Link bait, simply put, is content that is so funny, so interesting, so useful, or otherwise remarkable that it becomes irresistible to bloggers and website owners, who set up links from their pages to the original material. I’ve seen link bait take the form of Top 10 lists, humorous videos uploaded to YouTube, checklists, cartoons, tools, widgets and blog plugins — to name just a few.
You might wonder if elements of your ecommerce site could become worthy link bait. I hate to break this to you — but probably not. Link bait is the sort of thing that tends to spread virally through email and the blogosphere. When was the last time you saw swarms of people forwarding emails about an ecommerce site? Not recently, I’d imagine. It’s more realistic and fruitful to think of link bait as content that stands alongside your ecommerce site — either as a separate page, a blog post or a microsite. If you post the link bait to your ecommerce site, you should do so with the expectation that it probably won’t get as much traction with bloggers as it would have gotten if you’d posted it on your blog. Bloggers are cliquish; they tend to link to each other more than they link to outsiders (non-bloggers).
If link bait is really successful, it can migrate to the front page of a social media site such as Digg.com, Reddit.com, Netscape.com or the del.icio.us popular page. The trick to infiltrate any highly-trafficked social media site is to have friends “on the inside” who are top influencers within that site’s social network.
It really helps to be humorous in your link bait. But more importantly, “be remarkable,” as author Seth Godin says. Remarkable doesn’t mean you have to be the best at something or have the best post about something. It just means that your work has to be worthy of notice. A purple cow grazing in a pasture would be remarkable only because passersby would remark about it. Once passersby see enough purple cows along the roadside, they will no longer remark about them, because such cows have become commonplace.
One way to stand out is to expose a fraud or to take a position that’s contrary to popular opinion. For instance, you could challenge an A-list blogger on one of his/her blog posts. This can be risky, however, so take great care if you choose to employ this tactic.
Another way to be remarkable is to be the first to cover a particular story. You could post a scoop — an exclusive. You could publish original research. Or you could offer photos of an event that you attended. You could even Creative Commons License those photos to allow people to re-use them at no charge.
Speaking of no charge, people love “free!” so if you could make available for free any tools, software, plugins, blog themes and so on, it will go a long way towards turning your resource into link bait.
Another thing you might have seen on the web is “memes” that spread across the Internet through email, YouTube, the blogosphere, etc. A meme is an idea, value or pattern of behavior that propagates itself through imitation. Memes take many forms — clothes, fashions, habits, skills, songs, stories and catchphrases. As memeticist Dr. Susan Blackmore describes it, a meme is basically a “copy me” instruction backed up by threats and promises. An example of a meme in the offline world is the toilet paper folded into a triangle at the end (does that somehow make the bathroom more hygienic?).
If you can start a meme that will spread and eventually link back to you, you will get a lot of nice link juice (e.g., PageRank) out of it. Of course, if it’s in the form of a YouTube video (like the most famous of Internet memes YouTube will hoard all the juice, as YouTube doesn’t include links to your site.
A very recent successful example of an Internet meme is “The Five Things You Don’t Know About Me” meme that spread through the blogosphere late last year. Part of the meme was the directive to “tag” five other bloggers and ask them to share five unknown bits of information about themselves. The originator of this meme (purportedly Jeff Pulver) is now PageRank-rich indeed.
Other forms of link bait include a niche-specific blogroll, a how-to, or a compilation of news stories.
Here are some of my favorite examples of link bait:
Counterfeit Mini, an effort to “protect” unsuspecting consumers from buying a counterfeit Mini Cooper. Ha! Actually, Mini is behind this brilliant campaign.
Will it Blend? videos showing the founder of Blendtec blending rake handles, light bulbs, marbles, iPods, etc.
19 Things You Don’t Know About Death, a clever and surprising campaign that made it to the front page of Digg. Who would have thought that a life insurance company could churn out link bait?
Subservient Chicken, a brilliant viral campaign from Burger King in which viewers issue commands to a chicken wearing lingerie.
Institute for Backup Trauma gives us John Cleese starring in an uproariously funny instructional video about the dangers of not making adequate backups.
Up Your Budget by Budget Rent-a-Car uses a blog to launch its nationwide scavenger hunt with clues planted in various cities across the U.S.
One successful viral link bait campaign can be worth many, many thousands of dollars of link buying and thousands of emails of link-building requests. Social media optimization expert Neil Patel estimates that just getting your link bait featured on Digg.com will yield tens of thousands of visitors in a very short period of time and potentially more than a thousand links within a few weeks.
Ready to generate some link bait? Then get your creative juices flowing, because out-of-the-box thinking is the key ingredient to a successful campaign. Calling in a favor with friends who are influencers in the social networking sites can’t hurt either.