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 icon_smile-1041082-8392989


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 icon_smile-1041082-8392989

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