A Process for Creating Linkbait

So, before we kick off it’s probably useful to define what I mean by linkbait – here’s a quick and dirty definition from yours truly:

“Linkbait is content which people *want* to share and link to.”

For the sake of clarity when I’m talking about linkbait, I’m talking about link-worthy content. This includes, but is not limited to infographics (not that I’m an infographic-hater; actually it’s a form which I like and have had success with) but it’s not the only type of creative content that you can do.

Before you kick off…

Before I get stuck right into the process, I’d strongly advise you to be open and honest about creative link building strategies.

  • Make sure your boss (or your client) knows that there are risks associated with creative content (i.e. it can be difficult to predict how many links you’ll get).
  • Manage their expectations – are they expecting 20,000 links? That could be hard to deliver.
  • Set metrics ahead of time (e.g. target social shares, target linking domains etc) so you all know what ‘success’ looks like.

So, on to the process.

tl;dr Version

  • Define your audience (i.e. the people you want to share and link to your content)
  • Go & find real life examples
  • Brainstorm ideas
  • Filter ideas
  • Select an appropriate form for your chosen idea
  • Pre-Outreach
  • Create
  • Outreach & follow-up


Long(er) Version

Define your Audience

It’s really tempting to skip this step and leap head-first into thinking about what you might create.

However in order to create content that’s targeted to a particular audience, you need to think about your audience first. What you later create depends on ‘who’ you want  links / social shares from. Creating a dazzling piece of awesome, then trying to find an audience for it retrospectively makes your chances of failing to make an impact exponentially higher.

Go & find your target audience

Go and take a look at some of the people you want links / social shares from. Figure out what they like, what they hate, what they already link to and share etc. Here it’s really important to be thinking ‘who’ you want a link from as opposed to ‘which sites’. People link, not websites.



Brainstorming can be a total time suck. Don’t let it.

  • Brief people ahead of the brainstorm so that they come along with ideas.
  • Keep the meeting short (I like to stick to around 15 minutes)
  • Just capture ideas – don’t sit and argue the merits of one idea versus another
  • Don’t let it get negative – no one is allowed to criticise someone else’s idea
  • Encourage attendees build on ideas suggested by others


Filter your ideas

So hopefully, post your brainstorm you’ve a whole bunch of ideas. It’s now time to start filtering them.

At stage one of the filtering process I’ll look at:

  • Will this appeal to my target audience?
  • Can I get the data / research / content I need to pull this together?
  • Do I have enough time / resource / expertise to deliver this?

This normally cuts out quite a few ideas. I’ll then move on to stage two of the filtering process.

Stage two of the process was ‘inspired’ (!) by Made to Stick  (hat tip Mark Johnstone) – it looks like this:

Is this idea…

  • Simple
    • Is the idea easy to communicate and understand?
    • Can you explain it in a tweet?
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
    • Real, definite rather than an abstract concept
  • Emotional
    • Will anyone care?
    • Will anyone be compelled to share this?
  • Credible
    • If you’re using data is it a credible source?
    • Is it a credible story for you to release? EG – if a tobacco company released a story about the awesome health benefits of smoking, people would be unlikely to believe it.

Now your idea doesn’t necessarily need to fulfill all of the criteria above, however the more criteria it passes the better.


Once you have your idea, now pick the appropriate format

I could point you towards countless examples of where people have made an infographic when a piece of long-form written content would have done the job better.  I won’t actually point you at them because that would be mean, but I’m sure you can think of a couple of examples yourself.

Essentially this step is about figuring out the best way of telling the story / communicating whatever it is you’d like to communicate. It’s also worth thinking about what your target audience likes sharing and linking to.


Before you go creating whatever it is you’ve planned now is a really good time to do some pre-outreach. Reach out to a few people who are part of your target audience and see if they like the sound of your idea. If you reach out to ten people and none of them like it then do something else. If five like it and five don’t then you’ve a reasonable idea about how well or otherwise this piece of content is likely to do for you.


Create it

Assuming your pre-outreach was met with a warm response you can now create this thing – woop!


Promote it like your life depended on it

Seriously. Content doesn’t promote itself :)


So that just about covers the creative process which I follow; but I’d love to hear about what you do.

Is there a killer step that I’m missing?

Let me know via the comments :)



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6 Responses to “A Process for Creating Linkbait”

  1. This got to be one of the most easy to understand link baiting guide I’ve seen :)

    Btw, 2nd image credit URL is wrongly written :)

  2. Victor says:

    I’ve got one(on a very high level) to add to the list =)

    Plan the release timing – a piece of content poised for Memorial Day should be pre-pitched around that time period and released on, before, but hopefully not after Memorial date. If you do it really well, you’ll be able to marry your content with the right audience right when interest is peaking. Google Insights anyone?

    And the sub part of timing, is to make sure the channel won’t be saturated with others with similar content. Memorial day may look like a nice idea at first, but would your content reach out if IBM has already sent out a similar story?

    (like this one? http://gigaom.com/cloud/infographic-ibm-says-go-away-for-memorial-day/)

  3. Hannah Smith says:

    @Kim – thank you :)

    @Victor – Yep excellent point. I think people often forget the risks with timely content. Sure it’s great to release something topical provided you can get it out the door as planned and you manage to get the traction you need.

  4. Michel says:

    Great article Hannah, but one significant sticking point not covered that I have encountered in my own link building for a very good, (though NOT household name)online brand:

    Almost half the People I reach out to want money for links, content, promotions etc… Getting a link from a person I reached out to because they just thought my content was simply the bee’s knees, has been extremely rare – and we’re talking reach-out to hundreds of people with original, quality content. When I counter back that I don’t have a budget to pay, but make other mutually beneficial suggestions, their response is often that there are plenty of people who have content that’s just as good and who are happy to pay.

    Money has really become a central piece I’ve found and I see no signs of this changing (understand, again, I am not working for a major brand that has big, mainstream PR or Branding efforts). Now, I’ve finally managed to figure out a way to work the $$$ reality into my link building techniques, which are now down to just a handful, but a successful handful and a successful handful that are not spammy, unethical etc…

    Without giving away the details, the reality is that despite the success, these techniques are NOT FAST, however. They take time, e-mailing back and forth with people,negotiating, editing etc… But they do end up being solid relationships, with real substance and legitimate link love back to my site.

    Anyway – wow this is quite long now so I’ll stop! But, I just wanted to share my experience and Would love to hear others’ thoughts.
    Cheers :)

  5. matt says:

    Creating link bait is one of the hardest things to do for SEO but if done right it can be extremely successful.

  6. Laura Grace says:

    I love this article. It really helps break it all down, and will work especially well in an environment where you need to pitch your ideas before you can jump in.

    I love the pictures more and found them very distracting. XD

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