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Link bait: Half luck, half skill, half something else

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.

The 9 Circles of Mel

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:

7 Wonders of the RV World

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.

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.

10 questions for a social media ‘expert’

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

A couple weeks later 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.

Lessons learned

So, now I have my sure-thing recipe for link bait success!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Don’t overthink. Write that sucker. Edit it. Get it out the door. Writing rarely improves with 10 revisions anyway.
  5. Go to extremes. Every success above went to some extreme: Crazy RV attractions, Mel Gibson, whatever.
  6. Write to the trends: Learn and love QDF.
  7. 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.
  8. Enjoy writing it. If you felt tortured while writing, your link bait will suck (unless it’s about torture, I guess).
  9. 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?”

CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at

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  1. Thanks again, Ian. This one made me chuckle more than once. So nice to hear that it is just luck so much of the time. Can stop beating that herd of dead horses. I am so relieved. And so are the souls of those horses. May they rest in peace. Whew!

  2. The tone is perfect! Loved the article…lol. Marketing and entertainment always make for a awesome combination.
    Yup, I think luck sometimes plays a role. I’ve written articles I was sure to be a hot success and received mediocre results and articles that I wrote in 30 minutes and did well…crazy!
    I do agree with the list posts though…one of my most viewed post is a list post. I think it puts things in an organized perspective. With so much information out there, things can get a bit hazy and list allows things to be straight to the point, no dilly-dallying.
    Thanks again!

  3. Excellent article again Ian. It is good to remind people “luck” does play a role otherwise newbie online business owners will scream with frustration that one week they did x and got results, why not now? It can seem defeating but I love your upbeat tone and reminder to us all. You rock!
    (PS) Swear I’m not trying to link-spam, but wanted you to know I gave you some great kudos on my blog.

  4. For those of us who’ve have baited and failed, this post is a welcome reminder that failure is just a part of it…

  5. Ah, that explains why my system is failing… I’ve yet to make a sacrifice to the Gods!
    Excellent, fun post with a great message, highlighting something that I’d suspected for a while.

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