As I’ve mentioned numerous times already in this series on linkbaiting - ‘linkbait’ is a term that is used to describe a variety of practices that have the purpose of generating links to your site.
It is impossible to come up with a definitive list of what these practices are as they are only limited to the imagination of website and blog owners.
Below I outline 20 of the more common linkbaiting techniques that I’ve seen (and used).
A couple of things first:
Please note that in describing them I don’t necessarily endorse them all. It’s worth saying up front that like many aspects of the web, the tactics that people use vary quite a bit in terms of what they see as ethical or acceptable behaviour.
Also note that some people use these techniques with the motivation of getting links where as others do them without such motivation. While they are described by some as linkbait many of them are just activities that bloggers and webmasters use in their day to day work.
Here are 20 linkbaiting techniques that are commonly used (please note – points in the following list are not mutually exclusive, there is overlap between many of them).
Tools – give other website owners a useful, fun or cool tool that they can use on their blog that points back to your own. A prime example of this was the blog worth tool that Dane from Business Opportunities developed that tells how much a blog is worth based on Technorati’s API (used by thousands of bloggers (google shows 27,000+ links pointing to it) – most of whom posted the button that the tool provides (with a link back to his blog).
Quizzes – quizzes, surveys and tests have long been popular with web users and if you’re smart about the way you design them (giving people a button to place on their site for example) they can be quite viral. I ran my recent ProBlogger quiz as a quick test of a plugin and saw it bring in quite a few links – if I’d given participants a button and given it some more thought it would have been even more successful).
Contests – organise something for people to participate in and you’ll find that some will. Add a competitive element to it and offer a worthwhile prize and you might just find the participation rate increases. My recent group writing projects (with prizes) is an illustration of this (although they’re not strictly competitions). Over 300 people submitted entries in my lists project and in the current one there’s already 150+, most of whom linked back to ProBlogger to show their participation (even though I didn’t make it compulsory to do so).
Be First – if you’re the first in your niche to do, say or be something you’re likely to be linked to heavily by others in your niche. Being second, third, forth…. in your niche to do, say or be something will generally have less impact. For example take a look at the success of the Million Dollar Homepage in contrast to the main thousands of copycat pixel advertising sites that followed. Another example was the One Red Paperclip guy.
Scoops – related to being first is breaking a story in your niche. Break a big enough story and the amount of others that link to you giving you credit for being the source of their own news posts can be quite massive.
Exposé – similarly – expose a fraud or scammer and you can create a real buzz around your blog and become part of the news itself. I’m sure there are a few political bloggers out there that would identify their ‘big break’ as exposé blogging when they exposed one politician or another of doing or saying something that showed them for what they’re worth.
Awards – At the beginning and end of every year in blogging circles a silly season of awards happens (last year there were so many that I created ProBlogger’s Awards for Blog Awards). While not all awards work well, many do particularly well at generating a buzz (with lots of traffic and lots of incoming links). They do it on a number of levels. In the first part they generate links from those hoping to be nominated – then they generate links from people who have been nominated who try to get votes – then they generate links from winners showing off and others complaining about the winners…. the waves of incoming links to a good awards can be quite fascinating to watch.
Lists – I’ve written extensively on lists before so won’t go into it in much detail – but of late many examples of blog posts that seem to get a lot of link attention are very list oriented pieces. There is just something about a list that people latch onto, digest and want to pass on to others (just check out digg and delicious and you’ll see plenty of examples). Of course these days list posts are a dime a dozen so you’ll need to make your list useful and stand out in some way. If you do (and you have a little luck) you’ll be well on the way to being linked to.
Humor – some of the best linkbait that I’ve seen has a humorous edge to it. Whether it be a cartoon (Hugh does this well – I’ve seen his blog linked to numerous time today alone), a funny photo, a story or even a title that gets a laugh – people enjoy humor and like to pass it on (it’s something we’ve been doing for centuries in the stories/jokes we tell).
Make someone famous - I’m still trying to get my head around this one but one of the reasons why I think my group projects seem to do well is that they offer people the opportunity the chance of being discovered (of course the prizes help – but some people feed back to me that the main reason they participate is the traffic and incoming links that it can potentially bring). Another example of this is BlogTopSites.com (and other sites like it) which rank pages in different categories. I suspect that a lot of people participate in these sites (and link to them) because they want to see how they rank with other blogs and have hopes of climbing the rankings.
