The search engines are always changing, but link baiting strategies never die. Here are the three core elements of an effective link bait campaign, which will only be more vital in the year ahead:
1. Understand ShareabilityA link is, fundamentally, really just a social share from somebody who happens to run a website. While the platform (HTML) is different, the psychological forces in play are the same. Content that goes viral on social networks will tend to attract links as well.
And, if you pay attention to social networks, you’ll notice that there are definite patterns. Most viral content has at least one of the following attributes:
The popularity of conspiracy theories on the Internet is perhaps one of the best examples of how bold opinions attract attention and propagate rapidly. A strong stance can alienate you from a large portion of your potential audience, but it can also expand your existing reach and strengthen your following. It’s probably best to stick to values you actually believe in, of course, to avoid a PR disaster at some point down the road.
It’s insider information
The Wall Street Journal linked to WordStream, an online ad-consulting firm, because they published their own proprietary data about Google. The original source of new information tends to attract more links than the site that re-purposes it, unless they are extremely good at re-purposing content, or already have a larger following.
Cats rule the internet, and according to this article on the science of Internet cats, this is largely because they’re cute and vulnerable. Cute pictures and videos of babies and dogs also abound on the Web. There’s something about cuteness that demands to be shared.
It’s bizarre and quirky
Gawker hired Neetzan Zimmerman to produce the viral content that, as Gawker’s primary editor said, “for the sake of the other writers, [is] a necessary cog.” Zimmerman, who created The Daily What, says “When something goes viral, it tends to be something that is not expected to go viral.” Headlines like “This Pizza Has a Crust Made Out of Cheeseburgers,” and “Dead And Buried Hamster Emerges From Grave Alive And Well And Hungry For Brains,” tend to go viral more than what would traditionally be called “headline news.”
As Zimmerman said, A “taxidermied cat being that’s been turned into a helicopter—that’s clearly going to be successful, right? Because it’s got that element of shock, it’s got that element of a cat, you know, it’s basically just tailored to the Internet.”
It should hopefully be obvious from all of this that shareability is only one component of success. A piece of content that’s designed only to go viral is also likely to be poorly branded, irrelevant, and unlikely to lead to conversions down the road. For some more examples of successful link bait campaigns, we recommend taking a look at these 10 examples from WebPageFX.
2. Brainstorm Frequently
What should also be obvious from all of the above is that linkbait demands originality in some form. If the information isn’t new, the presentation must be. If the topic is “boring,” it takes creativity to transform it into something bizarre, quirky, or hilarious.
And while “cuteness” doesn’t necessarily demand creativity, if you keep pushing that button too often, it’s going to be seen as obvious pandering. Besides, it will still take creativity to transform a branding message into something even remotely cute.
Here are a few brainstorming tips to help you launch a successful link bait campaign:
Small groups are best
Put too many people in a brainstorming meeting and most of them won’t contribute. Groups of three to five are better for group brainstorming. In larger groups, people forget their ideas before they’re called on, and it’s difficult to get into a productive rhythm.
Individual brainstorming is a must
Some of the brainstorming should be done by individuals brainstorming alone. Many psychological experiments on the subject have demonstrated individual brainstorming sessions result in more ideas. Group brainstorming is a necessity in order make sure ideas are aligned with business goals and long-term strategy, but individual brainstorming is an important component that shouldn’t be ignored.
Try “brainwriting” instead of brainstorming
Studies have shown that this technique beats the pants off of traditional brainstorming. The process is simple. For three minutes, everybody writes at least three ideas. Then they pass their sheet to the left, read the previous ideas, and again record as many ideas as they can for three minutes. Keep doing this for either a set amount of time or until the group feels its ideas are exhausted.
Write it all down
Whether you’re brainstorming alone or in a group, write down every single idea. As we mentioned over at ProBlogger, psychology suggests that we reject creative ideas, even when we think we want them, and rationalize this by telling ourselves the idea wasn’t creative. Do not reject any idea that comes to mind. There’s plenty of time to weed through the list later.
Encourage constructive debate
This probably goes against everything you’ve ever heard about brainstorming, but the science is clear. Debate has a positive effect on brainstorming. While you should definitely record every single idea, debates paradoxically make people feel more liberated, and more comfortable sharing minority viewpoints. This allows more ideas to make their way into the discussion. Don’t get carried away with this, of course.
If there is only one thing you should take away from all of this, it’s that mixing and matching ideas together is the best way to come up with new ideas. Don’t confine yourself entirely to your niche: Pull in ideas, concepts, facts, and stories from other disciplines in order to spice things up and draw analogies with your own subject matter.
Clearly, some of these tips contradict each other (debate vs. brainwriting vs. working alone, for example). Use more than one brainstorming method and measure the results. You may find that some techniques work better than others, or you may find that you need many different types of brainstorming in order to achieve the right variety of ideas.
3. Find Effective Sources of Information
Sometimes research comes before brainstorming, and sometimes it comes afterward. Both methods work fine, but result in different kinds of posts.
When the research comes first, it provides the raw material to combine and mash up into a unique idea. The advantage here is that you already have some idea of what facts and elements are going to go into the post. The disadvantage is that your ideas will be somewhat confined by the body of knowledge you’ve researched.
When the ideas come first, it forces you to stretch in your research and pull information from more unique sources. This can result in more unique ideas. The downside, however, is that you may discover the facts contradict your original idea, and that making your idea work would simply stretch things too far.
Hopefully, it’s clear that you need both kinds of posts, and that it’s actually a good idea to do some research both before and after brainstorming in most cases.
As we said before, “insider information” is far more likely to go viral than a redundant article. You can’t always be the next Bob Woodward, but you can get your information from places most people aren’t willing to look:
Peer reviewed articles and scholarly papers aren’t easy to read, but that’s precisely what makes them so useful as a source of information. There’s a lot of information contained in these texts that has never made it’s way into the blogosphere, and most of it is only “boring” because it’s presented in a very technical way. Pull out the most surprising facts and the key takeaways and you’ve got yourself some “insider” information, of a sort.
This isn’t the first time we’ve mentioned how useful your client can be as a source of information, and it won’t be the last. Odds are your client has a proprietary database of some kind. If you can, take advantage of it as a source of raw data.
Industry Experts (and People in General)
Get in touch with experts in your niche. The well known ones can help with exposure, and the less well known source can also offer some “from the front lines” information that you can’t find anywhere else. Watch the nightly news and notice how even an interview with a random person on the street can help a bit with credibility. There’s no reason to limit sources of information to your own research. Mine people for ideas, opinions, and information. Be a journalist.
Yes, it still exists. Believe it or not, this is also a great place to look if you want to find information that’s never made it’s way online. Yes, this still happens sometimes!
Anything That Could be Considered “Raw Data”
Whether it’s government statistics or an industry survey, raw data that’s never been turned into an article or blog post is one of your most useful “insider sources.”
We might be repeating ourselves a bit by saying this, but we can’t emphasize it enough. While the other research strategies demand looking through dense material, this one allows you to skim lighter blog posts and news articles and use them as insights for your own field. This makes the research part easier, but the creative part becomes more involved. This is the tradeoff.
To produce linkbait, you need to “get” the Internet, and understand why things go viral. It takes a comprehensive brainstorming strategy and a keen understanding of where to find original data in order to pull this off. The sweet spot between these three strategies is the launching pad for your most successful link bait campaign.
Did you learn anything new from this post, and do you have something to add? Let’s keep this going in the comments, and please pass this along if you liked our contribution. Thanks!
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Melpomene
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!