Link Baiting: For Experienced Marketers Only (Don’t Try This at Home!)
Copyright August 10, 2006 by Mike Valentine
Link building sessions at Search Engine Strategies shows are always popular and draw some of the most substantial crowds from the ranks of webmasters and corporate SEO’s attending conferences. But only one extreme form of link building can reel in the big fish and attract industry-wide attention or land whale sized national media for massive linking on the scale most web site owners can only fantasize about.
Rand Fishkin (appropriate name for LinkBaiting) of SEOmoz.org was first of a panel of experienced link bait fishermen to present on the topic at the Search Engine Strategies 2006 show. Fishkin recently landed a shark with excellent bait offered at his site he named the “Page Strength Tool,” which helps webmasters determine the overall quality score, and can determine ranking factors for their web site beyond simple “PageRank.” The tool magically reviews dozens of factors contributing to high ranking of sites and reports to webmasters where they’re strong and what needs work.
Fishkin started by outlining the elements that lead to success. Step one to link baiting researching a sector link Worthiness by doing some discovery of “big” players in your field. Check delicious tags and technorati tags on your topic. Can your web site content be tweaked to appeal to pundits in this field?
He claimed that online viral public relations is another name for linkbaiting, since the term seems to carry negative connotations. He recommends selecting a content focus to meld branding and viral elements. Do keyword research to find popular phrases in your area. Digg.com “most popular” as well as del.icio.us offer “most popular” areas Fishkin recommends StumbleUpon.com as an undervalued resource to research areas of online buzz and interest. Look for elements that encourage linking.
Fishkin was followed by Cameron Olthuis of Advantage Consulting Services with a presentation titled, “Tracking your buzz – Because your reputation depends on it”
Olthuis emphasized how critical it is to monitor perceptions of buzz. Track your buzz using blog search engines and conversation tracking at popular message boards to follow public conversation about your site. Track the right terms to monitor how people perceive your buzz, Subscribe to RSS feeds using company name, company URL, competitors or industry related sites. He recommends that you figure out how best to leverage your buzz once it starts by watching what people say. If you have no knowledge of what is being said, the buzz you do gain could end up being nothing more than chumming for fish – You may attract them, but you’ll never catch them with out hooking them after they show up.
Join any conversations you do find by commenting on blogs, respond to emails and by posting in forums, answering questions, because it keeps your buzz going and can lead to many more links. If buzz is negative, be sure to turn it into good any way you can. Take focus off of negative buzz if it happens by creating a different controversy. ClaimID is a personal reputation management company he recommended using to track online buzz.
Mentos Diet Coke fountain from YouTube video was discussed by Olthuis as an example of taking control of any buzz that starts spontaneously. For those unfamiliar with it, the video involves putting the candy into Diet Coke to create a fountain of soda. (Fizz in this case, rather than buzz). Mentos took advantage and funneled the traffic to a newly created contest to create your own Mentos Fountain. The most popular video, linked to by the home page of the Mentos web site, has been viewed over 6 million times. That video is below.
Another video that went viral, causing extensive buzz (both positive and negative) in the advertising world was the Agency.com video pitch for Subway Sandwich national advertising. As of this writing, the account review has not been finalized, but the video below was done by Agency.com to attempt to win the ad account. The negative buzz is coming from within the advertising industry for the most part (competitors to Agency.com). There is no word on whether the pitch worked and landed the Subway account for them.
Embrace your buzz, regardless of good, bad or ugly. Measure it with backlinks, brand image, trends, new customers by using Yahoo Site Explorer, blog search engines Google GTrends Opinmind and Google Analytics. Learn rinse, repeat.
The next presentation was by Jennifer Laycock, editor of SearchEngineGuide. Her advice is “Give them something to Talk About” Why use link baiting and viral marketing? The cost is the in the idea, not the marketing. Any idea won’t do, must be something worth talking about. Once you get that idea, there is almost no cost involved. The technique creates brand evangelists and gives people a reason to talk about your product. Because it is driven by passion, it creates a better conversion response at a rapid response rate.
