Calling It Linkbait Doesn’t Make You Less of a Jerk
There’s a particularly poignant post over at SEOmoz today where an SEM relates an Unsavory Linkbait Dilemma he had with one of his company’s high profile clients – Promises Treatment Center. For those who don’t own a television set, a computer, or have access to a newspaper, that would be the rehab center young Britney Spears is currently residing at.
Naturally, since Britney has taken up residency, the site has experienced a flood of visitors – Uniques are up 4300 percent, page views 3600 percent and they’ve already collected 541 new links, he says. The dilemma he faces is whether or not he should take advantage of Britney’s situation in order to gain more exposure in the search engines. He explains:
"Ideas from the crass (like a “Where in the World is Britney Spears” game) to the noble (a site expressing support for Britney during her treatment at Promises) ran through my head. What better form of linkbait? People are swamping our site – most of them in vain attempts to find out information about her treatment."
I’m going to ignore the incredibly large knot in my stomach those last two sentences gave me and try to look at this intelligently.
From a public relations perspective, I really think any attempt to benefit off this, or a situation like this, hurts your company’s reputation. Masking your linkbait attempt behind a "support" page that tells the paparazzi to back off and let Britney recover in peace could still backfire. In your heart-of-hearts, you know you’re trying to capitalize off someone else’s suffering. Don’t pretend you seriously care that Britney’s privacy is being taken advantage of. (You don’t, and she doesn’t either or she’d stay inside.) Your visitors will see through that and you’ll ruin the emotional aftertaste called branding you’re leaving in their mouth.
Even if you were able to create something "funny" and you gained some links and exposure, the long-term effects could be forever damaging. You’ll lose credibility with your target audience, respect (and links) from your colleagues, and likely tarnish the brand you’ve worked so hard to create. It’s like that guy who writes a blog post flaming someone not because he’s right, but because he can. Publicly, people may comment and laugh, but you know when they turn off their computer at night they’re thinking, "now THAT guy? He’s an ass." If it’s human nature to want to tear someone down, it’s also human nature to despise the person who does the tearing. Even if you enjoyed watching.
Don’t be that guy.
And seriously, what kind of visitors or potential clients are you going to attract with a crass Where in the World is Britney Spears game anyway? The kind of people who used to stuff you in your locker when you were in high school and still hovering around 4’9? Are these the people your company is trying to attract? Do they bring value to your company?
Looking at this from an ethical perspective and stepping away from the Britney angle, you have to ask yourself how far you’re willing to go for visibility. Is being crass okay if it’s done in the name of links? Or as Rand Fishkin asks in his comment, "is linkbait the paparazzi of the Web?"
I don’t think linkbait is Internet paparazzi, but I do think each site, company and human must find the how-far-is-too-far line for themselves. And regardless of how crooked or far back your line is, I would hope there’s some level of common decency that is applied to all things. It’s that compass that keeps you from clicking on your competitors PPC ads, from reporting their worthy sites as spam, from spreading rumors about their company on the Internet, and from doing a host of other malicious, sleazy or spammy things.
If you’re saying, publishing, or creating something that hurts others and/or is potentially damaging, to anyone, you’ve crossed the line and you need to reevaluate your business goals. At some point is not about what kind of a site you’re running, but what kind of a person you are. Creating a blog post that defames someone is wrong. Trash talking at conferences is wrong. Take the energy you’d put into that and put it towards creating something worthwhile. It takes just as much energy to do something right as it does to do it wrong.
One of the commenter’s at SEOmoz responded that if you don’t take advantage of the situation, others will. He’s right, but I think that’s a really crappy way to do business, or really, live your life in general.
At the end of the day, your company’s success is not going to be based on your position in the search engines or the hot piece of linkbait you just created. It doesn’t matter how well you rank if you’re known for being an unethical scumbucket. Your company has an image to maintain, as do you. Do you really want to be known as the guy who created the Britney Spears Flash game?
The idea behind social media should be to build a community. You can use that community to serve an array of purposes, but community is really the goal. You don’t achieve that by hurting or bringing down others, especially people who are already suffering.
There are plenty of people on the Web already exploiting the misfortunes of others. My advice is to encourage your company to aim higher. Don’t take the road to easy links; take the road that offers value to your customers. You want to be known, but you want to be known for the right reasons.