Can we please come up with some better terminology for the concept of 'link bait,' already? It just sounds so ... slimy. For me, it conjures up thoughts of those evil bait-and-switch advertising schemes.
But I'm going to say it loud and proud -- "Not all link bait is bad!" So while it may get a bad rap as low-quality, lazy, or misleading content, I'll admit that I support the creation of an awesome, white-hat link bait post from time to time. And heck ... so does Google's own Matt Cutts himself!
What Is Link Bait?
According to Matt Cutts, you can simply think of link bait as "something interesting enough to catch people’s attention...And that doesn't have to be a bad thing," he adds.
Now, if Matt Cutts' endorsement isn't enough to convince you that you don't have to feel like a sleaze ball to create some link bait, I'm not sure what will. Maybe Brian Clark of Copyblogger can sway you with his stance on the topic? He believes that link bait is "just a sexy term for high-quality content that benefits the reader," even if he does admit that the term is pretty darn "inelegant." And I'm sure most experts would agree. Sure, the concept of link bait is a little bit subjective, and marketers should consider link bait as any piece of content that generates significantly more links and traffic than the average piece of content they publish. But more on that later.
The term seems to have originated from the SEO world, referring to content that is effective for attracting inbound links to your website, thus boosting your off-page SEO. But we're not really here to debate the negative connotations or the history of the term 'link bait.' If you want a brief history lesson, check out Clark's article. Instead, let's use this article to talk about why link bait is so effective, how it can benefit your marketing, and how you can approach creating top-notch link bait content that your readers love ... and value.
Why We're Sold on Link Bait at HubSpot
At HubSpot, we've known for a while -- anecdotally -- that link bait content is extremely beneficial to our business blogging efforts. But we never really looked at the numbers. So I decided to dig into HubSpot's Blog Analytics and do a quick and simple analysis on the success of what we can consider to be the 'link bait' content we've published on this very blog.
HubSpot's Link Bait Analysis
I looked at all articles we've published to this blog during the span of 1 year -- from July 2011 through June 2012. For the purposes of my analysis, I defined 'link bait' as any post that has generated at least 50 inbound links since it was originally published, but it's important to note that you might define link bait differently depending on how much traction your blog typically gets. For example, if the average article on your blog typically gets 2 inbound links, maybe 15 inbound links would be your benchmark for link bait success.
Once I sorted the articles by the number of inbound links they've generated, I averaged the number of page views each category of articles (those with at least 50 inbound links compared to those with fewer than 50 inbound links) generated. What I learned was, articles that have accumulated at least 50 inbound links average 500% more views than articles that have attracted fewer than 50 inbound links. Not too shabby, huh?
Why Link Bait Rocks
As is evident from our internal analysis, link bait content can be extremely beneficial to your marketing. Here are 3 powerful reasons why:
1) Increased Search Rankings
Because link bait content is so interesting, it's usually very effective for generating inbound links (remember, it's called link bait for a reason). After all, people are way more likely to link back to something if they find it interesting. As a result, link bait content is extremely powerful for boosting your website's off-page SEO, which we know is the most influential way to increase your organic search rankings. So as you're creating content you predict will make great link bait, be sure you're optimizing it using the keywords you want to rank for in search. This will help you leverage your link bait content to boost your rankings for the keywords you want to get found for in search.
2) Tons of (Sustainable) Traffic ... & Conversion Opportunities!
Because link bait content is interesting, there's usually a level of virality to it, since people will naturally want to share it with their connections. As a result, link bait content is also usually a major traffic driver, as is evident from our internal analysis of HubSpot's own link bait content. And the more traffic you generate to your blog, the more visitors you have the opportunity to convert into leads and customers! Just be sure your blog is optimized for conversion: use calls-to-action for your top marketing offers on every blog post as well as in your blog's top/sidebar(s).
As a bonus, because link bait content has the tendency to rank well in search, the traffic it generates is usually very sustainable, since searchers will continue to stumble upon your link bait content long after it was originally published. HubSpot's blog, for example, still generates regular traffic and leads from link-bait articles we originally published several years ago. Talk about a return on investment!
3) Exposure to New Audiences
Remember how we talked about how link-bait content is usually very sharable? Because this is so, link bait has a lot of potential to expose your business and your content to entirely new audiences you might not have reached otherwise. Thus, it helps you grow the top of your funnel, expanding your reach and attracting new blog readers. And even if these new readers will never buy from you, increasing your reach and growing your following definitely has its benefits.
Link Bait: What Works?
As we mentioned earlier, what any given marketer considers to be link bait is going to vary from business to business, industry to industry, and audience to audience. The key is to experiment with ideas you suspect will be successful for your particular blog, regularly conduct analyses like the one I did above, and learn from what tends to work as link bait for you. And just like setting out to create something that will definitely absolutely "go viral" is unrealistic, setting out to create link bait is never a given. The best you can do is emulate the qualities of content that have typically led to tons of inbound links and traffic for you in the past ... and cross your fingers. Only after your article has been published will you know if it was truly successful as link bait.
