Link building – the process of building links from relevant websites to your site – is one of the most important aspects of SEO. Generating quality backlinks to your site means that search engines will view your site more favourably; as a link from one site to another is seen by Google as a kind of vote for the quality of the site being linked to.

Link building comes in a variety of forms, both white hat and black hat. Some SEOs will engage in linkspam; joining link networks or spamming forums and comment threads to grow their backlink profile. Since the Google Penguin Update was released in 2012, these tactics have led to sites being penalised by search engines for such manipulative behaviour. Be sure to avoid any of these spammy tactics that have made the practice of link building somewhat infamous.

There are, however, legitimate link building practices that are also commonplace. You could write guest blogs and use links to your site to add value to conversations on forums. However, writing link bait can be a useful method of benefitting your backlink profile. If done well, it can be a valuable practice, so it’s definitely worth pursuing.

What is link bait?

Link bait is content that is written with the express purpose of generating links. However, for many people in the SEO community, the distinction between link bait and link earning is often blurred. Here at Yellowball, we consider link bait to be a certain type of more controversial content. Whereas some SEOs will view very useful evergreen content such as Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO as link bait, we maintain that link bait is usually a particularly controversial form of link earning. For instance, rather than the guide itself, an article titled “Why Moz’s Beginner’s Guide is useless” would qualify as link bait.

By its very nature, link building is an unnatural process. Despite this, link bait is authored in a way that aims to gain natural links by riling up readers. For instance, emailing businesses in the hopes that you could guest blog for them is a lot less natural than simply writing content that baits individuals and webmasters into sharing your links. When you write link bait, you’re writing content that compels sites to link to it, not because you sent them a nice email asking for a share.

Although not all viral content can be described as link bait, bait that goes viral is usually more effective in its end goal of generating backlinks. Viral link bait will be shared across multiple websites and social media channels thanks to clickable headlines, and content that really grabs the attention of the audience. Crafting content that’s likely to go viral is undoubtedly tough, there’s a reason only a tiny percentage of YouTube videos and internet memes garner millions of hits. However, there are certain measures that you can take to make your link bait content as shareable as possible.

How to write good link bait

As we’ve mentioned, you should aim to be producing particularly shareable content when creating your bait. As the name of the practice suggests, the best way to encourage link bait to spread is to make sure that you are baiting the readers with content they will react to. A reaction could come from a particularly funny piece of content or a commentary on a pertinent news piece. Often, however, link bait takes the easier route; pushing out content that riles up the audience so they feel as though they have no choice but to share it.

As such, writing good link bait is different from writing the average piece of content for your site or a guest blog. There’s no set formula for what gives a post the potential to garner links, however, there are certain strategies you can utilise to help make your content more likely to be shared across the internet.

Niche markets

Aim your link bait towards a smaller, more focussed market. It is possible to create relevant, valuable and shareable content for a wider market – but it’s a lot easier to write this kind of content for a more specific audience. You can target a specific demographic, tailoring content to that group. This means that you can directly tailor your bait to exactly the kind of groups that are likely to share it.

Great hooks

Once you’ve settled on an audience, make sure that they have a reason to read (and share) the content you’ll be producing. For this, you’ll want to have a great hook that grabs the audience and makes them want to weigh in on the conversation and share the article wherever they can. As we’ve mentioned above, the main thing to remember when coming up with a hook for your link bait is that it needs to get a reaction from the audience you are targeting.

News hooks can be useful as a basis for link building content, however they are often short lived. A breaking news piece certainly has potential to be shared across a variety of platforms, especially if it’s picked up by a strong authority in the niche you are targeting. Despite that, news content is likely to become outdated fast, so if it doesn’t generate a lot of backlinks at the beginning, it’s likely to struggle in the future.

Link bait is often used synonymously with the kinds of content that rely on controversial hooks. You’ll often find this content fanning the flames of a war between rival products; think the countless articles on iOS vs. Android. Alternatively, strongly opinionated articles on just about any topic can ensure that the readers get passionate and react, positively or negatively, leading to a share and another link to add to your backlink profile. This kind of link bait can have a detrimental effect on the success of your site, however. If you push people’s buttons too frequently or in the wrong way, you could get a reputation for being intentionally inflammatory. Ultimately, you don’t want your website to be viewed as untrustworthy or along the lines of something like the National Enquirer. Being witty and informative can often do just as much for creating successful link bait as being controversial.

There’s an old article over at stuntdubl.com that gives you a more detailed description of how to come up with hooks for your link bait. Check it out for more information.

Get it off the ground

You might have written some great link bait that’ll almost certainly grab the attention of your target audience, but that’s not going to happen if you don’t promote it. Send your article out all over the web, whether that’s through social media – a great platform to see your content go viral – or through more traditional link building/PR tactics.

Email that content out to as many outlets as you think might want to read it, if you’ve got great bait, the logic follows that somebody’s going to bite. It can be a bit of a struggle getting sites to link to your bait, and you’re unlikely to see any instantaneous increases in traffic. However, if your baiting works, you’ll see a definite increase in interactions, backlinks and visitors to your site.

Why is link bait useful?

Despite it being tough to get link bait content off the ground at times, it’s still a useful facet of the link building process that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Manual link building can be a bit of a slog, seeing you send out dozens of emails in the hope that you’ll have the opportunity to write a guest blog on another site. When link bait is done well, your creativity does the hard work for you. If you successfully author provocative content, without pushing the boundaries too far, you can simply sit back and watch the backlinks roll in – and it doesn’t have to cost you a thing.

Furthermore, when writing link bait, you won’t be contravening Google’s webmaster guidelines. Produce some excellent bait and you’re unlikely to be tempted to engage in any reciprocal linking or join link schemes. As link bait is based on the concept of organic sharing, there’s no reason for you to attempt to cheat Google’s algorithms.

Finally, if successful, link bait can be a link builders goldmine. If your content happens to go viral and shared around the web – both on social media channels and permanently on major websites – it can do wonders for your position in SERPs. However, even when link bait doesn’t entirely go to plan, you should still have some high-quality content on your hands. Link bait should be valuable and relevant for your audience, so even when it doesn’t take off, it can still benefit your SEO campaign.