*yawn*)
  • Contests (Prizes!)
  • Guest bloggers and interviews (think thought leaders and popular writers)

The Je ne sais quoi.

I don’t have a full-proof process on creating link bait.  There are folks out there that have outlined processes (several of which I’ve read) with basic step-by-step creative suggestions.  My answer is that you can’t really put great link bait in a box, because it’s going to need to change as people become bored with the same old thing.  Here are my observations on what makes me link, or the je ne sais quoi.

You can’t plan viral. You just can’t.  You can, however, bounce ideas of off the people you work with and put your best people to work on creating the link bait.  You can also work at understanding what your target audience wants to see, and preparing yourself for the chance that something you put out goes viral.  If it does go viral – how do you handle it?  Are you prepared for increased traffic, sales, and the need to make more to keep it going?

Since everything can’t be viral, know that anything can fail. That SEO article you spent days writing with amazing, unheard of information, controversy, and pretty pictures – can fail.  Not because it isn’t good, but because maybe it wasn’t the right content for your audience, or maybe you didn’t promote it well.

Link bait needs promotion. The Internet is huge, and throwing an article out into cyber space isn’t automatically going to help increase traffic, branding or potential customers.

Good link bait isn’t lazy. Well, sort of.  If we’re talking about a really clever meme, then sure, it could be.  If we’re talking about a real investment, then you need to hire the right people who can execute it the right way, whether you need graphic artists, writers or programmers, if you’re serious about doing something right, then don’t let your teenage intern do it (unless they have wicked, good skills).

Link bait is ground breaking. You don’t need to have the cure for cancer in your link bait, but people appreciate innovative ideas.  If you put a poll up on your website, you might have people stop by and share their opinion, but are they likely to spend time sending that poll to their friends or blogging about it? I can honestly say that I’ve never shared a poll or survey.  They don’t really have a way of pulling interest or sparking debate for me.

Link bait shares a common interest. Think about your industry, and I mean truly think about it.  What sort of things do you run into on a daily basis that you can turn into link bait?  Turn those daily problems into a solution for your readers, or even a comical cartoon on how frustrating it is.  Your readers want to be able to relate to you, and when they can find that common ground, links will come.

Link bait is personal: people share things because the content either made them laugh, reflect, bond, or brag.

Link bait is a bit selfish. I don’t mean this to sound negative, but anything you create is to get people to read, comment, and link to YOUR site.  Anything that someone decides to share is in order to be seen as trendy or innovative.  There’s a sort of excitement in being one of the first people to share something new.  Sure you’re interested in spreading your ideas or getting a discussion going, but at the end of the day, it’s selfish and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

Link bait should be measured. We are marketers, and thus, need to remember that everything we spend time on needs to be given some sort of measurable value.  How are you going to measure your ROI and determine if your link bait was worth it?

Links are important to SEO. We know this, and we embrace this.  The problem with links is they can be difficult to get, and link building itself is a very time consuming process.  Developing good link bait will help your website acquire natural links from others.

For more thoughts on great link bait, check out Abby’s article on awesome purple cows. ; )


Jessica is an Assistant Account Executive at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.

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  • http://twitter.com/cynthiaSEL Cynthia Leighton

    Link bait! Hmm. I guess I thought of retweet type postings as

    1. stuff I want to share, and
    2. like well enough to want to revisit easily.

    Well done.


  • Deanna Hatfield

    Great article!  Yes I agree Link Bait is very strategic in the approach.  LB has to be done right in order see the ROI like your talking about and you have to take all the items mentioned in to account.  Yes the benefit of natural links is fantastic with link bait, only downfall you can’t control the anchor text ;).  Thanks Jessica!