She gave the example of the “Subservient Chicken” game on the web site from Burger King – did it sell any chicken? She emphatically claims that it is “Not about selling chicken, it’s about branding and awareness.” She observed that it had resulted in hundreds of millions of visits, with an average time on the site of over 7 minutes – unheard of for most sites. Laycock says it was about “making a brand cool.” She asserts that this video resulted in a new demographic of web savvy, mostly young visotrs becoming suddenly interested in Burger King.
Lack of Brand Control is an issue she suggests is on the down side of viral marketing. Laycock warns that there is no control over who gets your message or how it is sent. Unbridled growth of a viral message and complete lack of contol over how quickly or even where you grow. The popularity is often hard to measure.
Laycock gave tips for creating the idea by suggesting that you ask yourself, “What sparks passion in my customers? What hasn’t been done before? How will your idea benefit your users? Will your audience risk their own reputation on it? Ideas spread because they are important to the spreader not the originator. A good viral marketing idea is one that builds and works through relationships.
She emphasized that the point of linkbaiting is to “attract eyeballs.” Successful link bait makes it easy to spread the word by providing tools or simple methods of sharing. This is one key to the success of videos that can be linked through Google video or YouTube.
Laycock recommends scalability be considered before launching and that you must be poised to act if things take off. She urges that it is critical to get beyond the idea itself to exploit motivators. She insists that “people want to be cool, so give them the chance” to do that with your link bait.
She gave the example of Gmail invites as one great method of allowing existing Gmail users to be cool, by having the ability to invite their friends to the service via a simple link in the mail interface. She proposes that linkbaiters “use existing networks and take advantage of other peoples resources.
Laycock had her own success in
lainkbaiting through a fundraising site she began called “Lactivist,” which was intended to raise money for a (mohter’s) “Milk Bank” by selling t-shirts and seeking donations to support breastfeeding above giving formula to babies.
She used the site to next emphasize that “People are Talking and Linking” so that we need to pay attention to the impact of blogs. She recommends that everyone doing linkbaiting should “Understand the Impact of a good Post.” and just as importantly, “Understand the impact of a Bad Post.” She suggests that the way to “get people to do what you want is by arousing their desires.”
People wanted to participate in the series and spread the word about the site. She emphasized the improtance of being intersted in others, learning their names, visiting their sites and doing active link building. Did the linkbaiting for Lactivisit work? Laycock claimed the site produced $2500 in profit and $1000 in donations for the Milk bank. More than 1,000 incoming links make up 75% o f the trafic to the site. Total unique visitors 36.500. She says the project produced a SearchEngineGuide promotional ebook for promotional purposes.
The final presentation was titled, “Gaining Visibility in the Goldnen Age of Links”. Given by Chris Boggs of G3Group. He recommended what he called “Linkbaiting in a search engine friendly fashion” by contacting bloggers specific to your industry. He said, “You can’t just put the worm on the hook, you have to through the hook out and do link building first, because link baiting” has become the holy grail of search marketing. Many hooks are baited, but are cast in shallow waters without big fish to notice or take the bait. You can’t catch a marlin with worms cast on wimpy hooks bobbing into a back country pond.
He noted a bad example of reputation issues created by links gained from negative publicity, pointing to the Comcast customer service fuss by a blogger that had bad experience waiting for Comcast service rep to show up and then caught him sleeping on video during the visit. That bad PR had the video complainer ranked at number 5 in a google search for “Comcast customer service”. Comcast has been doing some work to outrank the complainer video as it has dropped to position #8 as of this writing. Video shown below:
Boggs spent much of his presentation giving a long list of link baiting site examples from past few months. Notable among them was the “Church of the flying spaghetti monster” and the Air Force One graffitti story (a faked creation that imitated the presidential plane with graffiti spray painted across the wing mounted engine, supposedly done at Andrews Air Force Base.) Air Force One Graffiti video can be viewed at the creators web site, StillFree.com
Each of the examples given in this story produced extreme amounts of controversy or publicity and gained mainstream press coverage. Those sites that successfully create link bait are those that produces positive buzz, massive linking and great PR for sites that do it well. Each of the speakers gave great advice regarding link bait development that if followed, may lead to landing the big fish with just a big idea and not necessarily big budgets.