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Does Link Bait Work?

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The rise of Web 2.0 and social bookmarking brought about a shift in focus for strategies in generating website traffic. Whereas before, the focus was on keywords which would attract search-engine hits, the new plan is to write for people instead of machines, in the hopes that somebody will submit a site’s link to Digg, Reddit, Del.ico.us, et al. This kind of content is called “link bait”. So, how’s that working for you?It’s a sensible strategy, at least on paper. Why stress over ducking and dodging around the “Google dance” when one enthusiastic referral from Digg can get you a server-melting tidal wave of traffic? But it turns out that, like search engines, social bookmark sites are not as easy to game as you might think. Specifically, when every blog post and web article on the Internet is designed to be special, then none of them are.

But you might as well maximize your chances, right?

The New Web Media

What is rich multimedia content? It’s anything other than text. Anything that plays, or can be played. Rich media content development has gone hand in hand with the social web’s development. These days, a YouTube video, a podcast recording, or simply a funny picture has as good a chance as anything to get today’s number-one spot on the social web’s list. Flash games are also a big draw.

Rich multimedia content, as opposed to text, can’t be indexed by a search engine, and so it relies on people to spread the word. The content-rich site builder would do well to not put all of their eggs in this basket: you can see sites that host brilliant content out there, and they just get ignored. Too much competition for too few eyeballs.

Nevertheless, it is “strategy A” in creating link-bait. Just remember that the social web audience, while huge, has the attention span of a gnat. They’re out to be entertained every minute, commercial-free, and they seldom linger at one site for fear that they’ll miss something better at the next link. They usually come, watch your video for a minute, and go – back to the comments section of Digg or Reddit to utter a witty phrase and mod down a troll or two, and then they’re off to the next link. You’re famous for five minutes, and then you’re forgotten.

The New Journalism

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Now the “strategy B” in creating link-bait is to rely back on plain old text – but do so while posting some content that gets attention. Much easier to do in practice: controversial topics are a dime a dozen on the web. Simply pick a hot-button topic from today’s headlines, have a controversial argument to make about it, and rant away. When your link gets posted, everybody who disagrees with you will show up to flame you down. Everybody who agrees with you will show up to defend you.

Hey! What just happened? Visitors keep coming back! Suddenly, unlike the funny video link-bait, your controversial articles get traffic again and again, as it stays on people’s minds and they keep checking back to track the debate. Of course, this will only work if you have a comments section on your site – otherwise, the debate (or “war”) will happen on the social bookmark site instead.

Other Strategies

There are many other kinds of link-bait besides multimedia content and controversial issues. The linkbait strategies that people often forget:

* Humor. – People love to laugh. People especially love to share jokes. A good humor piece is immortal; it will get linked to and shared again and again. Examples: Cracked.com, Davezilla.com

* Informative “How-To” articles. – Share some handy tips or information – especially something that not many people know. People also like to have their problems solved, and again your informative content will get linked whenever somebody in a forum asks a question which is answered by your article. Examples: HowStuffWorks.com, Wikipedia.org

* Lists. – They can even be a list of controversial topics. No matter what, lists, especially numbered lists, seem to do very well on the web. Perhaps because people know they can breeze through a list in ten minutes. Example: ListVerse.com

* Curio. – Equally entertaining is an exploration of the strange and unusual. If you get the right subject, readers are intrigued. Intrigue people with anomalies, amazing events, strange natural phenomena, and unsolved mysteries. Examples: DamnInteresting.com, RealityCarnival.blogspot.com

* Niche topics. – Here’s a thought: Why compete with 1000 other sites for 1% of the readers by talking about a hugely popular topic, when you can draw 100% of the audience for a niche topic that nobody else mentions? While this is a long-term strategy and you will not see results right away, you will see gradual links trickle in as the narrow band of websurfers interested in this topic search and search and keep finding just you. Examples: UnknownMovies.com (movies), The-Underdogs.info (video games).

So, Does It Work?

No guarantees! The thing is, just like everybody and his mother was trying to get to the top of Google five years ago, everybody and his dog is now trying to get to the top of Digg.com. So much so, that a cottage industry of sites have sprung up where, for a small fee, you can buy links on social bookmark sites that will get voted up by an army of paid promoters. Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

Other reasons why your link didn’t make it to the top of the social web today include: they were busy looking at something else, they can tell when you’re being too transparent, they’re burned out on this topic, or simply so many submissions came in that your link got buried.

Good luck! Oh!…please let me know what you think about link bait too. You could probably offer more additional info to help others in the comments section below.
A LinkBait trifecta: Rich multimedia content that is a HOW-TO on creating linkbait: