What's in a name? That which we call LINKBAIT; By any other name would read as sweet

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy.

Yes, I am whoring out Shakespeare for effect, but I’m hardly the first. I really want to chime in on this “Is Linkbait bad – to be or not to be” discussion that’s been going as of late. The main facets being discussed are: A. Is linkbait badly named? B. Is linkbait bad? and C. Does linkbait drive bad traffic?

Yes, no, and no. Now you can go on with your day.

…OK, so I guess I’ll elaborate. For those who don’t know linkbait is, check out Wikipedia’s entry (this link nofollowed for those paying attention) or better yet SEOmoz’s definition or Todd’s definitive guide to linkbait.

At its core, linkbait is a compelling piece of content that catches people’s attention – most often it’s associated with social media sites that promote and aggregate interesting or useful articles, such as Digg, and Reddit. So let’s address the questions currently being asked in the blogo-tubes.

A. Is linkbait a bad term?

Yes and no. The nice thing about the term is that it’s fairly self-explanatory to the layperson. Bait suggests that it is something that catches (people’s attention in this case). However, as is the case with language in general, the term bait posesses certain connotations, which are arguably negative. The consumer of “bait” is typically someone who is “lured” unwittingly. Ex: roach, rat, perhaps a delicious bass. Most people don’t want to be the “baitees” of anything, especially not Digg’ers, so when they hear that word, they react negatively to it.

B. Is linkbait bad?

Abolutely not. I don’t understand the obtuse logic of people who denounce linkbait. They are essentially “intent police” – people making judgements not based on merit and usefulness of content, but rather the intent of the author beyond face value of the post. If people Digg, bookmark, and share a piece that they find personal value in, I don’t care whether it was written by accident (organically) or with the intent to be useful with the hope that it gets noticed and linked.

Does it really matter if the “25 ways to refinance your college debt” is written by a mortgage company? The criteria should ALWAYS be “do people find this useful?” Do we really need to regulate and try to determine the intent? If something is blatant self promotion, people will be quick to catch on. I think you have to have faith in your audience that they will be able to pick out the peanuts from the poop.

C. Does linkbait drive bad traffic?

Certain SEO’s and online marketers decry Digg traffic as “a flash in a pan that doesn’t convert”. Smarter marketers know that true value of successful linkbait lies in links and exposure. The more people read your piece, the more people are likely to blog about it, link to it, pass it on to friends, which then filters through. It’s the butterfly effect at work.

There are two pieces of linkbait that have propelled this blog to where it stands now. Yahoo shows 5,900+ links coming into this blog as a result of the butterfly effect set off by these 2 pieces of linkbait (mostly) that resonated with people and spread throughout the web. It would take a long time to develop those links using a link ninja, so the benefits of linkbait to linkbuilding cannot be denied. We live in an attention economy – positive attention gives you more relevance, which gives you more exposure, which allows you to become more relevant.

In essence, linkbait is just a term for “great content”. Social networks are now the sticks of dynamite that propel that great content to new heights and expose it to more people than ever before. Most times this results in links. So really linkbait is no different (and no more nefarious) than its traditioanl equivalents in the offline world – a great recipe that gets passed around, that damn Geico lizard that sell a lot of insurance policies, and anything else that resonates with enough people that they then discuss it, share it, and link to it, whether its intent was commercial or not.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian Clark January 25, 2007 at 10:18 am

Nicely done!

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DG January 25, 2007 at 2:20 pm

I don’t have a problem with well-crafted titles that are designed to entice people to click. Old journos called that a ‘hook. What I have a problem with, and it might just be my problem, is when the title doesn’t accurately reflect the content of the story, but is instead chosen solely for its sensational value.

I wrote Linkbait is the New Bullshit as a result of one title that was simply over the top. Loren’s piece on Adsense aiding terrorism. The piece was nothing but conjecture and the title was chosen solely because it was inflammatory.

I equate ‘linkbait’ with National Enquirer titles, and ‘hooks’ with say, Ogilvy ads.

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Markus January 25, 2007 at 2:33 pm

I definitely agree with you, DG, that the content of an article should live up to its headline and not be misleading or written just for the sake of garnering attention.

I was a huge critic of the piece you’re talking about – Loren’s Google Adsense Terrorism link post. It was sensational and definitely over the top (at the expense of his credibility).

I think the inconsistent definition of linkbait is a large part of the issue. It’s a new word that has not been properly defined by a single authority which leads to language and semantics problems which leads to misuse of the word – the same way that some people (incorrectly) associate SEO’s with “spammers” or blackhat hackers with “criminals”.

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DG January 25, 2007 at 2:46 pm

I think the word ‘bait’ is a large part of the problem. When someone trolls in a forum or blog what do we say to the members? ‘Don’t take the bait’. He’s bating you, etc.

I don’t foresee ‘hook’ overtaking ‘linkbait’ any tiome soon though. ; )

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Stefan Juhl January 27, 2007 at 5:11 am

Most often the linkbaiter do linkbaiting not only by making something compelling but also by pushing the linkbait – e.g. by emailing it to various bloggers, making sure that it gets submitted to digg, advertising it etc. So I can in no way see any term/name being more correct than linkbait.

I prefer when names make it clear what it is, and in my opinion linkbait do that. Whether it ends up as being associated with good or bad, that really depends on how people use the term. If we’d only use linkbait for stuff that’s really good and we used another term (link whoring..?) for the sleazy attempts – then we’ll be able to associate linkbait with the better.

Or we could make up a super sweet word with a nice sounding to it, and end up having it associated with something bad. I can’t stop thinking about insurance – as I see it “insurance” is just a nice cover up word for “legal betting” – how well that word worked out for them really depends on who you ask. My point being that how we use the term will make it good or bad.

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Markus January 27, 2007 at 10:06 am

Good call Stefan. I like “link whoring” – maybe it’ll take off.

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