Stinking Linking Vs. Creative Thinking

My colleague Danny Sullivan dropped me a note a week or so back and mentioned he was adding a new session (among many others) for SES San Jose: it’s on link baiting.

I have to say, the term “link baiting” almost makes me nauseated. I’m not sure where it came from, but I doubt very much it was coined by a seasoned online marketer.

“Bait” specifically means food used to entice prey. There’s usually a very unpleasant experience waiting for the prey.

The few examples I know of link baiting in the SEM (define) industry have been based on very unpleasant exchanges by bloggers and forum owners trying to attract attention to themselves.

And that represents nothing more than my own better term for link baiting: “stinking linking.”

What’s the point of it? Creating some minor controversy so you can rank number one for the term “jerk”? That’s about as creative as it gets, so far as I can tell.

I’ve mentioned before that we have a tendency to label ourselves with so many misnomers. “I’m a search engine marketer,” I reply when asked what my occupation is.

“Really, which search engine do you work for?” is a fairly frequent response. I’ve given up using “search engine optimization” to describe my occupation to those outside the industry. That one usually gets nothing more than a glazed stare.

So I’m not ever going tell a client link baiting is part of my occupation. Because it’s not and never will be.

Do I get involved in tactical promotions? Absolutely. Do they attract links? Absolutely.

And that’s the difference. Attracting links as opposed to baiting links. Note how much less negative “attracting” sounds when discussing link building campaigns. Observe the quality of link when it’s attracted as opposed to baited.

It was music to my ears when, in my long interview with Google’s Matt Cutts, he said “It’s interesting how much of SEO can come back to good, old-fashioned marketing.”

It’s true. We throw around terms like “viral marketing,” “buzz marketing,” and “word-of-mouth marketing” as if they were new concepts. Yet these tactical promotions have been around forever.

Creative Thinking Brings Quality Linking

Seeding trials, brand advocacy, buzz-worthy PR and other grass-roots promotions were standard tools of the trade for conventional marketers long before the World Wide Web and search engines.

And they adapt themselves beautifully to the Web, where it can all happen bigger, better, and faster. Seeding trials have proven many times over just how effective they can be for building a brand and spreading the good word.

Back in 1974, a failed experiment by 3M to create a super-sticky adhesive turned into a classic seeding trial. A product development guy, fed up with using paper bookmarks he kept losing, decided to use the super-weak adhesive to create what we now know as Post-it Notes.

Initially, the product bombed. Then, 3M decided to run a seeding trial with opinion leaders in their target market. They identified secretaries to CEOs at America’s leading companies and sent them free packs of Post-its, inviting them to send in their feedback.

Flattered by the opportunity to be involved in the development of a new product, they became brand champions. And we all know what happened to the little “yellow stickies” after that. They spread in epidemic proportions.

Think how easy it is to identify opinion leaders in your own online marketplace and conduct a similar exercise as part of a link building campaign.

Do you have to get personal to be controversial? No. Creating buzz-worthy PR with a splash of eyebrow-raising content isn’t difficult.

Back in 2003, a German condom manufacturer, Condomi, was trying to break into the U.K. market. It was way behind the two leading brands and didn’t have the huge advertising bucks required to compete head to head.

So it created a fun Web site called “Size Him Up,” which had a feature that would guesstimate the size of someone’s manhood. You simply input hand, feet, and nose size, and the tool calculated the likely other size.

Once it was leaked to the media that people were using it to “size up” celebrities, word spread like wildfire.

There are many excellent, creative, tactical campaigns that are link building dreams. But I think in the space allowed, I’ve made my point about attracting people to link as opposed to goading people to do so. Link bait? The connotation is far too negative for me.

Just a quick side note: I’d be interested to know how many people would like to see the word “engine” disappear from search engine marketing. I mean, direct marketing was never called direct letterbox marketing, was it?

Join me on the campaign for “search marketing” as the umbrella term for what we do. Yes?

Meet Mike at Search Engine Strategies Latino in Miami, July 10-11, 2006, and Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 7-10, 2006.

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