You may recall that Stephan Spencer (I am now taking over his two columns here at Practical Ecommerce) wrote about link baiting some months ago. To sum up his thoughts, inbound links are good. Search engines improve rankings of a given page or website based upon the number and quality of links it receives. As Stephan pointed out, link bait is online content that is useful, funny, or otherwise intriguing to the point webmasters or bloggers can’t resist but to set up links from their pages to your content, and consequently help to improve your search engine rankings.
It’s not often that an ecommerce site is going to have naturally occurring link bait, because baiting isn’t just about selling. The best link bait may not try to sell at all, but rather simply tie itself to something of interest with regard to your products. Thus, more than likely, the bait is something you’re going to have to make an effort to create.
One great avenue for link bait is social media – sites like MySpace, YouTube, Digg and Facebook allow users to share and promote content and opinions, almost always for free. Social media sites (sometimes referred to as Web 2.0 sites since most are based on Web 2.0 technologies) are quickly becoming primary promotional vehicles, and the very core of that promotion is link bait.
Creating link bait on social media sites opens the opportunity to reach a large audience of users actively seeking the new, the interesting, and the fun. If these users like your link bait, it will be promoted and your links will proliferate. So, what kind of bait can an ecommerce site create?
- MySpace.com — Oscar Mayer isn’t a true ecommerce site, but it has a MySpace profile for their famous Wienermobile. Victoria’s Secret mirrors their “Pink” campaign on a MySpace page and have accrued 197,783 friends. Importantly, a hip MySpace page can drive traffic back to your corporate site. Do you have a mascot? Can you create a contest and give away prizes? Is there an interesting or funny angle to take on your business? A profile here also allows you to create MySpace groups focused on dedicated subjects, like your company or what it sells. Either way, make sure to include links to your native site.
- YouTube.com — an interesting or funny video can be made about almost anything! Blendtec.com is a great example. They make videos of their blenders blending anything from golf balls to iPhones. It’s hard not to enjoy these. They make sure to incorporate URLs back to their corporate site both within the video and on the YouTube page. As a result, traffic to the corporate site has increased dramatically.
- Facebook — the resurrection of this site is largely due to their open policy on Facebook applications. Anyone is allowed to add their own app, and many ecommerce companies are offering them up. Development is streamlined and made as easy as possible. Facebook wants these applications!
- StumbleUpon, Digg, and Del.icio.us — have an odd or interesting story about what you sell? Post it to these news-oriented and bookmarking sites. If the story hits a nerve with the users, links and traffic will increase exponentially as the story is shared.
Keep in mind that these sites are social, and by definition of that, all things “prefab” and corporate will by and large be ignored. A successful social media campaign needs to steer clear of corporate feel and aim at communicating with attitude; apply your street smarts, not your MBA. Also, be careful not to overdo the backlinks you incorporate in any given piece of bait. Users on these sites are looking for the “cool factor,” not to be taken in by link bait. Too many links will immediately be viewed as an attempt at link baiting, and your content will be shunned.
There are, of course, many more social media sites than the few, large entities mentioned so far. Other important possibilities include blogs, news sites, and sites that might be focused on some part of your business. If you’re selling shoes, for example, seek out blogs that deal with fashion or shoes specifically (there are many more than you might think!). A pet supplies store might seek out Dogster.com, Catster.com or even the dating site, Datemypet.com. In each of these scenarios, sign up and get to know the culture. Once you understand the general disposition of the site, start formulating link bait that panders to that culture.
Above all, try to have fun with your social media link bait. It’s likely that you have a passion for what you sell. The more the link bait speaks to you, or makes you giggle, or raises the hair on the back of your neck, the more likely it’s going to do the same for others. Always be respectful and good-natured when dealing with these communities, but also look for that which will stand out.