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October 24, 2007

Can Link Bait Mature? Yes, It Has To

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The question over at the Cre8asite Forums is can linkbait mature? Yes, it can. It has to.

Today, social media is our little baby. It’s full of promise and potential, shiny and superficial. It’s great for getting lots of cooing and oohs and aahs, but so far getting it to actually convert is hit or miss. And even when you can attract the eyeballs, often they’re the wrong eyeballs. Like real babies, social media is exciting and lots of fun at first, but after awhile it starts to stink and you’re ready to trade it in for something else. Like a puppy, perhaps.

In order for social media to grow and develop into a fierce toddler (and keep its place in your house of marketing tricks), the types of link bait techniques we’re seeing must evolve. It has to lose its tendency to focus on the vapid, and mature into a sticky Internet marketing tactic that search marketers can use to increases conversions and user engagement.

And I think that it will.

Everything that we’re seeing in terms of link bait and social media today represents the ground floor of what’s to come. Things are going to get smarter and more creative. They have to. I mean, "old" standards like Top 10 and crafty How To lists are becoming less and less effective at getting your audience’s attention. They’re played out. They’re boring. And that’s okay, because they were really never that good of a social media marketing campaign to begin with.

The link bait attempts we’re inundated with today are typically geared at the lowest common denominator. It’s about appeasing the Digg/Reddit crowd and trying to get 10,000 visitors to your site in an hour. And while I will agree that its super fun to watch your traffic spike, that kind of attempt at links isn’t going to leave you with much. At the end of the day you’re going to end up with the same empty feeling you felt after all your one night stands in college. It’s time to grow up and find a more targeted approach at life, love and links.

And I think that evolution is already occurring. During last week’s Linkbaiting panel at SMX Social Media, Rebecca Kelley stressed the importance of doing your homework and applying actual research to your social media marketing strategy. Knowing what kinds of content do well on which kinds of site, knowing what your industry responds to, and seeing what’s already been done. When we talk to clients or SEO training students about establishing themselves as a subject matter expert, we often talk about some of the things Rebecca mentioned. Only we’ve never called it linkbaiting; we call it a link magnet.

The different between a link magnet and linkbait is how targeted it is. Successful linkbaiting will get you massive amount of traffic that often won’t convert. Creating a successful link magnet will help you stand out in your field and increase your visibility to the segment of people that are important to you. It’s about creating a valuable resource. That’s the maturation of link bait. It’s less about the baiting and more about creating quality, link worthy content. The kind of stuff that is also likely to help you in the new era of blended search, as well.

The key to creating a great link magnet is research. When we talk to people about creating an effective link magnet, we often advise them to take a look at their industry. What tools do they use every day to do their job? Better yet, what’s that one thing you always complain about not having? What magical tool or resource or mashup or page do you think would make your life or job easier? Why don’t you go ahead and make your life easier and create it? And then share it with everyone else.

For us, the greatest in-house example of this has always been Bruce’s Search Engine Relationship Chart. Bruce created it to help himself get a visual understanding of how the search engines work. He spent the time to create something that was uniquely valuable and when he perfected it, he decided to share it with the entire search marketing industry. It was created as an educational resource and has continued to be a link magnet for us. It wasn’t a Top 10 list or a video of Susan falling down the stairs (though that would be awesome); it was link worthy content that continues to valuable years after it was initially created.

And that’s what this whole link bait is going to have to mature into in order for it to be successful. It’s not about reaching the front page of Digg and attracting a massive amount of eyeballs, it’s about attracting the right eyeballs. That’s the only way social media marketing will be able to achieve the kind of long-term success and viability search marketers are looking for.

What do you call grown up link bait? You call it a link magnet.

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3 responses to “Can Link Bait Mature? Yes, It Has To”

  1. Eric Enge writes:

    Couldn’t agree more. It must mature into something with more depth. Even today, if you want to get high quality links as a result of reaching the Digg home page, you have to write a high quality article.

    The “right eyeballs” that you are trying to reach are the people who are influential in your industry. Chances are that they became influential because of the value they brought to the industry, and they are only going to pay attention to content of similar value.

  2. Rhea Drysdale writes:

    Loved this post! It’s something I’ve been struggling with internally for a few weeks now. Linkbait works, but somehow it makes me feel cheap, like there’s so much more. To quote a cute little old lady, “where’s the beef?” Strong content and actionable items will always prevail and hopefully, more marketers will take that to heart, so as not to cheapen the industry. Great discussion and question!

  3. Zack writes:

    You have made some great points. Social media/viral marketing, etc. is great, but why attract traffic that is not going to potentially put money in your pocket. You’ve got me thinking now!
    Thanks



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