Link bait: Half luck, half skill, half something else
Ian Lurie Jul 30 2010
Everyone thinks they have a great recipe for link bait. Make a list. Include pictures. Freak people out. Post it right at this specific time of day (different for every ‘expert’). Spam Digg. No, wait, spam Twitter! Ooops, try Stumbleupon! Or, my favorite, “Write really good stuff”.
When you see hordes of experts all recommending different stuff, it means there’s a lot of luck involved.
My copywriting, search and social teams – which all deserve serious praise for kicking butt up and down the internet – just hit a couple of home runs that, combined with a few of my successes/failures, tell the tale: There is no secret recipe. There’s only persistence, skill and a healthy dose of luck.
The 9 Circles of Mel: Sometimes it just works
We wrote The 9 Circles of Mel because my favorite anti-Semetic lunatic is clearly trending in search volume. Worst case, we figured we could, for once, abuse an idiot without getting in trouble.
It didn’t see much action. Then it suddenly appeared on hipstr – since then, it’s been all sunshine and ticker-tape parades.
What worked: My team brainstormed, wrote and created this post right when Mel turned himself into a trending tornado of stupidity. They moved fast.
What made no sense: 6 retweets? Seriously? That’s it?
7 Wonders of the RV World made us look darned smart
The 7 Wonders of the RV World is one in a series of posts about RV’ing. Our goal: Get the attention of RV-focused blogs and publications:
It did just that, getting on a whole slew of great RV publication sites and blogs. Woo hoo! We rock! I love it when a plan comes together, etc. etc.
What worked: It was topical, interesting and kind of weird. We got in touch with specific, targeted blogs we knew would love to write about the article.
What made no sense: Why did this one get noticed when stuff like the 31 strangest places to sleep got a yawn? I’m guessing a butterfly flapped its wings somewhere.
14 social media lessons: Fail, utterly
I spent about 3 hours researching, writing and then producing 14 social media lessons.
That was all I heard when it published. I could’ve gotten more notice for my blog by running outside and yelling the URL.
What worked: Nothing.
What made no sense: Everything. I did everything I was supposed to! I was a good boy! Honest!
Questions for a social media ‘expert': Why?
Before that, I wrote 10 questions for a social media ‘expert’. In 15 minutes. I sent out one Tweet and forgot about it.
Next thing I know, my CTO is asking me what I did, because Conversation Marketing is getting slapped with so much traffic it set off a server alarm.
What worked: I wrote angry. Plus the image still cracks me up.
What made no sense: Why would this one post set off a firestorm? I’ve said far more extreme stuff, far more effectively (in my opinion). I’m not complaining, but why? WHY?!
The last one: Stop plagiarism in 3 easy steps
I put some effort into this one, but it was so geekified I figured it wouldn’t get a second glance. I posted it on a Friday, which is supposedly the kiss of death for anything you want to go viral. I think I may have Tweeted it, but that was it.
Sunday morning I had over 45 traffic alerts on my Blackberry. The post had hit the front page of Digg.com.
A couple weeks later Cracked.com mentioned it and linked to it on their site.
When I’m a washed-up, wrinkled has-been, I’ll talk about that time I got famous on the interwebz.
What worked: I inflicted serious pain on a serious scumbag, using my powers of nerdility. Apparently people like that sort of thing.
What made no sense: In retrospect, the whole thing made sense, actually. It just took two or three of the Right People Digging/Tweeting and it caught fire.
So, now I have my sure-thing recipe for link bait success!
- Be lucky. Be very, very lucky. Live clean, make sacrifices to the right gods, etc. ‘Cause luck is a sizable chunk of the equation. Anyone telling you otherwise is deluded or drunk.
- Write lists. Of all the link bait we’ve ever produced, we have never seen a non-list become a quick hit. If you want a shot at 24-hour success, write lists.
- Don’t write lists. But link bait isn’t just about the 24-hour hit. “Failed” link bait can slowly acquire links and become a fantastic asset. So don’t write lists 24/7. Variety is great, and non-lists tend, in my experience, to grab the long tail.
- Don’t overthink. Write that sucker. Edit it. Get it out the door. Writing rarely improves with 10 revisions anyway.
- Go to extremes. Every success above went to some extreme: Crazy RV attractions, Mel Gibson, whatever.
- Write to the trends: Learn and love QDF.
- Forget the brand for a second. The only way link bait works is if you accept that this is not about your brand. Write for the sheer fun of it, and for your audience’s information/entertainment.
- Enjoy writing it. If you felt tortured while writing, your link bait will suck (unless it’s about torture, I guess).
- Be humble. Never, ever think you have a secret formula. Human beings are pesky monkeys – what worked today could fail tomorrow. Accept it, and you may stay sane a little bit longer.
It’s been an unbelievably hard week, that included at least five work crises, a conference, a bout of food poisoning and consecutive 16+ hour work days. I’m not asking for sympathy – just please understand that the tone of this post might be a tad influenced by my mood right now, which is “Is it over yet?”
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More