Link baiting. You’ve heard of it, most likely, but maybe are at a loss as to how it works or how to make it work for you. In this article, we explore both the search and social aspects of link bait, what it is, and how it can be approached. Link baiting is a bit of an art form, but there are tried and true methods.

In marketing, you have one central task: Get attention that drives results. Pretty simple really, at least in theory. Online, the lion’s share of this process is generating links to your website or blog, which helps to gain ranking in the search engines and to generate brand awareness.

Do not underestimate that second element. The more brand awareness you generate, the more people search for you, the more it affects sales and/or leads.

Link baiting has been described as a kind of art form because, like art, what resonates with a group of people isn’t always predictable and certainly not controllable; only the after-effect like book or box office sales is measurable. But also like any creative endeavor, there are both guidelines to creation and case studies of what has worked in the past.

Wikipedia defines link bait this way: Link bait is any content or feature within a website that somehow baits viewers to place links to it from other websites. You might be right to equate it to viral or word-of-mouth marketing, which is attracting more and more of the overall advertising spend each year.

Sometimes the naysayers out there will reduce this approach to online marketing as something inherently dirty and/or spammy. And yes, there are abuses. But we’re in it for the long-haul, and just so we’re clear, even Google’s webspam fighter Matt Cutts counts link bait among “white hat” tactics:

I hereby claim that content can be both white-hat and yet still be wonderful bait for links. Personally, I’d lean toward producing interesting data or having a creative idea rather than spouting really controversial ideas 100% of the time. If everything you ever say is controversial, it can be entertaining, but it’s harder to maintain credibility over the long haul.

Indeed, we should approach it positively. Controversy works, and is often called the Contrary/Attack/Evil “hook.” It works like the villain in professional wrestling, or tension in great storytelling. People love a good fight, but if you’re seen as always the one picking the fight, they could sour on you rather quickly.

Fear also works writing or creating content with the intent of scaring people to death. People will sign up just to warn others, and you get not only the link-love, but a healthy dose of fear associated with your product or service, which may or may not be what you want.

Perhaps the most famous example that didn’t go negative well, that could depend on your point of view is Burger King’s Subservient Chicken. Most agree that whether or not it sold more chicken is moot. The special website was a smash success and Burger King generated a lot of attention for itself.

But my favorite (and more practical) example of a business using link bait to its advantage is the “Will It Blend” series of short videos from Blendtec, which can be viewed at YouTube, or at their homepage. The one where they drop an iPod into their blender has been viewed over 4.5 million times, favorited over 9,000 times, and has attracted over 7,700 comments.

These were two wildly successful examples, but we’ll leave you with the tried-and-true approaches developed by the link-bait experts out there, sans the negative ones. All of them are excellent ways to become part of the 3.5 billion daily conversations happening on the Web, at Digg, Reddit, YouTube, wherever.

The Resource Approach (Becoming the Expert In Your Field/Niche)

— Create expert articles/lists/data sheets
— Create practical or fun tools
— Write How-To articles
— Create a comprehensive blog roll (give link love, get link love)
— Compile informative news stories and articles

The News Approach

— Get the scoop. Be first with industry news
— Interview prominent people in your field
— Investigate a hot topic
— Do an expos

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