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.