And the Verdict on Linkbaiting Is…

Apathy and resignation.

Last week, I opened up a discussion on whether or not the term “linkbaiting” was the best way to describe what has evolved into a new marketing services sector. At its essence, linkbait is simply great content with an angle that prompts links and social media action.

This isn’t simply an academic discussion. It’s not much of a secret that I’ve been working with clients in this area, despite not advertising it (until today). Social media marketing is the here and now of effective online marketing, as well as its future, and it goes well beyond great search engine rankings (no matter how sweet those can be when they arrive).

If there is any consensus opinion, it seems to be, “Sure, there’s a negative connotation to the term, but everyone knows what it means, and it’s been around too long now to change.” I would argue against “everyone” knowing much of anything about this topic, since most people in the “real world” of business are still fuzzy on what a blog is.

The people who don’t like the term, however, are quite clear in their resolve. They think it’s a terrible brand for the creation of compelling content, and when reaching out to those real world business prospects, I’d have to agree.

It’s worth taking a specific look at the comments of those who are in the industry. There’s not a whole lot of “rah rah” support for the term, even from those who coined it, caused it to spread, and use it to describe their services.

Nick Wilson is set to launch ClickInfluence, a dedicated social media marketing firm. Even though Nick is often credited with coining the term linkbait, he gives it the big thumbs down in two recent responsive posts at Performancing.

Despite being largely credited with inventing that term, I have to agree with Brian and others that it absolutely sucks in terms of image. …

A term invented way back in 2004 to describe really cool, linkable content has become synonymous with “dirty tactics”—bugger that, time to kill this term dead.

Rand Fishkin of uber-SEO blog and consulting firm SEOmoz had this to say:

No—the term sucks. It’s not particularly descriptive. It’s more than a bit negative, too. The only reason we use it is because it’s already entered the popular lexicon in the community—thus, it’s either call it linkbait or explain why you don’t use it and come up with an alternative, all while sounding overly pretentious.

I don’t find it pretentious to optimally brand one’s services. Rand and Danny Sullivan, two leading voices in the search space, simply decided one day to change the poorly-coined “social media optimization” into “social media marketing,” and it stuck due to their influence. Without doubt, coming up with another term for linkbaiting at this point is much tougher, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

Rich McIver had this to say:

The term “linkbaiting” is pejorative because it places emphasis on “baiting,” meaning that people are somehow being tricked into reading/linking to it.

As you rightly pointed out, linkbaiting in its best form is just really good content promoted very, very well. So, if you can pull off calling it “viral copyrighting” I’m all for it.

But in the meantime we’ll all keep hawking our services as “linkbait”.

I think within the competitive webmastering space, linkbaiting is perfectly fine. If you’re talking about providing services to the Fortune 1000 or even the general small to mid-size business market, probably not.

Rich’s business partner Andy Hagans weighs in via instant message:


You just gotta love Hagans.

SEO superhero Andy Beal says:

It’s been used for too long to go back. I think viral copywriting is a component of linkbaiting, but good linkbaiting doesn’t necessarily mean good copy.

Mr. Beal too seems a bit resigned, and makes a good point… linkbait goes well beyond copywriting and includes themes, applications, and widgets. I am personally biased towards good old-fashioned textual content from a risk-reward, traffic-quality, and conversion standpoint, as you might have already guessed.

Michael Gray adds some levity:

I think I’m going to start offering a new service called Premium Magnetic Content Creation, for those who are averse to the “bait” terminology.

Have you been looking at my domain name registrations, Michael? 😉

Finally, Todd Malicoat, one of the guys I enjoy reading the most when it comes to this topic, chimes in via link:

Brian, I thoroughly condone the term link baiting—mainly because it is a different school of thought from those old school “branding wankers.”

No argument from me on the importance of differentiation—it’s critical. And I’m no fan of the “branding wankers” either.

But differentiating just for the sake of it doesn’t always work. While naming a law firm “Shysters R Us” is a great way to grab attention, it’s also not a very good idea, you know?

And make no mistake, the big ad agencies are not as clueless as some like to think. Here’s an excerpt from a recent New York Times article on the latest trends in television advertising:

Marketers are turning to unusual, often little-known personalities who offer the kind of novelty and freshness that young people might blog about, link to and comment on in chats: in other words, make viral on the Internet.

Think they use the word linkbait in those pitch meetings? The Times didn’t mention it if so.

Social media marketing is the future of publicity and advertising in a hype-and-advertising-immune world, and social media remains primarily about links. I see no real reason to break SMM into smaller, link-focused labels, and that’s why I simply offer social media marketing services.

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Reader Comments (52)

  1. says

    Whatever it is called, the results are what really count. I do think “social media marketing” might go down better than “linkbait” round board room tables though.

  2. says

    I’ve been watching this linkbaiting debate go around for awhile, and here’s my two cents.

    Linkbaiting is, essentially, an art. There are good ways to do it, and there are bad. Some of the obvious bad ways are going to random blogs and screaming comments like “Hey check out this post, it’s cool, you’ll like it, thanks!” People write you off as spam, and truthfully — that is spam, plain and simple.

    But there are also good ways to linkbait. Here’s my theory on the correct way to linkbait. (Not tried and true as of yet, but it’s worked quite well so far.)

    Find someone who needs something. They’ll all over forums, blogs, chatrooms, etc. “Why are all my photos blurry?” “Why can’t I do this..?” “Why does my blog suck?” Being the intelligent person on the subject they’re inquiring upon, you feel obliged to give them an answer. But wait! — you wrote a post on that very subject a bit ago.

    Give them a little or partial answer. Enough to get them started, or to answer it simply. Then, you should say something to the tune of “I wrote a post on this exact subject a week ago, check it out here. (link)” That’s a basic idea of a good linkbait — you solve their problem, and give them the chance to learn even more — by clicking over to your blog.

    A linkbait is just that – bait. They can bite, or’s obligatory. But if you answer there question, or otherwise intrique them to want to learn more, about the subject, or just what’s going on over at your blog (now that you’ve shown yourself to be an authority on that subject), they’ll want to check you out.

    Lastly, I apologize for the long comment — I currently run only a photography blog, and linkbaiting isn’t much of a subject to tie in there. Hope my thoughts stir up more discussion then “is linkbaiting right or wrong?”. Bait — carefully.

  3. says

    I have a hard enough time getting my own links to stick 😉 The wikipedians are quite happy to take my content and give nothing in return.

  4. says

    1. Linkbaiting and social media marketing are not the same thing.

    2. The term social media optimization is still widely used, and again it is different than social media marketing, though perhaps a component of it.

    3. Social media is about a lot more things than just links.

  5. says

    Please enlighten us with more, Cameron. I agree with your last statement, but there’s very little that happens in social media that doesn’t involve links.

  6. says

    I didn’t mean to sound like a smart ass… what I meant was, explain a little more regarding your thoughts on one and two.

    Probably a whole post there…

  7. says

    I agree with Cameron. Social Media Marketing is more of an umbrella term, while linkbaiting is a “practice.”

    Brian, what if you created a new post in which you ask your blogging community to “name that brand” in three words or less, and tackle it wiki-style. Since everyone here has pretty much distinguished what it is and what it isn’t, why not step out ahead of the trend. Fahgadsakes, we tag and name and brand all day, don’t we?

    And then you can write a book called “Linktrain Manifesto” and the rest will be history.

    (I’m serious, BTW).

  8. says

    I pretty much consider social media optimization as anything that takes place onpage. It’s the process of refining (optimizing it) and adding hooks to existing content so that it’s easily spread through social mediums and online communities by users and visitors of the website.

    Social media marketing on the other hand is the more active role in relation to the creation and distribution of the content through the social web by some form of viral marketing.

    Social media marketing doesn’t always have to be about just the links. It includes other things like branding, traffic, sales, communication, etc.

  9. says

    Cameron, thanks for the follow up.

    OK, SMO is a bit simple in my mind. I think that’s about 20 minutes of consulting time with a client, and it’s just good marketing.

    And I think everyone who peddles “linkbaiting” services points out that promotion of the content is crucial.

    Your third paragraph is where we agree 100%. In fact, linkbaiting without attention to “branding, traffic, sales, communication, etc.” is a huge waste of opportunity. The term “linkbaiting” not only carries a negative connotation, it sells short the total value proposition of the service.

  10. says

    The word does have negative connotations which is unfortunate because ultimately what you are doing is offering a way for online surfers to get highly targeted information exactly when they need it.

    “Magnetic linking” or “viral linking” might be more appropriate, descriptive terms.

    Of course they’re not as sexy as “linkbaiting”.

    Kindest regards,
    Andrew Cavanagh

  11. says

    We use overture-esque tools to find keywords because they are the words that people are _actually_ using to talk about stuff.