Create belonging/community - people like to belong and they desire community. Give them a place where they do have community (or at least feel that they have it) and they’ll quite often link to it from their blogs. For example, I find here at ProBlogger that people quite often link to the comments sections of my posts (more specifically to comment threads that they themselves have participated in) rather than the post itself. I also see this illustrated by a lot of bloggers who participate in (and link to) discussion forums.
Design – those people clever enough to design something that others use in large numbers can do quite well out of it in terms of incoming links. For example a good blog theme/template (with an inbuilt link to it’s designer) that is picked up and used widely can create an avalanche of incoming links. I’ve seen a number of designers who have had their work picked up as default themes at WordPress.com comment upon the many many thousands of links that this brought them.
Rants – there is something about a well written, well argued and passionate rant that is very link worthy. People get stirred up when you get passionate and the links will often flow as a result. Of course when you write a rant you need to expect that people will react both positively and negatively (and there is often fallout).
Controversy – similarly, controversial posts tend to get strong reactions from those reading your posts. I discovered this very early in my blogging when I innocently wrote a short piece with some of my thoughts on the Iraq war on a Christian blog I was running at the time. I didn’t expect any reaction and was surprised to wake up the following morning to find it had caused a massive stir in the ‘God Blog’ community with hundreds of bloggers linking up either to support or criticise what I’d written. Again – controversy brings in all kinds of responses. Don’t do it just for the sake of being controversial unless you have very thick skin!
Attack – while we’re talking about controversy – another common way to get attention for yourself is to pick a fight with another blogger in the hope of tempting them (and others) to ‘bite’ back. I’ve seen this approach get a number of emerging bloggers on the map in the past 12 months – but would warn those wanting to give it a go that there can be significant fallout from the approach and that you’ll want to consider whether you want to build your reputation around your snarkyness or some other characteristic. If you’re going to build a blog purely on snark you need to be ready for the snark to come back at you and should realize that it’s difficult to sustain.
Shock – ok, I’m obviously pooling these together but using shock tactics is yet another linkbaiting technique that some people use quite effectively. People have been doing this for years in other mediums (‘shock jocks’ in Radio for example) so it is no wonder that they’re doing it on the web as well. Shocking via language, extreme views, showing controversial or titillating pictures or video etc all fall into this category. Once again, I’m not really into this type of blogging and wouldn’t want to build a reputation around it – but it’s definitely a tactic that some use with real effect.
Research and Statistics - researching a topic that has popularity and that people can use in some way is another effective way to generate incoming links. While it’s may not be strictly research – Dave Sifry’s periodic ‘state of the blogosphere‘ posts are widely linked to and quoted from because he is presenting interesting statistics that directly apply to something people are passionate about.
Give something away – think about the buzz that Oprah created when she gave every audience member a car a couple of years back and you see the power of what happens when you give something away. While giving every reader you have an extravagant gift like that might not be possible – the clever giving of gifts can definitely create a buzz.
Usefulness – writing something ‘useful’ is a pretty general thing to say (and would be incorporated above in many places) however I think it’s worth saying. The more useful your content is to people the more likely they are to want to pass it on to others. Show someone how to do something, give them knowledge, entertain them and/or improve their lives and/or be better at something and you’ll be amazed at how they’ll rave about you.
Cool Factor – as I look at what seems to get linked to by bloggers I’d say that a fair proportion of it isn’t particularly ‘useful’ (or anything else in this list) – it’s just ‘cool’. Of course ‘coolness’ is difficult to define or achieve (it seems to just happen) but if you are cool (or do something that is) you might just find yourself getting linked up to.
Like I said in my introductory paragraphs – a definitive list of linkbaiting techniques (and examples) is impossible to achieve. The above 20 types of linkbait are just the beginning of the ways that bloggers get links from other sites (sometimes they do it intentionally with the motivation to get links and sometimes its just byproduct). I’d love to hear your suggestions on linkbaiting techniques that you’ve seen used (or used yourself). Feel free to give an example or two also.