by Eric Ward

Updated July 2009

“Link Bait”.  Man-o-man do I hate that term. As if your site’s users are nothing but a school of carp swimming about waiting to be hooked. Dangle a tasty little piece of content, any content, and BAM, got another click…

If you haven’t heard the term yet, you may be shocked to see over 20,000 references to Link Bait at Google (note: as of 3/09 there are now 160,000). I’m not shocked. Link Bait has been around longer than I have. Its what we used to call…content.

Nowadays I guess the term content has become quaint. I hear people saying, “I don’t have time to add real content, I need is something quick that will make everyone want to link to my site.” And I say, “Like what, the awesome Diet Coke/Mentos fountain video? But I thought your site sold ball bearings?” Funny, but true. People are getting so caught up in their quest for viral, user-generated links that they will do anything. Who cares if it has nothing to do with your long-term business success, your site was on the Digg homepage yesterday! Cool!!

I say you’re drinking the link bait Kool-Aid.

Link Bait is more or less anything you create anywhere on the Web that inspires other people to link to it. They can link to it via a Web page, a blog post, a twitter post, a social bookmark site, or even the truty old e-zine, newsletter, email or any other method that tells others about the bait.  The bait itself can be anything from a controversial blog post that gets people talking and linking, to a Web site that adds something really funny, to a useful application that actually helps people.

Go back all the way to the days that Yahoo was just a hobby for the boys at Stanford, and you could say their directory was early Link Bait. Everyone linked to Yahoo. Why? It was an awesome place to go find new Web sites. Remember that silly screen saver of the noodles doing the Macarena? That was Link Bait circa 1997. Even earlier was 1994’s Really Big Button That Doesn’t Do Anything. I laughed over that for weeks. It was funny back then. I think I emailed the link to a bunch of friends.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with link baiting. It’s the term and the tactics I don’t like. If you are creating Link Bait for no other reason than to attract links in hopes of also attracting search engine rankings improvement via those links…well, good luck. That’s what EVERYONE is doing. And those types of links wont help you long if at all. But go ahead and try it. While you do, why not also add some really useful content and tools to your site that will help your users accomplish something?

Call me old school, but I’ve been helping clients with linking and link bait strategies since before the term existed, so I tend to have a more strategic perspective.  I was involved with concepting and promoting several of the most successful examples of content (aka link bait) ever, like the Weather Channel’s Weather on your Site, and the first Times Square Web Cam. Like Schering-Plough’s Hepatitis C Infocenter.  I even helped with the very first launch of what is now called Windows Media Player. That’s high quality content and if you want to call it linkbait, fine.  More recently I helped publicize and link the new Children’s Hospital Boston Virtual Stem Cell Laboratory, a nichey bit of educational link bait that now has over 100,000 links.

No matter how clever the Link Bait, if it does nothing more than cause a little buzz or drive-by traffic, then you’ve wasted time and opportunity. Any site can fool people once, even twice. I’d rather have one person bookmark my site, re-visit it, share it, and socialize it than have 10 people come by for three seconds and leave.

But that’s just me, and what do I know?