Don’t Break The Cardinal Rule Of LinkBait


Recently, a piece of very detailed, very expensive linkbait I helped create and market – failed.


It shocked the heck out of me since I followed the exact same process I always do when promoting content like this.  I really wanted to know what went wrong so I went back over every step of the campaign to make sure I hadn’t forgotten something:


1.  Research topic thoroughly – check.
2.  Find cutting edge images to use – check
3.  Hire well known expert to provide quotes – check
4.  Hire industry related writer – check
5.  Target sites to host content – check
6.  Develop link incentive – check
7.  Pitch media on story outline – check


I’ve used that outline for a long time and never had it bomb like this so I figured it had to be either a content issue or an issue with the expert I hired.  After hitting a dead end in my quest to find out why the piece failed, I filed it away and focused on a different tactic.  About a week later I came across this quote in an article by Ben Horowitz:


Some people are so belligerent in their communication style that people just stop talking when they are in the room


Wham!  That statement hit me like a ton of bricks.  I know a woman like that but I never thought about the dynamic around the actions until I read the quote.  I always assumed people stopped talking when she came around because they wanted to hear what she had to say, not avoid conversation with her. Thinking back I realize that’s exactly what happened, they didn’t like her so they didn’t want to engage in any means of personal interaction, even conversation.


Suddenly, a link light bulb went off  and I realized why my linkbait went belly up:  it wasn’t the content, or the images or the expert I hired to write it that failed, what failed were the links in the article.


I spent a lot of time researching the topic and host sites but I didn’t spend time researching the demographic the content was supposed to reach.  If I had, I would have been aware of major negative buzz within certain factions of the industry.  In an effort to be informative and support data within our content, I linked frequently to the very controversial sources industry leaders were criticizing.   I was pointing my readers to the handful of “belligerent” sites the majority of my targeted demographic was trying to avoid.




No wonder the article didn’t go viral or attract links, even with the incentives we offered;  I broke the cardinal rule of linkbait:


Know the emotional motivation of your target audience.

Links are content and while the content might define the article, the links are its soul.   They support content and reinforce the credibility of the piece, they verify what you’re saying.  If you link out to belligerent sources, your audience will ignore your content the same way they stop talking when a belligerent person is around.


The next time I do a large, complex linkbait campaign, I’m adding two steps to my checklist:


8.  Research emotional range and motivation factors of demographic
9.  Avoid linking to sites the majority of your audience hates


Check and double check. :)



  1. Clay Franklin says

    Great Insight. I love the idea and reminder “know the emotional motivation of your target audience.” This is exactly what is important in sales and relationships.
    I am currently selling SMS Text Marketing to local businesses and this mind-shift set change is exactly what I needed to hear today. Sure I already knew it, yet it must have drifted off to the cobwebs.

  2. rob says

    Oh right! We don’t have Larry over here :D

    And here was I thinking it was some clever piece of picture play aimed at those who knew about link c0ndoms and all that stuff! Doh.

  3. says

    Great step list Debra – Techies often miss the emo side of things, so a good reminder.

    Um, who’s the dude in the pic and what’s that over his head, is that a teat on the top!? :-o

  4. Debra says

    @Hugo, @Mark, @Dave, @Raza – thank you :)

    @Raymond – if you feel you can’t find a serious angle, topic or news item to write about or have an infographic done, you may want to approach it from a humorous side. There’s a site online called CoolnfoGraphics you might want to check out for ideas, as well as DailyInfographics. I browse them regularly for inspiration, you’ll find some which can be adapted for your industry. Keep in mind people ‘love to hate’ things, play off that.

  5. Raza says

    A good lesson. Sometimes we get so focused on the piece we’re working on, we miss the general pulse of the community.

    By the way, I see you on the SEODojo chat. I don’t participate much, but there are a few people who when they speak, I listen. You’re one of them!


  6. Raymond Denis says

    Great Insight !
    A little question: What do you do when the target linking site needs to be there (you’re crafting a linkbait tactic after all) and is indifferent/hated by the majority of your audience? I have a car insurance page to promote and in no way i can find a linkbait approach that will emotionally engage the user and find the link useful…

  7. Dave Durbin says

    I like the fact that your desire to provide value for your customer outweighed your desire to just move on. Our digital worlds are now more affected than ever by what Sun Tzu calls the Moral Law. Passion and Love (both for and against) drive emotionally charged topics. Very Well Done.

  8. Mark Simon says

    This is great! I loved the article and you revealed your uber successful check list :-)

  9. says

    Really interesting stuff, Debra!

    Heck, I’m still working on crystallizing and effectively using the first 7 steps you’ve outlined. The two new ones are icing on the cake!

  10. Debra says

    @Jade – Thanks! I’ve eaten a lot of pie over the years, not everything comes out the way you planned sadly but hey, live and learn.

    @David – in this particular instance, we offered an automatic entry into a drawing for a large ticket item the client manufactured if the piece was featured.

  11. Jade says

    Deb. Nice quick read and very refreshing to hear some humble pie read aloud. I think it’s a trait of humanity (albeit not a great one) to continually point fingers and not take credit for ideas or strategies that fail. Failing is a certainty. It will happen sooner or later. I also love the phrase “it’s dripping with nasty” haha.. thank you. I’ve had mentors in the past preach “Remove Emotion from your Work”, a concept which I never bought into considering the clients we would work with have immense emotional connections to their websites (livelihood). I’m happy to hear that experts such as yourself also feel that emotional awareness of your client is a key to success. At any rate, I appreciate the pointers. -jade

  12. David Ewing says

    hey Debra thanks for sharing. I’ve been working on different link bait strategies and am curious about your #6 Develop link incentive. Can you give an example of a link incentive

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