    Who cares what it should be called as long as everyone ‘gets it’?

  12. says

    Who is “everyone” Ross? And who is searching?

    How many people a month search for linkbait or its derivations?

    There’s plenty of providers staked out in the SERPS for “linkbaiting,” anticipating business, but very few people with money searching for those terms.

    Maybe I’m missing your point?

  13. says

    First of all, this is great linkbait.

    Secondly, linkbaiting is one of..what?…15 dominos that you can implement in SMM.

    Thirdly,…I’ll give you $100 to change Todd’s anchor text to something more feminine.

    Fourthly, Power Accts make up for shoddy writing skills. Not sure if that’s SMO or SMM. I defer to Big C.

    Lastly, this is all really good stuff. Copyblogger lives on thru my mass subscription deletions.


  14. says

    I do think a lot of people beyond the SEM industries are gonna have a hard time distingiushing between viral marketing and linkbait.

    While its quite clear what linkbait’s intention is, and viral marketings can be a bit more sketchy, I do think there’s similarities that to many will make it difficult to split.

    I like to think of both however as an evolution of good old fashioned word of mouth.

  15. Jon Morrow says

    I’m surprised to see no one has commented on the announcement of your services. Is this what you meant when you announced the future monetization of Copyblogger? I, for one, think it’s more interesting than the whole discussion of linkbaiting.

    For 2 reasons: is the connotation of the term important to anyone outside of this small group, and does the negative connotation have any real negative effects?

    Maybe I don’t get it, but I honestly can’t see what changing the term will earn everyone. Legitimacy? And in the eyes of whom? And is having their respect really that important?

  16. says

    Jon, I think ultimately everyone will do exactly what they feel is right, depending on the context. In some settings, I’ll say linkbait, in most others (general business), I won’t.

    It would be cool if we could come up with a universal alternative term, but it isn’t going to happen. Having the discussion, however, has still been worthwhile, at least from my perspective.

  17. Greg says

    There are ephemeral links (Britney shows her butt) and eternal links (Nobel Prize winning author outlines comprehensive plan for world peace).

    And there is rather a range in between.

    I like to think that people, search engines and social media directories will get smarter. Ephemeral linkbait items with high peaks and troughs will downgrade; while the steady climb of eternal linkages will be rewarded.

  18. says

    Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon and Squidoo all got mentioned in British Esquire magazine this month. No mention of linkbait though.

    But for how long?

    When the term seeps into the minds of mainstream press surely the conversation will be over.

    Linkbait is visceral, it’s meaty, exciting and dirty. It promises sex and scandal in seedy Soho eateries.

    Anything else is anodyne, buttoned down, starched and pressed until all the pizazz has gone.

    I love the term for it’s vision of sweaty maggots being threaded on the hook to bring in the punters.

    Dressing it up in bland clothes will not change the nature of the beast.

    I say celebrate it’s negative conotations.

  19. says

    I have two questions:

    Are the terms “linkbaiting” and “link love” the same thing?

    When you include an URL to your blog within a comment on another site considered “linkbaiting” just as much as referencing another’s blog post on your own blog?



  20. Patrick says

    I only started reading your blog and realized you didnt like the term link bait too much to put it mildly ;).

    Ive always thought link bait sounded like it was a sort of bad tricking other people, too and have been thinking of it as H.L.C. (=highly linkable content) before i came across the term link bait. Basically it refers to the same thing…but doesnt have a negative connotation like link bait might

  21. says

    ‘Linkbait’ as a word is fine because it’s catchy.

    Don’t waste energy on trying to remove ‘negative connotations’, but instead focus on making it work the way it should :)

  22. s_jenkins says

    given the fact that linkbaiting creates a network of sorts, does google have any actions against linkbaiting?

  23. Andy says

    >>creates a network of sorts

    Not really, I don’t think.

    I believe Cutts has been quoted as saying this is a legitimate promotional technique. But I could be wrong..

  24. says

    Whatever it is called, the results are what really count. I do think “social media marketing” might go down better than “linkbait” round board room tables though.

  25. says

    Brian Clark,

    Link Bait is really a good technique of link building.

    i want to asnwer to Jonathan Kantor,

    The term “linkbait” is used to describe content on a website which is designed to generate incoming links from other sites.

    Linkbait is essentially a piece of content placed on a web page – whether it’s an article, blog post, picture, or any other section of cyberspace – that is designed for the specific intention of gathering links from as many different sources as possible.

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