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. 🙂