Linkbait is the New Reciprocal Links Page

[Update: it appears a friend wrote a spot on article using the same title about 6 months ago. Here is some link love for him.]

I have been a big fan of linkbait, but for all its upsides it does have many potential risks that are rarely discussed by most marketers. Outside of those risks, most people coming to your site from linkbait have a fly-like memory. One visit, one pageview, and they are gone forever. If you are selling branded CPM ads good news for you, but otherwise there is no value.

The potential upside of a linkbait driven marketing campaign is growing smaller by the day. In the third video here, DaveN hinted that he believed that Google is looking at how natural a site's link growth profile looks like, and discounting many of the rapid growth spikes if they are not followed up by an increased baseline link growth rate. Which ultimately means linkbait only creates significant value if you can keep launching one right after another.

Given that Google hand edits some hyper-successful linkbaits, is it any surprise that they aim to minimize the upside potential of random one off linkbaits? A couple of my better friends who are a bit cynical went so far as stating that linkbait is only promoted by search engineers because it is so easy to detect and devalue. Linkbait is the new reciprocal links page.

Compare linkbait to developing a real brand. Developing a real brand is slower and more expensive, but search is intrinsically tied to branding. If your brand is the keyword, it is hard for search engineers to take it away from you. They are irrelevant if they do not show you at the top of the results. They can show at most a few ads before they list your site, or they degrade their user experience. And, as you build brand awareness, it causes a smooth natural link growth profile, which helps you rank better for the generic phrases. Brand building is nothing they could ever really penalize, as they have no reason to want to penalize companies for creating real brands.

You don't have to be a brand guru to learn how to build a brand. Simply discover a couple legitimate channels, track why people talk about them with Google alerts, and replicate the best ideas while ditching the bad ones.

Published: November 10, 2007 by Aaron Wall in marketing


Patrick Altoft
November 10, 2007 - 8:41am

As long as you do linkbait for the right reasons (ie to build attention to your brand) I can't see the problem with it.

Of course meaningless links from low value blogs deserve to be devalued but real linkbait is about figuring how to get a link from major news sites and the leaders in your niche.

Creating a resource so useful that everybody links to it and Google is proud to rank at the top of their results is just a win win situation.

November 10, 2007 - 9:25am

as far as my experience says people who indulge in linkbait for there product/website end up as failures. It is always the people who follow the right path end up on top in SERPs.

I would love to get link from SEOBook, from problogger but I won't (and I do not know how) to use blackhat method to get that. So I will have to follow "Content is the King" path to you!

Links which have weight cannot be earned by dirty linkbait methods and links which can be earned by those dirty methods will have no value..!

Patrick Altoft
November 10, 2007 - 10:05am

@Compuworld you seem to be associating linkbait with "dirty" seo methods.

What if I wrote a really great article about internet marketing and ProBlogger and SEOBook decided it was so good they wanted to link to it? That would be linkbait but it's not dirty, it's just good content.

Linkbait is just good marketing with a little bit of attention spent on figuring out how to maximise the number of links gained in the process. For example you release a great article about SEO but add something controversial in it so lots of bloggers drop you a link just to disagree.

Some people might say this article was linkbait, if it wasn't a Saturday I'd probably have blogged about it.

November 10, 2007 - 10:26am

The linkbait I was referencing in this post was the off topic type stuff. Patrick I can email you a link to a linkbait that got thousands of links from sites like Life Hacker and Wired and is graybar and PageRank 0 in Google.

That might refocus the trust of engineer intent when they tell people how wonderful linkbait is.

November 10, 2007 - 12:59pm

Aaron,glad you are always there.I bet you had a great wedding.Bless you

Dave Dugdale
November 10, 2007 - 3:34pm


It sounds like you are writing about my SES puppet movie in which starred in. :)

I have other more consistent link strategies in place, the first video I did was to only get authority links to add to my "link signature". An example of this is I could never out rank this professor from England for my name "Dave Dugdale", but after that 1st video I finally became #1 because of the off-topic but authoritative links from the SEO crowd. The second video is not going after authority links, it is going after relevant links in the real estate industry because the real estate bloggers are picking up the story.

I guess in a way I failed in my link bait because I put you in the show and you didn't link to me. Oh well, I had a lot of fun making it.

November 10, 2007 - 8:49pm

Dave I liked your linkbait. But the issue is that I have created some that literally got thousands of links and as a result are PageRank 0 pages.

