Link Bait: Hook, Line and Sinker
What’s it take to write good link bait? Look, I’ll level with you, seventeen monkeys in a corrugated steel shack writing on IBM ThinkPad’s with dead batteries could very likely come up with an article for a blog that would run up Digg quicker than you could say “Copy pasta.”
But can they do it consistently?
Rule One: The Hook
The appeal of a good link bait article isn’t what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it and what you’re saying it about. Yes, it has to be factual (usually), and it has to be well written (always), but most importantly, it has to be appealing and engaging. The most important thing is to hook your reader with the concept of your article first. A cursory glance at one of the more popular social link-sharing sites has an article on the front page lauding the “Greatest Fake Bad-Asses in Music.”
In the grand scheme of things the topic of this article and its information is unimportant, insignificant, and completely subjective. It is based on circumstantial evidence and observational humor. Here’s the thing, though: it’s not the New York Times, it’s the internet. The concept article is catchy: I like music, I like bad-asses, and I want to seem like a bad-ass. Would I rather spend five minutes scanning an article about how I may fake being a bad-ass or spend those five minutes collating the data in my .xls spreadsheet for this afternoon’s meeting? In other words, I’ve been hooked.
Rule Two: The Line
Unlike the bottom line, or the pickup line, this concept keeps with the ‘fishing’ analogy in the sense that if you don’t have the right line, you’ll lose the fish.
People browsing the web have little to no attention span. In fact, I’ll take a second to thank the three of you who have read this far, and in doing so, lose two of you.
The body of your link bait is your fishing line. Your article has to be engaging, it has to be well written, succinct and scanable. It has to be written with the reader in mind. You’ve hooked your reader with your concept of the ‘Nine Things You’d Hate to Find in Your Parent’s Room’ title. Good, that means you’ve gotten a page-view. Now get them to click that little social networking ‘Share this’ button by writing a good article and making it worthy of the five minutes and two seconds it takes them to read it.
The point of link bait is to draw traffic to your site with engaging articles, images, videos or audio. When it’s really engaging (note that I didn’t use the word “good”), it finds its way to the social news sites and from there, in front of exponentially more eyes each time a reader clicks ‘Digg this.’
Rule Three: The (you guessed it) Sinker
Here’s a cold, hard fact about the internet. It’s been monetized. We live in an age of misinformation. That article I mentioned before about the musicians pretending to be bad-asses? It’s for a site whose main demographic is white males, ages 18-24. The intent behind that article is to draw traffic to a site so a guy in an office with a slick silk tie can tell the new body-spray company executive how many page views their site gets so he can quantify (justify) the cost of his advertising space.
It’s about money. There’s your Sinker.
So the third rule is “Always Consider Your Reader.” Your article has to appeal (loosely) to the broader interest of the people who you want to visit the site it’s being posted on. You’re strengthening your ability to sell advertisements by focusing on your intended demographic. Bringing Granny to your site with an article about ‘How to Knit A Wig’ is fine and good if you’re writing for ‘Women’s World,’ but it may be drawing the wrong kind of traffic to a site dedicated to high end car audio.
Reeling It In
Promise, Perform, People: the three basic building blocks of solid link bait. Hook potential readers with the promise of a good article, perform to a standard where they’re proud to share it with others, and remember the specific people you are making promises to and performing for.
You know something? I’d read that article by the monkeys in the steel shack. I’d even post it on FaceSpace for my friends saying “check this out,” but it wouldn’t be long until I’d be on to something new.
Unless those monkeys can deliver consistently, then I might hire them myself.
Jake Walker is a freelance writer and has been working on the web on and off for the last 10 years. An avid blogger he has had many posts featured on major social networks and other news portal websites. He currently works as a search engine optimization consultant.