Creating great link bait is something of an art. Everyone wants to originate that one great piece that goes as a viral as the plague. But the key to making any attempt at link bait successful is in the planning stages. That’s why when the creative wind is blowing it’s time to nail up the shutters and hunker down for the brainstorm.
No man is (or should be) an island
This may seem like a no brainer, but creating link bait shouldn’t be a solo project. Sure, too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the broth, but ideally you want at least a few minds working on a concept. A good idea can easily become a great one with a little outside perspective. Recently, I was working on a post and when I ran the topic by a friend he gave me an idea to involve even more people and when it was all said and done the piece became something better than I had ever imagined.
The point is, from the very beginning, getting feedback on even your earliest ideas can be invaluable. Whether it’s the entire concept, design choices or just the title, bring others in your brainstorming process. As a group you can generate a list of possibilities and choose the best ones. You never know who’s going to say something that will revolutionize the entire project.
Don’t Start Cold Turkey
When you’re creating link bait starting from an idea that’s pulled out of thin air is a gamble. Sure, maybe you have that one great new concept that is going to blow everyone’s minds. It happens. The ideas that make you sit bolt upright in bed at 2am with inspiration are worth getting up to write down. But the ideas that come from research, planning, observation and insight are the ones that really have a foundation for success. Even though the best link bait is hardly recognizable as link bait, if you’re trying to create something monumental, you’ll want to study other ventures that have already been there.
Take “The Old Spice Guy” for example; Lisa Barone does a great job of breaking down the finer points of why everybody wanted to smell like Isaiah Mustafa. Ultimately you want to dissect accomplished link bait the way comedians dissect jokes. A great comic makes it look easy and natural, but there are hours of testing, thought and almost science that go into breaking down every moment of a routine. Link bait is no different. Look at the top vote winners on sites like Reddit, Digg and other sites where link bait seems to gather. Read the comments and analyze back links for important information on what exactly made THIS piece so compelling. The gold you mine there will be well worth your time.
Learn From Your Mistakes
Unless it’s your first shot at link bait, you have something to draw on from the past. Whether you’ve had successful or not-so successful experiences with creating link bait in the past, there are lessons to be learned. Look at both your most and least triumphant endeavors and try to analyze them objectively. What worked, what didn’t? Even better, ask people outside of the original project why they think something sank or swam.
Was it a lack of exposure? Or did you promote the hell out of it, but the piece just didn’t spread? What useful aspects can you replicate and which pit-falls can you avoid? It may be difficult or even impossible to explain exactly why something fell flat, but it’s worth trying. If you don’t evaluate your past experiments, then more than likely history will repeat itself. And on the flip side, it’s hard to get lightening to strike twice by accident, unless of course you are creating the tempest.
Jump on the Band Wagon
I don’t mean regurgitating things that have already been done, but it’s often a good idea to capitalize on trends. Sure info-graphics may have reached their tipping point in some niches, but in others they are still on fire. While not everyone needs to run out and create one, there’s nothing wrong with getting a piece of whatever is “so hot right now”. Whether it’s a style, a format or a topic, people are most apt to share something that salient at this moment.
For example, the Oscars are coming, but that means the clock is ticking on Academy Award related link bait. Timing is everything if you’re trying to utilize a trending topic. When you create something that involves what “everybody” is talking about, you stand a much better chance of seeing it passed on. If you feel out of the loop on what’s all the rage with these days, then you’re in luck. Both Google and Yahoo provide resources that can help you figure out exactly where the cutting edge is.
Google has both Google Trends which is up-to-the minute as well as the Zeitgeist which provides an overview of the past year. Yahoo Buzz provides much of the same info and sites like Trends Buzz compile Google and Yahoo’s lists as well as Twitter’s Trending topics all into one place.
But if you wanna catch a ride on the bad wagon, you don’t have time to misplace your keys. In other words, turnover needs to be fast. That means if it usually takes you months to create something, then you might want to avoid time sensitive subjects or construct a calendar of major events in the coming months so that you can make sure you get a trendy piece out in time for it to matter. Taking advantage social fads and universally relevant topics is a great strategy to ensure that your final work isn’t obsolete as soon as it’s published.
There’s no secret formula to what makes a piece of link bait take on a life of its own, but there are absolutely steps you can take to improve your odds. If the goal is to create something viral, then bring the masses into the planning process. Taking the time to evaluate your past efforts as well as analyzing the victories of others will give you a lot of hints about how to get it right.
And when you take your topical cues from pre-existing social signals, you can hit the ground running. The phrase “I think…” Is good, but the statement “Our research says…” is even better. Because great link bait isn’t magic, but it can be the culmination of a lot of hard work and a little innovation.