May 30 2011
Ok, clearly for those who can count, link bait is actually 2, 4-letter words. But for some people out in web-land it’s become a dirty, almost derivative, term. I’m pretty sure though, that’s mostly because the word is so abused. Link bait isn’t everything we publish; link bait is a specific kind of content that is meant to draw a lot of attention to a site when it’s released. Link bait can be a beautiful thing when it’s done right. But other times it can make you want a shower.
Some people will just stoop to any depth to get links. They will create controversy, or expose others weaknesses in the hopes of benefitting from it. And they do. And everyone else sneers and calls their efforts mere “link bait”. Content that panders to negative emotions, makes inflammatory statements and goes only for shock value is, unfortunately, a class of link bait. But it’s an ugly one and it’s only part of the entire picture.
Like a secret in a game of telephone, the essence of great link bait got lost and mangled along the way. As any strategy spreads it’s bound to become warped to accommodate the agendas of those applying it. But the art hasn’t been lost on everyone. As it stands, we’re left with a mixture of amazing link bait, mean link bait and utter crap that someone wishes was link bait. But link bait isn’t the unfortunate garbage and it doesn’t have to be unscrupulous either. It can simply be an incredible piece that is the culmination of a long period of planning and a lot of hard work.
True Link Bait is not Average
The vast majority of content on the web doesn’t really qualify as link bait. The bulk of what we write in terms of standard blog posts and informational articles just doesn’t rank. Most anything that can be put together in a couple of hours probably isn’t gonna reach the link bait bar. Sure, the occasional hilarious rant or brief video is going to be a home run. But more often than not, link bait is going to take more time and effort to create.
The problem is when people try to pass off mediocre material as link bait. Patrick Lencioni, of Table A said “When everything is important, nothing is”. I think that concept may partly explain why the idea of link bait has become so distorted. By over-saturating the market with a whole lot of nothing special, it’s diminished everything.
Basically: Don’t be the link bait that cried wolf.
It’s ok to keep publishing and promoting your standard day to day content. It has use and merit of other kinds. But it’s best not to use your full promotional arsenal for that kind of work. Not everything deserves a ticker tape parade, so save the fanfare for when it’s really deserved.
Link Bait Breeds Innovation
One of the main reasons I think that link bait is a good thing is because it encourages people to do something extraordinary. Ok, maybe only doing it for links cheapens the purity a bit, but it doesn’t weaken the final product. I mean, sure, we may do it for the links, but let’s be honest; we also do it for the thrill. Trying to create something that will go viral, or that will become an online sensation is a lofty goal. It forces us all to be more creative, cleverer and more comprehensive than perhaps we would have if there weren’t link in it for us.
Making something great usually starts with research. Finding “hot” buttons in terms of popular content relating to your industry is the first place to start. But don’t assume some cheap knock off of someone else’s previous success is going to cut it either. Some people may be able to make a living selling faux Kate Spade’s on a New York City street corner, but it doesn’t usually fly with content on the web. If you want to do an extrapolation on an existing idea the general rule is “bigger and better”. Of course the best way to go is to break new ground.
Link Bait Can Be Valuable for Everyone
Whether it’s a quest for links or not, if someone wants to do something revolutionary we should all support that. Even if only because “revolutionary” is so damned hard to come by. In this day and age, if someone can create something truly new and unique it’s worth heralding. We all have our favorite resources bookmarked so that we can return to them time and time again. Perhaps it’s a tool, a calculator, a collection of images, a case study, a checklist, an infographic an article; a widget…the list doesn’t stop. The point is someone, somewhere, had to put that together. That effort resulted in something that we want, or need, to refer to. Whether the creator was in it for the links or not, we are grateful to have the end result at our disposal.
If the quest for links pushes us to continue to create the ultimate resource or best version of anything, that’s useful for everyone. As long as we do honestly strive to reach new heights in information and entertainment, our link greed actually has positive ramifications on the world.
You’ve got to feel a little bad for the way poor link bait has been bastardized over the years. It started out as a good idea and then became an over-used buzzword. When everybody tried to get a little piece of the action; great attempts at link bait got mixed in with a sea of ill-conceived imposters. So we have to ask, will the real link bait please stand up? I certainly hope so. Let’s hear it for the innovators who add real value to the internet world. How about a hand for the weeks of research and planning, for the data collection and programming? You know what, on second thought, save the applause, just send links.
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