What I don't like is engineers lying, saying linkbait is great stuff, then editing thousands of links out of the relevancy algorithms because someone was too successful at linkbaiting.

November 12, 2007 - 12:54am


Based on some of the comments that Aaron has made in the past, I'm not entirely sure that you WANT him to link at you. And that's not a dig at you, Aaron... I would just be concerned about getting the wrong type of attention (maybe from Google)

Personally, as much as I would like the links, I don't think that I would want too many of them from the SEO community. I don't want Google to know that I know SEO at all, and at the same time I think that's exactly the point.

Generate and spread your content as if you didn't know SEO at all, and you might be pretty surprised at the results. Obviously you might want to garnish anything you write, or the links that you get a bit - but it should give you a lot more natural look if you pretend like you don't know SEO sometimes :)


November 12, 2007 - 1:22am

Dead on right there Nick. Great comment.

Once you are new you are ok to do stuff, but once you become the champion for a particular SEO technique you are looking at more scrutiny with each time you talk about what works and why.

November 10, 2007 - 6:34pm

@Patrick: as Aaron says in the comment after yours "The linkbait I was referencing in this post was the off topic type stuff. Patrick I can email you a link to a linkbait that got thousands of links from sites like Life Hacker and Wired and is graybar and PageRank 0 in Google." it seems that if I relate linkbait with dirty seo method than I am right (atleast to an extent)

I understand that I might have misunderstood linkbait but I guess Aaron strengthened my point :)

Paul Marek
November 10, 2007 - 10:40pm

Hey Aaron;

Yet another great post, and many thanks for the link. I hope that post can help a few people out.

I have recently wrapped up a huge linkbaiting campaign for one of my income sites that was a great success, and so far has gone under the radar - we're currently in the middle moving to another strategy to avoid any footprints, and to keep things fresh. Thanks for all your invaluable tips.

Paul Marek
November 10, 2007 - 10:44pm

Hey Aaron;

Just checked my trackbacks... Someone likes the way you write.

November 10, 2007 - 11:12pm

So basically we have to distinguish between two types of link bait:

the off-topic attention-whore type of link bait will not help much anymore, because people are only linking to it during a short period of time. And then it stops.

Whereas on-topic link bait (really useful+unique content) will usually not show as big of a spike in link growth, plus it will continue to get links for a long period of time.

Is that the difference?

Thus investing your time into creating link bait that gets links b/c it's truly useful is still the way to go.

But link bait that only attracts links b/c it attracts attention will not help much anymore?

OR...does a devaluation of (off-topic) link bait attempts also have an effect on "useful/on-topic" link bait as the engines can't necessarily distinguish between the two?

Is the assumption I made above correct? off-topic link bait = higher link growth over a short period of time vs. on-topic link bait = smaller link growth, but over a longer period of time? (It seems to me as if those two types of attracting links can overlap in some cases)

Im a bit lost..thanks!

November 11, 2007 - 1:11am

Hi Patrick
I am not sure if it is just how topically relevant it is that matters, but more if you can keep up the pace of link growth going forward.

My point was that the great stuff keeps building links even after it is launched, whereas the attention whoring stuff does not have that longterm effect.

November 11, 2007 - 4:10am

I think I get your point.

When you (or DaveN) talk about the pace of link growth going forward and about spikes in link growth patterns, etc. do you think the engineers are looking at the whole site and how it grows links or at a single page/document?

If they look at the whole site and expect steady link growth, wouldnt that mean you can never stop focussing on a site and take on new projects (b/c then the link growth would probably slow down a lot even if you continue to get links from the self-reinforcing nature of the process)?

Whereas if they looked at a single page/document they couldnt expect progressive(exp?) link growth as a natural pattern, but they could look at a single page/document and see if the initial link growth was only a spike (and then no further links or hardly any attracted by that piece of content).

Or if the initial link growth to that piece of content was big and slowed down - but only gradually (not from one day to the next).

For example when you launch a new SEO tool such as SEO for firefox more people will link to it during the first weeks after you launched it..and then people will continue to link to it but the number of new links to it will probably slow down gradually (unless your readership grew tremendously in the meantime).

I assume Im overthinking too much and this doesnt really matter a lot and if they do something like this whether they look at pages or at the website as a whole, they probably wouldnt be able to code their algorithms so narrowly that they'd devalue sites a lot if people took a step back from them to do something else?

