Seven Important Qualities for Good Linkbait

I wanted to call this article “Seven Habits of Highly Successful Linkbait,” but I didn’t put in the survey work involved. I have seen and read a lot of linkbait, though, to say nothing of the number of articles I’ve read about creating linkbait. As near as I can tell, linkbait that does well for the site owner that originates it often has seven specific qualities.

Before I get into those qualities, let me review what linkbait is for those of you who are new to search engine optimization. Linkbait is nothing more than a specialized form of content, though it could also be a widget or other small application. It is designed to attract visitors and get them to link to your site, thus raising your standing in the search engine results page. Links to linkbait are usually posted through social media websites, blog comments, etc. in the hope of creating some kind of buzz.

Most linkbait creators also hope it will increase general interest in their site. The idea is that visitors will come to check out the linkbait, but stay when they see other content that intrigues them, and maybe convert (subscribe to a newsletter, buy a product, etc). In other words, while linkbait will generate a spike of visitors, most site owners hope for a lasting increase in the number of visitors, and that the drop-off at the other end of the spike doesn’t go all the way back down to pre-linkbait levels. That’s a tall order. How do you accomplish this?

Start with relevance. If you want the visitors who are attracted to the linkbait on your site to stay on your site, then it should be dealing with a topic that is of a piece with the rest. Is your site for a dental practice? Try writing an article about “Five Ways to Make Your Teeth Last For a Lifetime.”

Your linkbait’s relevance to your own site is not the only factor to consider. Think about where you are posting links to your linkbait. What is the demographic of the social media web site? Slashdot, Reddit, Fark and Searchles all have very different demographics. Sure, there’s some overlap, but the point is this: if you want visitors to bite your linkbait, you have to give them something that they find relevant. Appeal to your audience – and appeal to the right audience.

Linkbait should also be useful. It’s not absolutely necessary; many popular linkbait items are funny or controversial or newsworthy or have some other good hook. And if you’re better at writing articles with those kinds of hooks, more power to you (writing “funny” items in particular is not easy, and this world can use more humor). But I know if I came across a piece of linkbait that was actually useful, I’d be more likely to bookmark it, and I suspect I’m not alone.

How do you know what your target audience would find useful? Patrick Altoft, writing recently for Blogstorm, noted that you should “Make sure you read all the blogs in your niche and see what they are linking to.” That will let you know what concerns your potential visitors. You might be surprised. For example, Styletips101.com, when looking for linkbait, received some of the following suggestions: how to dress for an interview; how to dress for a conference; and 10 style tips for a first date. You have an amazing store of knowledge that your audience doesn’t share; find out what they want and give it to them.

Let me give you an example. Recently I wrote an article in which I mentioned that a plumber might not want to write a blog, because writing about disasters is not likely to attract customers. But a plumber could write a prevention piece on what you need to do to keep your pipes running smoothly.

Interactivity is another great quality to give your linkbait. Again, it’s not obligatory, but you can do great stuff with it. "Subservient Chicken" was the first, of course, and it was all about the user apparently interacting with the person wearing the chicken suit. As a more recent example, just think about how popular widgets have become! They provide a handy and useful way for users to manipulate data. While it’s heavily controversial at the time of writing, the Scrabulous widget on Facebook is another great example. It lets two users play a game of Scrabble online.

Games aren’t the only form of interactive linkbait of course. You can probably think of something that applies to your field. Say you own an automobile repair shop. You could do an article titled “Ten Warning Noises Every Car Owner Should Know.” It could feature a 15-second or so audio file for each noise, an explanation of what problem is signaled by that noise, and potential consequences if the noise/problem goes untreated. You’d obviously set up the article so that the reader hears each noise when they click on its associated button. This is a crude example, of course, but I think it’s enough to start your brainstorming.

It’s difficult to create content that is truly unique online. Nevertheless, if you’re trying to build successful linkbait, you should aim to create something that your target audience can’t find anywhere else. They’ll have to come to you for it, and that’s exactly what you want.

You can make strategic use of keywords to help you here. Suppose for a moment that you’re a seller of supplies for doing “forgotten crafts” such as bobbin lace (bear with me here; I know I’m getting a little esoteric). “Bobbin lace” is not that unusual a keyword; putting it into Google yields 173,000 results. But making bobbin lace requires a special pillow. What if you posted how-to directions for building your own bobbin lace making pillow? “Bobbin lace pillow” returns 22,500 results in Google; “bobbin lace making pillow” returns 8,120, and “bobbin lace making pillow construction” takes you down to 2,540. That’s a lot less competition! Please note that all of these searches were made without quotes, and it goes without saying that you’ll want to try other key phrase variants to see what works best — to say nothing of checking what keywords searchers are actually using.

In any case, anyone performing such a search would have a very good idea of what they’re looking for – and if you show them how to make a pillow, they may buy other bobbin lace making supplies from you. (Or, if you sell bobbin lace making pillows, they may even decide it’s too much trouble to make one and buy one from you instead!).

You might also want to make your linkbait comprehensive. Give your readers the sense that you’ve done complete research on the subject by including information from relevant studies and surveys, statistics, and resources for further reading. Creating good linkbait really is hard work; it goes without saying that you should actually DO the work.

The point is that someone who reads your linkbait should come away from it feeling like they’ve learned something substantial that they couldn’t find anywhere else. This should do good things for your reputation – and web surfers are more likely to visit a site if they consider its owner to be an authority on a topic that interests them. 

The Internet was more a text medium than a graphical one when it started. Text is still very important, but today images, graphics, charts, and videos combine to make it more visually appealing, which is another quality you should strive to achieve with your linkbait. Most people like to look at pretty things, else why would there be so many image galleries online? This is especially important if you’re building a widget; if you want to have people interacting with the mini-application, you should make it enjoyable for them to do so. A pleasing appearance contributes to that.

Take a look at Yahoo Pipes, which I reviewed in July of last year for Dev Articles. This offering from Yahoo lets you manipulate web page data in useful ways, like returning all the apartment listings from several sources that are near schools and hospitals, for example. Playing with the application is just plain fun, in part because the interface is so beautiful. But this point is not limited to applications; if you’re writing a how-to article, or explaining something, it helps to have pictures, diagrams, charts, or whatever will help you get your point across. Don’t fill your linkbait so full of visual clutter that it confuses your audience; simply think about what your audience would find appealing.

Indeed, the seventh important quality of linkbait is that it should be created while thinking of the reader, not the author. I probably should have listed that one first, but if you aren’t already thinking clearly about your target audience – who they are and what they need – then you may have bigger problems than making sure your linkbait succeeds. You should also be prepared to ask some “why?” questions. Stand back from your linkbait and put yourself in the mindset of one of your readers. Then, at Patrick Altoft notes in a post for Blogstorm, “Before you hit ‘publish’ on your next piece of linkbait think about why somebody might link to it.”

I’ve given you seven important qualities for linkbait: relevance, usefulness, interactivity, uniqueness, comprehensiveness, visual appeal, and reader focus. I’m going to add one more, which you really want if you’re hoping that your linkbait will go viral. Linkbait should be easy to share. Add a button that lets readers email a link to the item to their friends. Add several buttons to let them send a link to social bookmarking sites. Forwarded links could snowball into a lot of visitors for your site. Good luck!

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