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Link Baiting (How Nick Wilson Created SEO Even Seth Godin Could Love)

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 15 years and 89 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

I’m pretty sure Nick Wilson gets credit for the idea of bringing linkbaiting mainstream. While Nick is certainly now well known in blogger circles, he’s got a background in the SEO community. Linkbaiting is a viral marketing idea created by someone with the mind of an SEO in my opinion. As I thought more about the ideas behind link baiting, I was suddenly hit with a simple ephiphany…”Finally, an SEO idea that Seth might be able to get on board with!” I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been pretty shameless over the course of a few years in trying to get a link from Seth (as of yet to no avail). I think that he may be partly reluctant due to having a sour taste in his mouth for anyone after his “googlejuice”. While the thought certainly has crossed my mind, I am much more excited about spreading Seth’s thought provoking ideas, and applying my own ideas and twists to them. Maybe if it’s about him spreading the juice to a “bad SEO neighborhood”, I’ll just get a rel=nofollow one day with a little help from my friends. :)

It took me a little while to equate the new craze in SEO back to the principle it is based on…and I think identifying the basis of linkbaiting (an old technique with a new name) will help to take the discussions even further (maybe even into the *gasp* “mainstream” blogosphere).

Fundamental difference between bloggers and SEO’s
Okay, maybe it’s just been me struggling with a blogger/ SEO identity crisis since Greg, Todd, and Brett started blogs (I thought maybe hell was freezing over), and until then I was quite resistent to embrace the blogger in me. Through this personal struggle, I think I’ve established one of the fundamental difference between bloggers and SEO’s: the self realization of love for links (and thus love of linkbaiting). Now that SEO’s love to blog (because of the viral link value) I’m more accepting of my split personality and trying to come to terms with why it is so.

There has been a severe disconnect between bloggers and SEOs in my mind…probably partly due to blogspam (the dark arts often get lumped into SEO by non-SEO’s), and partly due to the fact that SEO’s are open about their love of links, and bloggers hold a secret closet love of links, and will only admit to liking the traffic and exposure. Since they are still reluctant to admit their love of getting links, bloggers have a secret disdain for the world of SEO and their self actualization for their love of links. SEO’s are none too fond of bloggers for the simple fact bloggers can’t admit that they too pimp themselves for links (which = rankings and traffic).

Maybe now we can all get along with this new common idea of linkbaiting.
…Bloggers…you don’t have to hate on SEO’s anymore (and vice versa…we’re really quite similar in many ways!). Linkbaiting is not always nasty and negative, and it’s really okay to admit that you write and do things for the love of links and the results that follow them!:)

Enter – Linkbaiting – viral marketing for links!
Linkbaiting, which has become all the rage in the SEO blogosphere, and it’s really just a nice fancy way of saying “viral marketing for links”. Maybe that’s why bloggers and marketers sometimes take issue with SEO’s. We’re all about the links. Yes, I admit it, I used to weigh my purchasing decision on how much pagerank I could buy for that same purchase (hmmm…$100 shoes vs. a PR7 that could boost my rankings), back when text links were valued in terms of that pretty little pixie dust.

SEO’s are guerrilla marketers for the links. Why? Because the links drive rankings and rankings drive traffic and traffic drives more exposure, sales, and $$. In fact, we love links so much that we sprouted a cottage industry based on the buying and selling of those lovely little text links. We all know how much we love links, and we’re not afraid to admit it. You can keep your fancy TV and print ads (you make us want to slit our wrists when you don’t put your url in your ad). Give me the links! Now it may not always be this way (that links get us so excited), but it has been for a while, and that’s why just about any SEO worth their salt that you talk to will steer the conversation to how to obtain quantity and quality links in a matter of minutes. Sure other things are changing the face of the web and search marketing, but I think it will be a long time before I won’t get a rush of joy when I see my site name wrapped in a a href tag on someone else’s website.

Evolutionary Change – SEO Goes Viral…Marketing Goes to SEO
SEO’s are an incredible evolutionary breed. They are able to roll with the punches of change quicker than any other occupation that I am aware of. Viral marketing is amazing, and is a natural progression of SEO.

SEO has very seldom yet been a consideration for viral marketing campaigns. There are a few instances of marketing agencies considering search value before launching campaigns, but the examples are still few and far between. We’re making SEO better with linkbaiting…why not make viral marketing better by considering SEO before a campaign? It is so cool what can happen when the ball gets rolling and people start talking. If you haven’t read Seth’s ideas on viral marketing, Unleashing the Ideavirus, Permission marketing, or some of his other great books, then you had better get with the program if you want to survive in SEO/SEM, or marketing in general. Seth is the godfather of viral marketing, and I think SEO’s might finally have found an idea that he might like.

