What is Linkbaiting? 4 June, 2006 — Stuart Brown

...and is linkbait a bad thing?

Posted in Search Engine Optimisation
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Linkbait is a word that gets passed round a lot in SEO - but it's not a massively used or understood term, and a Google search only yields a few specialist sites based on SEO. Some describe it as a technique; others dismiss it as a by-product of producing quality content.

But what is linkbait exactly, and how does it fit in as an SEO technique?


Linkbait is essentially a piece of content placed on a web page - whether it's an article, blog post, picture, or any other section of cyberspace - that is designed for the specific intention of gathering links from as many different sources as possible.

With the rise of the blogosphere, meritocracy and social bookmarking sites, all it takes is one interesting page on a site, someone to notice the page, and a few people to share the link - and before you know it, you've accrued a large number of links across a wide variety of sites.

Modern Life is a great example of this - having only launched the site a couple of days ago, our article on common passwords accrued a large amount of interest. According to Yahoo, the MLIR domain now has 1,240 backlinks, all within the space of about a week.

Linkbait as a technique

So is linkbaiting a technique or a side effect of good article writing? Well, in our case we presented some interesting, original research in an interesting and digestible way - the ever-popular top 10 list. A quick submission to Digg, a meritocracy and social-based tech news site, and a few positive 'Diggs' from the users there, we broke the front page, and was subject to a massive surge in traffic, and perhaps more importantly, a massive influx of inbound links.

So, in theory at least, if you can write great (or at least interesting) content, and if you can submit it to the right sort of site in the right sort of field with the right sort of audience, with a pinch of luck you might just find yourself with a deluge of traffic. There are, of course, any number of ways to garner such links - a few of which are listed below.

Timely, current content

With the advent of constantly-updated blogs and the thirst for news that has grown with it, current affairs can be a good source of links. Many of the meritocracy sites, including Digg and Newsvine, have a predominantly news-oriented approach to their content.

If you can cover a news story whilst it's still a current event, and publicise the link to enough people, you should be able to gather traffic and links as people spread the word and link to you. If you're lucky enough to have a sector with an established

Controversial viewpoint

If you can stir up controversy (NB: Controversy should not be confused with slander, profanity or abuse) on a topic, and provide a sound opposing viewpoint to a given doctrine, or another article, then that may well prove sufficient to provoke people into linking to you.

One such instance is http://www.internetisshit.org/ - a particularly abrasive and single-dimensioned point of view, but boasts a healthy PageRank and consistent traffic for what is essentially an overblown Powerpoint presentation. The reason? 4,040 inbound links and a steady stream of traffic. A quick glance at Alexa's historical data shows the site 'spiked' sometime between 2003 and 2004. It is clear, then, that controversy can work wonders in getting traffic.

Structured, visual content

Interesting and well-written articles also fare well when it comes to links - this makes sense, of course, as if a reader enjoys an article then they are more likely to share the link with their friends. This can be either over more traditional 'private' sharing methods - word of mouth, email, or instant messenger - or, more increasingly, through a social method.

The most basic of these social methods of sharing links is the common or garden discussion forum - but there are any number of new ways of bookmarking a site in a public way. The most popular site, Del.icio.us, provides a very simple method to store bookmarks in a publicly available fashion. Upon reaching a 'critical mass' of bookmarks, a site will often find itself on the 'popular' page, exposing the link to many more users and boosting your traffic further. This is part of the power of social bookmarking, and with Google et al rolling out this sort of technology you can expect this sort of thing to grow in popularity.

Funny, crazy, or 'cool'.

Finally, it would seem that the internet has an ongoing obsession with all that is funny, crazy, cool, or just plain odd. Humour sites, amusing videos and jokes are a massively popular part of the internet today, and people love to share that sort of stuff. In my experience, the links aren't great - they'll tend to be from deep within forums as to confer no ranking advantage per se, but every little helps!

Viral campaigns and sneaky marketing campaigns try to employ this sort of linking - funny videos with subtle branding, or sites crafted to entertain the visitor first and promote the brand second. If done correctly, this can be an effective method of spreading a message below the usual advertising radar, and - although perhaps slower than some other methods - can provide a consistent traffic stream over time.

Good or bad?

So is linkbait a good thing or a bad thing?

Of course, that depends on the content in question and the intention behind it - but one advantage with social linking and meritocracy based sites is that the dull, spammy and unworthy content generally sinks to the bottom, leaving the good, well crafted stuff to float to the top.

So this should be a clear message to all webmasters out there: content is still king, and if you write for your visitors and provide them with great content, you might just be rewarded (with perhaps a little element of promotion and submission to get the ball rolling) with the traffic you deserve. As I learnt last week, the power of the social internet is quite overwhelming should you be picked up by a large site.