Positive and Negative Link Baiting: The Risks and Rewards

warning-signGetting into the link bait debate always gets controversial. In fact I often regret it because it seems as though everyone has distinct, borderline passionate, feelings on the subject.

It’s pretty clear that the predominant classification of the kind of content most frequently known as “link bait” is negative. People hate it. People attack it. But people still link to it. So it lives on.

Everything in SEO has gray area. Link bait is no different. If you create anything with the hope that it will serve as “Bait” for linkers, it’s link bait. Whether that means you planned and executed a complicated plan, or laid out a drunken rant against JavaScript.

My last post talked a lot about categorizing link bait and distinguishing link bait from general content. So I’ll keep this brief:

  • Not Link Bait – Is average content that may answer questions or provide valid information but is standard issue. In fact you can most likely find 15 other websites that have something similar.
  • Good Link Bait – Is the kind of work that an author can take pride in because it represents the culmination of a long process or a substantial burst of inspiration. It should also be considered exceptional in its space and provide value to users. In order to be link bait it also has to get links.
  • Bad Link Bait – Is the type of content that is intentionally inflammatory, outlandish, insulting, off-base or just meant to rub people the wrong way. But to be classified as “link bait” it has to pick up links. Otherwise, it’s just making a fool of yourself in public.

When you try to launch a link building campaign whether you head for the dark or the light there are risks and rewards in whatever direction you take.

Good Link Bait

When you go down the link bait high road it can lead to real results. Or not. The thing is you don’t always know. You risk making a flop.

Even if the work is solid, without the right promotion and the right audience, it may not pay off. That means all the time that went into the creation of your 3-month case study may not gain the attention you’d hoped.

On the flip side, though, if you’ve made a few decent contacts in your niche you have the chance to get some help. Whether you reach out to people individually, use social media, newsletters, or even print marketing, the reach of your content can be directly impacted by the size and strength your network. And when a great piece pays off, it can pay off big.

A great piece of legitimate link bait can keep attracting links for a long time. If you were to put together, perhaps, 131 strategies for getting links would you be shocked to find people still commenting on it a decade later? That’s the thing, if you think you can deliver, and have the means to disseminate it, positive link baiting is an amazing strategy.

Bad Link Bait

We’ve all been exposed to some negative link bait at one point or another. It’s the reason the entire concept of link bait seems icky. But it still proves effective, so negative link bait keeps popping up. Just like dandelions. They’re gonna keep sprouting on the lawn because the neighborhood kids like to blow the seeds around.

Yes, you may get links when you decide to announce that “SEO has Gout”. Some people can, and have, made an excellent living out of being jerks. But it doesn’t make you fun at parties. No judgment, just saying.

Sometimes being a controversial character, or taking an unpopular stance can make you interesting, even adored in some cases. Look at Howard Stern. But there is an art to it. People enjoy a good debate, but everybody gets uncomfortable watching a couple fight in public. If you set out to alienate or hurt someone; you will. If you do it by accident, you learn.

Anybody can stumble into a hot zone without realizing it. It happens. At that point you try to run damage control and mitigate the fall out. But intentionally trying to rile a community for the sake of links or comments can backfire.

Being purposefully contrary can lead to a loss in credibility and a strain on your connections. It might not take a powerful network to spread something that people think is crazy. But next time you need a favor you might find some of your resources tapped out. You may also discover that your reputation as a pot stirrer outweighs your distinction as an authority.

Choose Your Bait Wisely

There’s an old expression about catching more flies with honey than vinegar. We’d like to think that holds up on the web. But when it comes to negative link bait, it appears that some flies really dig Balsamic.

It may be less work that goes into negative link baiting and it may yield more results faster, but in the long term is it really good for you, your reputation, or your site? And positive link baiting may take longer and sometimes prove fruitless, but when you do well, you do really well.

Wait…you know, come to think of it link baiting sounds a lot like, pretty much, every other kind of link building out there. If you take shortcuts and go for the low hanging fruit you may see short term benefits that fade out quickly. But if you put in the time and effort to do the hard work you build a strong presence over time.

Huh. Weird.

Related reading

SEO is a team sport: How brands and agencies organize work
Seven SEO tips for image link building to generate more traffic
transformation of search summit 2019
How to improve SEO using data science