November 11, 2007 - 5:56am

Hi Patrick

I think some of the algorithms flag sites for spam or flag the sites for human review. Once flagged for human review your thousands of links may or may not count depending on the mood and mindset of a single Google engineer.

Old established sites can get a way with being a bit more spiky, but new sites get crushed if they are too spiky and can't maintain the forward momentum.

Sure you can take on new projects, but you shouldn't neglect the old ones. To be fair, I see some old sites I control that still rank after not building many links to them in a year, but those sites are in low competition verticals where the legit sites have no clue about SEO and overall link counts are quite low.

November 11, 2007 - 4:32pm

thanks for the reply Aaron,

so you think that unless you're in uncompetitive verticals the days of passive income streams (sites that you get to rank and once they rank at the top, you can stop building links actively and simply watch them stay there b/c they're self-reinforcing authorities) have sort of been numbered?

When you say "low competition verticals where legit sites have no clue about SEO and overall link counts are quite low" how many links are we talking about? (as a proxy for competition, I know quality of links > quantitiy of links)

I'm just curious about that b/c I'm wondering how important that will be for me in the near future as a field that's uncompetitive to you might be one I consider rather competitive.

November 11, 2007 - 11:27pm

Your question sorta hints at where a threshold by definition if you can stop building something and watch it stick you are either in an uncompetitive market or you have a self reinforcing authority.

I have some sites that are not authority sites, that I don't build new links to, that still rank at the top of Google's search results a year or two after I stopped building links. Those are quite uncompetitive markets.

When ranking those types of sites generally I am talking about only about 200 links to rank, with all but a dozen of them being easy to reproduce.

Steven Bradley
November 12, 2007 - 7:45am

Aaron if I'm following right it sounds like the key is what happens after your linkbait and what happens to your baseline link growth.

Would you say the same could be applied to something like subscribers if we're talking about a blog. Say after a successful linkbait your subscribers increase 10% and remain. Might that also help in getting an engineer to count the links? Or is it really going to come down to links alone?

One strategy might be to consistently put out smaller linkbaits punctuated every so often by the big one. The spikes might not appear as spikey and you would probably be showing a consistent link growth.

November 12, 2007 - 8:57am

I think if the subscribers were on topic then they naturally are going to link from time to time. For now I think it is mostly links.

Not sure if/when they will incorporate blog subscriber data. I am thinking that if they do incorporate blog subscriber data into the relevancy algorithms it might be done in an indirect manner more than a direct one, in order to filter out the ability to pass link equity from lower quality blogs that have few subscribers. Between Google Reader and Feedburner they have a good idea of what blogs should be trusted enough to be able to pass votes, IMHO.

November 12, 2007 - 4:02pm

Hi Aaron,

After a successful link bait that creates a relatively unnatural amount of back links, how much time do webmasters have to show consistent baseline growth before the spike gets discredited by Google? Do you think it's a matter of weeks, months, or longer? And is there any chance a spike would get discredited, but perhaps reevaluated later if the site starts to show consistently growing link numbers?

November 12, 2007 - 4:45pm

Hi Dave
I would be a liar if I tried to tell you that I know exactly what the thresholds are, but I can state that one of my blogs got a gray PageRank bar and is not in Google's cache after getting a few thousand links to a single linkbait article, and at one point Google even banned one of their own blogs.

I think new links have a way of making older links count more too, but I am not sure the exact mechanisms of it.

November 13, 2007 - 1:55am

Totally agree. I've found link bait usually brings "hit and run" traffic who rarely subscribe to my blog or email newsletter.

November 19, 2007 - 9:47am

err... i thought the web was all about generating high quality content? if that isnt what link bait is about then ive been barking up the wrong tree. the issues i have is converting baited hits to paying customers as most bait is non commercial in nature.

November 19, 2007 - 11:33am

True, but people are inherently lazy and like shortcuts. Most linkbait is more toward the baity end than toward the quality end.

January 20, 2010 - 4:15pm

not sure if link baits work for smaller clients, as this takes time and clients who cannot afford around 1000 quid, we won't be able to do link baits for them can we?

January 20, 2010 - 6:10pm

Not all linkbait efforts cost $1,000+ ... but you are right that as SEO gets more expensive it will keep getting harder to *profitably* serve small businesses. Many unremarkable small businesses already have and will continue to get squeezed out of the search ecosystem.

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