The Link Bait Recipe

I read Frank Watson's "What is Valid Link Bait?" column with great interest. Link bait interests me both personally and from a business perspective.

When it comes to Link Love, my philosophy is to always start with great, compelling content and then the links will follow naturally.

Frank's article, along with Chris Boggs' Crossfire follow-up, is important reading when considering this topic. At the end of Frank's article he states, "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."

"Beyond morality." That's huge. Frank is onto something crucial here. Perhaps morality is mundane. Manners are milk-toast. It's possibly true that we're in the "age of the gross."

Look around at what we find amusing. Here are some of the names of the more compelling reality TV shows we love:

"American Gladiators," "American Idol," "The Bachelor," "The Bachelorette," "Beauty and the Geek," "Big Brother," "The Biggest Loser," "Extreme Makeover," "Flavor of Love," "Hell's Kitchen," "Kitchen Nightmares," "The Mole," "Paradise Hotel," "Project Runway," "The Real World," "So You Think You Can Dance," "Survivor."

It's all personal, real drama. We love other people's misery and horror so much. Want proof? I was in Chicago last week and learned that there's a one-year wait to be in the audience for "The Jerry Springer Show."

I've created hundreds of videos dedicated to Web marketing. I discuss trends, news, how-to information. I spend a great deal of time trying to help people understand and implement Web marketing techniques through these videos. I often get personal e-mails and the occasional link because people like something I've said.

However, those kudos I get because someone is thankful for what I've done is nothing compared to when I get people who hate what I've done. People love calling me names, telling me how stupid I am and coming up with endlessly creative ways to ridicule me.

The recipe for this bashing type of link bait is always the same. There are always two simple parts.

First, you have to put a stake in the ground. You need to brazenly disagree with someone or put yourself out there in a vulnerable spotlight. Have a belief or opinion you feel strongly about.

If you choose to go after an individual person, they don't necessarily need to be alive, as in the case of my video "Jackson Pollock Is a Dick." This was one of my first steps into this kind of link bait. It all happened quite by mistake. The video has been seen over 7,000 times, has 111 text responses, and has one video response. Allow me to share with you some of the insights people shared with me:

  • "Judge yourself. You don't know these guys."
  • "Pollock is a Dick? What a joke. You have no clue what art is and what it feels like to be an artist, obviously."
  • "This guy has not made a true factual statement in this entire video. I think he's drunk!"

Those are just some of the most recent ones. If I ever feel too good about myself I just browse these gems.

Second, you have to leave an opening for debate. You can either make a factual error or you can't defend your argument well enough. The secret sauce, however, is that there has to be a debate. Saying "Hitler was an ass" won't get you anywhere. Saying "Hitler has some valid points," certainly will.

In the case of "Jackson Pollock Is a Dick," I misstated the dates of when he was sober. I actually stated that he was sober a couple years after he was dead. I made this video mostly for my close friends, but I quickly found out that people actually watch this stuff. This infuriated people. This stupidity on my part gave people an easy opening to call me out and bash me.

My most recent foray into this kind of linking happened with a powerful blogger, Shoemoney, who wrote "SEO Has No Future." I responded via video and basically said his position was shortsighted and not worth discussing. I was probably bashing SEOs for discussing it more than I was really going after his point. But it was too much for him. So he wrote an article about it here. Again, let me gather some of the thoughtful responses:

  • "That's pretty amateur......."
  • "huh!! whats that!!"
  • "hunt him down and kick his ass!"

There's an instinct within people to lash out. The anonymity of the Web probably facilitates that much like the anonymity of road rage.

In this case, he felt personally assaulted and his readers came to his defense.

This is as much about understanding the human psyche as it's about getting links to your site. And unfortunately, the prognosis isn't great. It's difficult to garner links by being positive, helpful, and excellent. Links will come much easier if you're negative, conniving, and base. Some people will hate you and some will love you. What's important is trying to divide people.