Still Hooked on the Idea of Link Bait?

  |  September 9, 2009   |  Comments

Examples of effective link bait from a Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster manifesto, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's blog post, to a WordPress plug in.

Several questions need to be addressed to determine if you're ready for link bait or just hooked on the idea. Some of the categorically obvious possibilities for creating link bait content include news items, helpful resources, humorous or entertaining pieces, as well as publishing controversial opinions, thought provoking or challenging written attacks, and fear mongering.

Let's look at a few link bait campaigns that worked, why they worked, and discuss some of the challenges of producing controversial content, albeit, deliberate or unintentional.

Fun and Games are Tools of the Trade

Burger King's Subservient Chicken is one of the best-known link bait campaigns on the Web. Who doesn't like telling a guy in a chicken outfit what to do and then watch the chicken do it?

BK's Subservient Chicken Web page has amassed some 840 links according to Google, which only provides a backlink snapshot. Using the same data source, BK's home page has 670 links. The faux chicken has taught us that "entermusement" or "amutainment" works well to hook people on enduring link bait content.

Even the Smithsonian Institution is developing link bait as a way to keep museums relevant in our changing technological world. Imagine the collection of oddities the Smithsonian could produce and publish online. Even better, the institute's chief, Wayne Clough, is tapping into social media to spread the word about all the museum has to offer.

Information, fun, and games make highly effective link bait content, but tools provide other great hooks to bait a page for links. What's more, some of the most popular pages on the Web feature tools. Who doesn't want to return to a page again and again if it provides a helpful resource?

Web development and SEO (define) agencies factor heavily into the mix of sites that produce content based on publishing helpful tools for link bait. There are DNS tools, XML sitemap generators, backlink lookup tools, hub finders, and even lists of tools from others that are a helpful resource for site visitors and earn gobs of links over time.

The agency I work for is no different. Our founder, Stephan Spencer, worked to develop a SEO title tag plug-in for WordPress. The page has more than 4,000 links to it, which sometimes gives our home page a run for its popularity.

Resource pages must be useful and available if link bait is in play. Be prepared for an onslaught of Web activity if one of your campaigns goes viral. Make sure your site can handle the additional visitor traffic.

Politics and Religion: Link Bait, Too

Unlike link bait that's hooked with news items, helpful tools, contests or awards, and pictures of cute kittens, producing controversial content can sometimes provide a spark that ignites a flurry of wholly unintentional linking activities. Unless, of course, you believe that John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, actually intended for his blog post on health care reform to spark demands for his resignation and boycotts of Whole Foods stores.

The tandem taboos of politics and religion lend themselves well to producing controversial link bait content. Health care reform is a hot-button topic right now, as is the economy, immigration reform, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you want some links, take a chance and publish a contrarian stance. It's only natural that critics will link to the source of controversial content; it's a critical courtesy, of course.

Religious groups have certainly produced their fair share of link bait on the Web, to the point where the topics crosses over from controversial to comical. Case in point, religious parody link bait ranging from The Onion's report refuting gravity with the "New Intelligent Falling Theory" to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster's manifesto.

Rules of Engagement

Nowadays, it's relatively uncommon for link bait to just happen on its own. It takes planning and preparation to produce an amusing video, fulfill awards and rewards, write an enticing article, solicit pictures of cute kittens, or develop a useful widget.

If your site isn't as popular as The Onion or your store isn't a big brand like Whole Foods, your link bait initiative will need an assist. That's where social media venues come into play. If you really want to play, then you better know some players.

Remember, good quality link bait takes time and money to prepare. It takes a solid infrastructure that can take the hits and keep on giving -- or at least keep servers responding. It takes patience and planning, too. Most link bait items take several weeks or months to plan and produce, and then another six months or so to actually accrue back links.

Before you sign up to do some link bait, make sure you're ready for it and that you aren't just hooked on the idea that link bait provides "immediate results." Like most "organic" SEO tactics, if you treat link bait as a set-it-and-forget-it tactic, your efforts are far more likely to be forgettable and, in some cases, regrettable.

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P.J. Fusco

P.J. Fusco has been working in the Internet industry since 1996 when she developed her first SEM service while acting as general manager for a regional ISP. She was the SEO manager for Jupitermedia and has performed as the SEM manager for an international health and beauty dot-com corporation generating more than $1 billion a year in e-commerce sales. Today, she is director for natural search for Netconcepts, a cutting-edge SEO firm with offices in Madison, WI, and Auckland, New Zealand.

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