Woe is me…
A reader contacted me after my last post and called me out for using the term “link bait” in it.
While he was nice enough, the objection seemed to be that only a sleazy marketer would try to “bait” someone to visit, or link to, a web site.
Never mind that I’ve called the term inelegant several times myself.
Or that “link bait” is just a sexy term for high-quality content that benefits the reader.
I can certainly see that the word “bait” has potentially negative connotations even beyond the fishy subtext. Bait and switch comes to mind.
And I also realize that in the early days of blogging, the only creative bait that was utilized by the pioneers amounted to attacks and insults.
But let’s look at the history of the word “bait” as it relates to content, and see if the original connotation is negative or not.
The first paring of the words “link” and “bait” came from the SEO industry, a group particularly interested in obtaining links to boost search engine rankings. I’m not sure if it was Aaron Wall or Nick Wilson who gets the dubious honor of being first [editor: it was Wall according to Wilson], but we’ll let them hash that one out.
But what about this “baiting” concept before then?
Here’s an excerpt from the highly regarded book The Story Factor by Annette Simmons:
The jargon we use demonstrates this. We try to “hook ‘em” and “reel ‘em in.” … Your story is the bait. If a fish doesn’t bite do you blame the fish? Do you call the fish unmotivated, lazy, greedy? No, you look for better bait.
And what about all those screenwriting books that prime the Hollywood system with fresh meat?
From Story by Robert McKee:
Casablanca’s Act One hooks us with the Inciting Incidents of no fewer than five wellpaced subplots.
From Screenplay by Syd Feld:
… so it becomes essential to introduce your story components from the beginning. You’ve got ten pages to grab or hook your reader, …
Hook is not a Peter Pan reference, people.
And finally, let’s go back to 1933 and the Robert Collier Letter Book, one of the old school copywriting classics:
Hundreds of books have doubtless been written about the fine art of fishing, but the whole idea is contained in that one sentence: “What bait will they bite on?” Thousands of articles have been written about the way to use [sales] letters to bring you what you want, but the meat of them all can be compressed into two sentences: “What is the bait that will tempt your reader? How can you tie up that thing you have to offer with that bait?”
Copywriting and storytelling as a way to attract links and traffic?
What a concept.
When it comes to the use of the “bait” or “hook” analogy in the context of compelling content, the intent is not to disrespect the reader at all. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.
We can’t blame anyone but ourselves if a particular piece of content doesn’t connect with people. The only answer is to learn more, get better, and try again—by focusing on the reader’s needs just a little more intently.
If that makes me a sleazy marketer, then I guess I’m guilty as charged.