Link Bait – An Advertising Primer

Link bait – its another one of those technical buzz phrases we like to throw around casually in the website building business – but what does it actually mean?

In simple terms, link bait is any piece of content that other people want to link to. Its not just something they find personally useful or entertaining, it has to go beyond that to something that makes people feel a need to share it.

The Link Bait Challenge

The first task in preparing content that fits the description is knowing your target audience. Social bookmarking sites are a great place to generate an initial buzz for your work, so its a good idea to join up at Digg, Reddit, Propeller, Mixx, and the other high traffic link-sharing websites. Now, don’t go overboard linking and sharing every web page you’ve ever written! Too much self-promotion right off the bat can get your account – or worse, your entire domain – blacklisted or at least psychologically associated with something people don’t want to see.

Instead, find people and popular stories that are in subjects related to the topics you’re trying to promote. If you can’t find the subject you’re interested in among the already popular stories, there’s a good chance that this won’t be the right bookmarking community for your project. For example, internet marketing is almost certain to get downvoted at Reddit – but Mixx has many groups and mini-communities that would be interested. Sphinn is a site dedicated just to SEO and marketing issues, so if you’re having a hard time getting any traction for your links you may be talking to the wrong community.

Give Them the Content they Want

When you know your communities from one another, you’ll have a bit of an insight into what makes the front page and generates link bait. Digg and Reddit are great places to promote: Science, technology, humor, and politics.

Controversy sells and people want “news.” What might have been top-rate link-bait yesterday is probably considered “old news” today.  Timing is essential so if you’re just piggy-backing your post on a story that’s already broke and circulated the net, there’s not a very good chance that your version will make any progress unless there’s something genuinely unique that you can add to the discussion.

While controversy and shock value is great – don’t take it too far.  Avoid insults and condescension, surprise people but try not to disgust them.  Remember, the key to link-bait is mass appeal.  Ideally, you want your link to end up on peoples’ email lists and homepages, so keep it friendly for work and families.

The Link-Bait Reward

So what happens when you pull this off?  Tons, and tons, and tons of immediate traffic.  In fact, the traffic itself can be a problem if your hosting servers aren’t ready for a huge flood of hits.

While bookmarking traffic rarely converts, the benefits extend long after that initial rush of traffic fades.  Remember, we’re talking about link-bair here so if everything worked right you will get a highly weighted backlink from the bookmarking domain and you’ll also pick up various backlinks from the websites owned and operated by the people who visit these websites.

For examples, I’ve seen deep URLs on my political website shoot up to PR4 and PR5 when the homepage of that domain wasn’t even that high.  Practically overnight, these URLs can rank for extremely competitive keyword phrases because they pick up truly editorial links in a rapid fashion.

New Jargon – Old Concept

Really, I’m just saying that you have to write quality content and promote this content to the correct target audience.  This isn’t fundamentally different than any media that has ever existed!   The big change is the technology that promotes the content, and the way that online social communities can leverage your reach without the typical barriers to entry that exist in print and broadcast media.

So the next time your online marketers and social media experts put forward an idea like “Let’s use linkbait,” know that the use of this buzzword/phrase isn’t a genius idea in its own right.  The real talent is coming up with the actual articles, pictures, or video that makes something worthy of being linked to – and putting it where the right eyes can see it.

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