Linkbait vs. Linkbuying

by Paul Carpenter
See Dave Speak SMX London

Linkbuilding is the one remaining ‘black art’ of SEO (remember when there were tonnes of them?) Get it right and even a woefully optimised and cobbled-together site can rank in a competitive vertical.

I’m looking at a site right now with 600,000+ organic visitors a month that has fundamentally no content whatsoever and sits in a template with cruddy URL structure. The code is stuffed with inline JavaScript, non-validating HTML and a raft of other stuff that you presumed went west with Brother Beyond. Yet I can go blob in any number of high volume search terms and find them nestling nicely in the top 3.

The reason? Links.

We talk a lot on here about how you can source links. Whether you’re blackhatting your way around exploits in popular platforms, doing cheeky things with Encarta, content-spinning, linkbuying or whatever, the ground of debate for SEO has narrowed down to how you get that tasty tasty link juice. I know there’s a tonne of methods and strategies out there, but broadly speaking there are two main strands of thought in currency right now.

Linkbait

Linkbait is the catch-all term for doing stuff that is so cool or interesting that people want to link to you. You know the kind of thing: gather together some kind of cruddy list, build a cool tool that your audience will want to use, use a provocative title to stir people to respond.

It sounds easy when you put it like that. But it largely depends on the market. SEO is a fascinating, vibrant field with a big audience of hip young things that will reblog anything that catches their eye. Aluminium guttering isn’t.

So in most markets, linkbait requires imagination in the first instance. People with commercially-exploitable imaginations don’t come cheap and quite often their ideas cost $$$ to implement. It might take them 6 weeks at £800 a day to come up with the idea of a Google Maps mashup showing dogging hotspots in the UK. That’s before you add in development time to build it and the research time to populate it. And then you’ve got to promote it – unless you’ve got time to wait.

Pros

  1. Gets you ungettable links from social networks, blogs and forums
  2. Your competitors can’t replicate it.
  3. Great for brand engagement

Cons

  1. You see that huge heap of dung in the corner? That’s a million linkbait ideas that never took off. The idea wasn’t strong enough, the market not deep enough, or the budget too tight to make it work.
  2. Your corporate culture might mean that a Top 10 Nude Aluminium Guttering Workers list just won’t get past the marketing department. And if it does you might get sacked when someone takes umbrage.
  3. Who knows who might end up linking to you? What if Robert Mugabe is madly into dogging and blogs you every day?

Linkbuying

Linkbuying is based on a simpler premise than linkbait. You want good, relevant sites linking to you, so you find good, relevant sites and wave cheques in their general direction. Could be that you’re buying SEO-friendly banner advertising, advertorial content or Whatever.

Of course, buying links in the right places at the right price in the right way is as much a skill as the linkbaiting. And finding just one decent link can cost you days of time in finding and negotiating even before you get to the cost of the link.

Pros

  1. Transparency: you gets what you pays for – with invoices and everything and a nice list of links in an Excel spreadsheet every month
  2. Control: the target sites are on-topic and receptive to your approach. Assuming it’s being done right.
  3. Can be great branding if it’s done right
  4. If links go bad, they can normally be removed

Cons

  1. Transparency: outright linkbuys are pretty obvious to anyone who isn’t a total chimp
  2. How do you price any given link when PageRank is still so f****ing important to site owners.
  3. Your competitors can duplicate what you’ve got – or buy up your slots if their chequebook’s bigger
  4. Algorithmically detectable?

Conclusions

Really, the lines between most linkbuilding techniques aren’t really that well defined. One man’s linkbait is another man’s comment spam and to Person X the whole thing is unconscionably immoral. Truthfully, most of us dabble in both techniques depending on the market we’re operating in and really what works is what matters. Regardless of what Google say, linkbuying isn’t going to go away any time soon – the algorithm is nowhere near as smart as people like to think it is. On the flipside, linkbait isn’t some kind of panacea – you’re in the lap of the gods as to whether it will take off unless you’ve got PR muscle to back it up.

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