So if you're just starting to figure out what has historically made successful link bait content for marketers, here are some ideas to get you going, each accompanied by a successful link bait example from the HubSpot blog:
1) Original, Striking Data
Publishing original data is not only a great tactic for earning media coverage -- it can also make great link bait fodder. If you're a business that has access to original data that you can analyze to expose, add to, or refute an industry topic or trend, take advantage of it! If not, maybe there's an opportunity to partner with a research firm instead.
HubSpot Example: LinkedIn 277% More Effective for Lead Generation Than Facebook & Twitter [New Data] (41K views, 239 inbound links)
2) Controversial Content
Who doesn't love a little heated debate? Controversial content usually garners a lot of attention, so if you have an opinion on a controversial issue, you might have some link bait fodder on your hands. Your content doesn't even have to be centered around a radical opinion to leverage the power of controversy, either; it could just present a bit of data that refutes a common assumption your audience might have.
Just don't go overboard with the controversy (you do still want to be likeable, right?), and don't be controversial just for the sake of being controversial. Make sure you're passionate about the stance you're taking, and always try to lean on data to back up your claims, like the post below does.
HubSpot Example: 63% of B2B Companies Don't Generate Leads From Social Media [New Data] (5K views, 53 inbound links)
3) Being the Most Comprehensive (Or First) Resource on a Popular Topic
Taking a topic you know performs well on your blog and publishing the most comprehensive post about it on the web (or at least attempting to) can make for a great link bait win. Is there a popular topic in your industry that few have written about (or written about well) where you see an opportunity? Jump on it! Even better if you can be one of the first to produce comprehensive content on a trending topic, as we did in our Pinterest example below, just as Pinterest was gaining traction as a marketing tool.
HubSpot Examples: The Ultimate Facebook Marketing Cheat Sheet (51K views, 4K inbound links); The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Pinterest for Marketing (36K views, 248 inbound links)
4) Visual Content
Visual content is all the rage in marketing these days, especially when it comes to social media marketing. So it's no wonder it makes excellent link bait content. Just take infographics, for instance. When looking at the same set of HubSpot blog articles I analyzed in the beginning of this post, I also took a look at the performance of blog posts containing infographics compared to all other posts.
What I found was, blog articles that included infographics generated an average of 178% more inbound links and 72% more views than all other posts. And many of those posts contained third-party infographics that we simply shared on our blog because we thought our audience would find them interesting -- in other words, they weren't necessarily HubSpot-original infographics. And visual content doesn't have to take the form of infographics to be link bait-friendly, either. Sometimes posts that consist of a curation of awesome visual examples (like the example we share below) can work out just as well. Other types of visual, link-bait content you can create include cartoons or content/concept visualizations.
HubSpot Example: 17 Examples of Creative Facebook Page Cover Photos (19K views, 56 inbound links)
5) Content That's Creative, Entertaining, or Fun
This content goes far because it's usually easy to consume, great fodder for sharing, quick to scan, requires little thought (on your readers' end), and well ... it's FUN! Think music videos or just content that leverages pop culture references or emerging, mainstreamed trends, like our example below.
HubSpot Example: Memejacking: The Complete Guide to Creating Memes for Marketing (5K page views, 237 inbound links)
6) A Title People Simply Can't Help Themselves From Clicking (Accompanied by Awesome Content)
Don't gloss over the text within those parentheses. The important thing to remember about this one is, you can have a really intriguing title that people just can't help but to click, but if the content within doesn't live up to that title, it won't achieve link bait status. If your title is overly sensational and hyperbolic, yet the content it alludes to is barely average, you'll undermine your credibility and lose readers' interest in your content altogether.
HubSpot Example: 15 Things People Absolutely Hate About Your Website (28K views, 92 inbound links)
Remember: Quality, Value, and Balance Should Still Matter
By now, you should be pretty convinced that link bait isn't always some evil, black-hat marketing tactic you need to avoid like the plague. But that doesn't mean all link bait is high quality, or that you can't abuse it. After all, link bait had to get its bad rap from somewhere, right?
Before you set off to create a piece of content you think will make great link bait, make sure your answer to the question, "Will my audience still find this valuable?" is "Absolutely!" And remember, there is such thing as 'entertainment value,' too.
Furthermore, think of your blog like a well-balanced diet. If you feed your blog readers the same diet of lean meat, hearty grains, and nutricious vegetables all the time and deny them of any sort of dessert (or variety), even though it might be good for them, they might also start looking for a new chef. So go ahead -- give your readers some candy every once in a while. Just don't give them too much, or their teeth will rot.
Are you incorporating link bait into your business blog's content mix? What results have you seen?