Linkbait Lessons from the Coalface

Hello there, I’m the newest chick. Should you care to you can read more about me here.

Today I’d like to talk linkbait. There are plenty of blog posts out there about successful linkbait, but I think us SEOs have a tendency to keep our mistakes on the down low. The truth is we don’t always get it right and I think that actually there’s more to be learned from the projects that have gone awry than from the runaway successes.

Before we get right into it, it’s probably worth giving some context – the linkbait projects that I work on are all to commercial sites. I’m typically after a combination of links from news outlets (either national or trade press), high end online-only publishers and bloggers. I use a variety of linkbait tactics – written content (from resource guides to press releases), publishing research, data visualisation, competitions, awards, collaborative content, etc.

So these are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past 18 months or so of doing this stuff – hopefully this will save you some heartache icon_smile-3180808

Ensure you’re using ‘Trusted’ Data Sources


Ignore this at your peril. This is a peculiarity of news outlets in particular, but isn’t exclusive to them. Journalists tend to stick fast to trusted data sources when their writing or researching. Examples include the ONS for the UK, in the US plus there are trusted niche data sources – for tourism there’s the WTTC; I could go on all day here listing sources but I’m sure you get the picture.

If you’re doing something with data (NB not just data visualisation – this could be a press release) – you need to make sure that you’re referencing or using a trusted source. Proprietary data from the company you’re working for may not cut it, and whatever you’re working on could well be dismissed as being unreliable either because your data isn’t robust enough – or just because it’s not a trusted source.

Now of course this might not mean abject failure – you can still get lots of lovely links with sub-optimal data, but bear in mind that if you’re main target is these news outlets you’re going to have a much harder time selling the story in and as such you might lose out on the sorts of links that really excite your clients (if you’re agency-side) or your boss (if you’re in-house).

Surveys often Don’t Cut it


Puppy just got told his survey was unrepresentative

This is very similar to the trusted data source issue – again it’s more common in news outlets – but can and does extend way beyond that. Press releases that details the results of surveys can be very hard to sell in.

Why? Because often the data isn’t robust.

Or if the data is robust it still might not actually be representative. I’m not a market research expert, but I’d strongly advise getting in some outside expertise if you really want to make something like this fly. As a rule of thumb a news outlet won’t touch a survey with fewer than a thousand respondents. Also expect to be quizzed heavily on your methodology – for example, did you get a representative spread of respondents based on geographic location, age, sex, demographic? Running a survey via a blog or similar likely won’t yield you a representative sample as your respondents are self-selecting to take part.

Again, there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes surveys with embarrassingly weak data sets get amazing coverage – but do you really want to take that risk?

Up to the Minute versus Evergreen Content



This is really about different types of content. Something which is very topical and front-of-mind for people can offer amazing returns in terms of links and coverage – provided it lands in front of the right people, at the right time. The problem is when it doesn’t. As Burns said – “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.”

The issue with very topical content is that people move on very quickly, and if you’re giving yourself only a very small window of opportunity then you’re exponentially increasing your chances of failure. The nice thing about evergreen content? You can go on promoting it – by definition it’s got a long shelf-life.

What am I saying here? Just be aware of it. In no way am I suggesting you should avoid doing anything topical (that would be dumb) – but be mindful of the potential risks involved.

It’s not about what YOU like


You might *love* gherkins in ice cream cones, others might not share your enthusiasm

Perhaps the toughest lesson of all. It’s all too easy to fall in love with your own ideas. But it’s very dangerous to do so – particularly if you are nothing like the people who you’d like to share and link to your content.

Always keep your target audience in mind. Do they love long-form, highly researched, wordy content? Then that’s what you should create. Not the latest, shiniest, over-engineered piece of interactive crap which is ultimately shallow and un-substantiated, albeit beautiful.

There’s plenty of stuff on the internet already that’s ‘really great’ but doesn’t actually appeal to any particular audience.

Don’t be afraid to kill a bad idea


Darth wasn’t famed for his sense of humour

So you had this great idea. Everyone else thought it was great too. Then you started doing some research, fleshing out the idea. You decide to do some pre-outreach – this thing isn’t finished yet, not by a long-shot – but you want to check you really are the genius that you think you are. You reach out to a few people who you thought were bound to love it.

They didn’t.

You figure they’re wrong and you reach out to a few more. They don’t love it either.

Kill it.

Seriously, kill it right there. Sure you’ve done loads of work and you’ve come  a long way, but you can still turn back. There’s still time. Saying you were wrong now and figuring out something else to do instead is the best thing you can do here. If you persevere you may still succeed but it’s really not looking likely is it? It hurts to lose that time and that work, but you will lose a lot more time and and cost yourself a lot more work if you continue.

So that’s the lessons for today done, go get yourself a cupcake or something icon_smile-3180808

Hopefully you’ve found them useful. Got some lessons of your own to share? I’d love to hear about them.

Image credits:

Data, Puppy, Clock, Gherkin, Darth Vader.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *