Link baiting: the low down for small businesses

What is link baiting and why the bad rep?

Link baiting itself is just web speak for creating a piece of exclusive content with the aim of having it picked up by as many people as possible. This in itself is no bad thing. Everyone wants their content to be seen and discussed. However, there are cases when content is created with the specific aim of being deliberately controversial or misleading to get circulation. When Robert Scoble posted a story on his Scobleizer blog in December 2009 (2010: the year SEO isn't important anymore?) the deliberately provocative title and underlying argument got many people talking. Hundreds linked and 72 comments were posted on the thread. In a more extreme case, the website fuckedgoogle.com thrived on malicious stories against the search engine to fuel hits - until it was taken offline in 2006.

Is link baiting useful for your business?

When you're competing for links with other content providers any kind of an edge is an advantage. There are different hooks on which to "hang" your content that will resonate with readers and convince them to re-post the link. Inbound links are one of the metrics used by search engine to rank a website. Link-baiting helps to get your website higher up the page.

How to develop a good link bait strategy:

Types of bait

  • News hook: By reporting on the news, your post is instantly topical and relevant. If your content is a scoop or an exclusive, then you're going to have the jump on your competition. Similarly, if you can provide a reliable summary of different viewpoints - your post will be used as a resource by other commentators. Trying to compete with journalists can make this difficult, but if you're attending a trade show or a networking event - you might be able to grab some exclusive content from one of the speakers.
  • Humour hook: Jokes or funny stories get picked up and passed around. The more relevant the joke, the quicker the uptake will be. Embedding a funny or weird picture into your page can also encourage this. Try Lolcats.com or collegehumour.com or chucknorrisfacts.com for inspiration.
  • Resource hook:¬†Readers like easily digestible information. Go for neat summaries or infographics to distil the content into viral set pieces.
  • Attack hook: This is the controversial quick-and-easy route to more links. By attacking someone personally or professionally, you are likely to generate some buzz. Unless your plan is to be blacklisted by the online community, best avoid this one. Any short-term gain will be ruined by a lack of trust in the future.

Formatting

  • Keep it simple and focus on creating discussion. What gets people talking will get them linking.
  • Bullet points and numbers will make content easy on the eye. Also, go easy on the capital letters - useful for attracting attention but they can look a bit "shouty".
  • Encourage user generated content (UGC). Users will want to comment on what you say, and their comments can foster links of their own.
  • Cite research and further reading that will back up why you're making the points you are. Those sources might even link back.

Social media

  • You can use social media to send your content viral quicker than through traditional search pages and blog posts.
  • Social media allows you to plant the seed yourself. Shortened URLs on Twitter through services like Bit.ly or Ow.ly make it even easier for followers to copy and pass on the link.
  • There are services available (such as StumbleUpon) that find and recommend web content to its users. Get signed up to one of these to allow existing users to find out about your content and recommend it to others.
  • Google is now using social search - a feature where it takes into account social signals (public shares or "likes") to improve search results. So spread the word around to boost visibility.
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