With all the new filters, checks, and balances in the Google search engine algorithm, linkbaiting is the natural progression of SEO. We need user data to back up those links now, so it’s much tougher to just buy the link love. Linkbaiting induces natural linking through viral marketing methods and fuses the new necessities of SEO with the established ideas of viral marketing.

Linkbaiting is the New SEO
So the big new catchphrase that has caught fire is “linkbait”. Why has it caught hold? It describes a new twist to an old idea extremely effectively. I’ll spare you the definition of linkbait, and let you decipher the intricate semantics of it yourself through a few searches and links listed below. Essentially, it’s the idea of building a well architectured site with the idea of garnering links naturally through word of mouth rather than through purchase or solicitation (kind of like getting free PR through other viral marketing methods). Free links are the best links! Of course these links aren’t “free”…they’re going to cost you some time to come up with a purple cow of an idea and make it happen (maybe the web 2.0 idea generator might help).

I want to revisit a few old (and hopefully a couple new) ideas for linkbaiting. Why go out and hunt for links when you can INSPIRE others to give them to you without asking, begging, pleading, or paying? Why continue to buy, borrow, beg, and barter when you can instill lasting loyalty and leverage through long living linkbaited link love!

Nick Wilson of has really helped to glamourize the art of linkbaiting during his stint with where he put the below techniques into action quite frequently.

  • News hook
  • Contrary Hook
  • Attack Hook
  • Resource Hook
  • Humour Hook

Nick has perfected the art of linkbaiting with a take no prisoners attitude to web publishing. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, and has amassed a large portion of his notoriety simply by pissing the right people off, and then having quality discussions of constructive criticisim with them when they were chided by others into a response.

Pick on somebody bigger than you (but not too much bigger)
Picking on someone online is a tricky proposition, you don’t want to offend them enough to get “nofollowed” or worse yet, hunted down, but calling someone out with constructive criticism is a good way to spark dialogue and make friends. I don’t recommend talking about someone’s mother, wife, or family (no matter how ugly they are), or taking pot shots at their religious or political views (even if they do belief in almighty aliens from outer space). Generally, “picking” at all is probably not a good idea. A better idea would be to both constructively criticize and proselytize for someone that you respect. You can go the picking route (it’s quicker), but it’s bad for karma.

Jeremy Z., Robert Scoble, Matt, Hugh, Steve Rubel, Jason Calacanis, Dave Winer, Jason Kottke, Om Malik, Seth Godin, John Battelle, Joi Ito, Doc Searls, Chris Pirillo, Anil Dash, Matt Cutts or or anybody else with thousands of subscribers are not going to respond to everyone who picks on them, so if you pick on them you had better make it REALLY good so some other blog disciples pick it up first (sometimes this might be even better). Big bloggers get lazy (blogging really *is* difficult), and tired of people constantly trying to bait them for the googlejuice. They love the links too (whether they admit it or not), and aren’t going to link to your skanky little blog just because you call them out by name. They are big because their ideas are (or were) great. You gotta put in the same work.

If your just getting started your best bet is to find someone else in their comments that is as hungry as you for shameless self promotion and start coming up with ways you can mutually gain some notice. Find some other folks that have the same lines of thinking and your ideas will evolve into much better once that will become viral together.

Make a lot of little friends
Bloggers are like army ants. Everyone is a little guy when they start. Practice good karma (last time I’ll bring up karma I promise), and do what you can for other little guys. Maintain a good little guy reputation. Stay humble, help the other little guys, and don’t be an as*hole. Even as your linkbait grows keep the little guys on your side. Their gonna be big one day if you help each other to learn and grow. You’re always gonna need good sneezers.

Friends are probably the most important aspect to link baiting. When you do come up with some great ideas, it doesn’t really do any good to go yelling about it yourself. If you have friends with good ideas, you’re happy to do the same with them. Surround yourself with smart little people and you can all get bigger together. I’ve always been told “If you have to tell everyone how cool you are then it probably isn’t so”. Stay humble, and help your friends. You’ll be master link baiters in the end.

Just remember…if your successful…you’ll be getting baited soon too (okay one more mention of karma), so play nice unless you are ready for the rough stuff. Keep a sense of humor and don’t do meanspirited things no matter which side of the baiting you’re on. Help keep a positive connotation associated with linkbait.
More on linkbaiting:

Matt, Jim, Nick, Rand (again), 2, Rob, Aaron, Lee, and even Brett have some ideas on linkbait as well.

Other attempts to reap Seth’s Googlejuice:

If you really want bloggers and SEO’s to get along…here’s a button for you…go ahead…tell the world how you feel:)

More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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