The recent hoax of a 13-year-old ordering hookers on his father's credit card started an interesting conversation about link bait. Obviously, this was an extreme example, but the responses seem to show that, as a group, our industry has very differing views on what is legitimate link bait.
Matt Cutts, the bouncer at Club Google, made his opinions clear in his blog that this was a wrong method on so many levels:"My takeaway from this brouhaha: There are plenty of ways to market a site creatively without deceiving anyone. Don't burn your credibility by using fake stories. It's a short-term tactic and makes people trust you less in the future."
Apparently that one hasn't died, as I heard it was being discussed a bit at SMX Advanced. Hell, the responses were everywhere once the story was outed as a hoax. It was Sphunn 100 times -- a couple of hours worth of reading at least.
While I understand the hoax part, and the story over at Money.co.uk should not have benefited by cheating the system, the response is an entity by itself now. Funny, I haven't seen any comments from Yahoo and Microsoft on this hoax -- though no doubt the added links are helping Money.co.uk in the results of those engines as well.
The use of widgets has also gotten attention recently. Matt Inman, formerly of SEOMoz and now an independent consultant, had a run in with his widgets a few months ago. Apparently some of the widgets he was giving away not only had links back to the source of the widget, but also to other people wanting links.
Widgets are a great way to build links. I've worked in the financial field for a number of years, and one firm has their currency converter out to hundreds of thousands of sites. Makes it hard to beat them for the words they use in the link back to their site. But they did it the "approved" Google way: all links back to origin of widget and contain relevant link text.
Interestingly, Matt Cutts sidestepped some questions about linking at his session discussion, despite efforts by Danny Sullivan to get answers. Though Cutts did say that there were differences between paid links and "natural" links -- whatever they are.
Google tries to do it algorithmically, but takes manual action as well to deal to them, he told the crowd. As Matt noted "You can leave footprints that makes it easy for Google to spot." Thanks to David Wallace for the coverage on that session.
The Bigfoot of Link Building.
The Mozzers, on the other hand, are experts at this one. Even when they do something for fun, they end up with huge results. Jane Copland, who is using her Olympic swimming skills well to successfully navigate the treacherous waters of Web marketing, sent me this gem. Seems when you're hot, even casual posts take on a life of their own. Getting 2,500 Diggs on that post is impressive, and the OneBox parody was hilarious.
It also highlights an area that runs parallel to link bait: traffic bait. Sometimes you don't need the links -- just use the social media sources to give you direct traffic. That way, you avoid problems with Google while still getting loads of visitors.
Rae Hoffman and Aaron Wall, two prominent players in our space who've been known to create the occasional link bait, gave Werty some link building insights that are worth reading. I asked people on Twitter to help me out on this and had a bunch of replies. (Will social media link baiting be the next big thing? Screw the link, just grab the traffic direct!) I've also used social media to get links as well as traffic, and I have no idea how people see what I'm doing. I haven't manufactured stories, but I've made sure my headlines are creative enough to make you at least read the first paragraph.
It's not until the linking starts that Google gets involved. Do you think Larry and Sergey thought this far aheadwhen designing PageRank and their algorithm? No way!
I loved the comment Jay Young, of Link Fish Media, made on the Blow Your Mind Link Building session at SMX Advanced: "We are not in this for morality, we are in this for marketing."
Therein lies the rub. It may not be truly a question of morality versus marketing. It seems more to be an issue of commerce or social, corporate or personal, work vs. play. If the hooker hoax didn't have a financial element to it, then the laughs and links may have had some validity -- thin as that may sound.
Do we have to see what motivates the link process both on the side of the person developing the bait and those who take it?
Funny how some of this stuff has been the same for so long. I found an old SEW blog post from 2002, "131 (Legitimate) Link Building Strategies" -- so even back then, legitimacy was an issue, or at least being factored in. Morality wasn't a factor back then -- and link bait hadn't even been termed.
What amazes me is Matt's blog is the number one result for a Google search for "linkbait" and the page only has 45 links to it, according to Google!
The number two result from ProBlogger has only 13 links. What does this tell us, apart from the fact that it may not be hard to rank for the term?
Who links to you, who you are, and who interprets the quality of the link bait are all considerations.
So, determining what is valid link bait may go beyond morality, and be more the power of the person doing them and who they know. Come on guys, let's leave the hooker story and get into the meat of what link bait is all about. Send me some comments!
Chris Boggs Fires Back
This whole subject gets me a bit perturbed. As some of you who have read the Sphinn threads may know, I was on Lyndon's side, in that this was great content to generate buzz, they admitted it was fake, and added that content to the story.
Should a site that posts someone's opinion article benefit from links? Isn't this the same thing? Some sites are capitalizing on this subject by giving their own sermon on ethics. Does this mean that all links to this content that were created because of fake content should also be devalued?
In terms of the whole "holier-than-thou" stance that people have used in bashing the money.co.uk story, it frankly makes me a little sick. It's ironic that some of the same people who stand up and shout "we don't need standards in SEO" can turn around and chastise someone for using non-standard ideas to generate traffic and links to a site. Frankly, I don't want to add any more fuel to this fire, so I'm going to stop on that subject right there.
In terms of the widget bait thing, this is another area where people may be pushing the envelope a little by including non-relevant links within the widget code. However, there are probably many cases where the terms and conditions for uploading the widget state that there are links within the widget. If people want to use a cool widget that is essentially free to them, isn't it fair that in return they provide whatever links are included as a part of the widget's design? I also look forward to comments about this subject, and perhaps another chat in the Search Engine Watch Forums. Thanks for getting me all fired up, Frank!