SEO Guide to Creating Viral Linkbait and Infographics

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linkbait brainstorm workbook

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Hey there,

My name’s Ed Fry, and over the course of a two week internship at Distilled I’ve been producing this – the SEO Guide to Creating Viral Linkbait and Infographics. If you’re like me, you’ve been inspired by all these spectacular SEO success stories you read about who have produced linkbait that have scored 28,000+ links (nice one Chris Bennett!) and the like.

But the trouble is, no matter how hard I tried, I’ve never really got it to work. I’d fail to think about outreach until the last moment, or create something that folks just didn’t want to link to. Really elementary mistakes. I figured just reading about it wasn’t enough…

Distilled was the natural place to go to really master the making of linkbait. It’s an everyday job for the inhouse design team, data analyst, PR consultant and suite of SEO talent in the UK and USA. Better still, after a great two week internship last summer and having subsequently come to their London ProSEO conferences I was well placed to pitch the idea of a linkbait guide to Will and Duncan.

What I’ve made is kind of a practical guide to creating effective linkbait written to myself for you to enjoy and use too. The biggest thing I learnt is the process to this – that’s why it’s best to start at the beginning, but you can skip around from the table of contents if that helps. Yes, it is hard work, but if you follow every step in this guide, you’re bound to be able to impress clients, your boss and win SEO budget by delivering effective results.

What is Linkbait Anyway?

Linkbait is viral content with the specific aim to attract links from the “linkerati” – this is a term coined to describe people on the web who might be able to give links. Links drive their own traffic, but they’re also a critical component to search engine ranking algorithms. The idea is the more high-quality links to your website, the more likely you’ll experience higher rankings. Linkbait is an effective way to attract links to your website, with the collateral benefit of viral marketing.

If you’re new to SEO or want a refresher, it’s best to check out SEOmoz’s Beginners Guide to Search Engine Optimization – then you’ll be able to make better use of this guide.

  • If you’re like me and have been bootstrapping SEO on your own, you’ll love this because it’s a practical, step-by-step guide that will set up your websites to attract visitors for the long run. You’re also bound to get all sorts of ideas to help market your business in the future.
  • If you’re an agency, you’ll relish the process we’re revealing for you to use from handling clients and designers, to the checklists we’re making available to download.
  • If you’re an inhouse SEO, thanks to the inhouse backgrounds of some Distilled SEOs, we’ve got those kinds of issues covered too.


In a nutshell…

The basic recipe of effective linkbait looks something like this diagram below. Over the course of this guide, I’ll walk you through how to perfect each of these elements so you too can create highly-effective linkbait. Shall we?

linkbait process



The purpose of the brainstorm is to generate dozens of linkbait ideas, good and bad. Brainstorming is easier than the grunt work needed to make the linkbait, but without the perfect idea, all the work later on will be wasted. Linkbait must be incredibly compelling content to a specific audience that the linkerati can’t help but share.

Eight Tips for the Perfect Linkbait Brainstorm

1. Give Advanced Notice to Your Team

Give your team advanced notice of a brainstorm; it gives them space to start thinking up ideas ahead of the meeting, so people have already had a chance to think about ideas themselves. It’ll save time bringing people up to speed in the meeting too. One or two days ahead of a brainstorm meeting gives enough time for showers, dog walks, commutes, news stories and night sleeping on it to let ideas.

2. Small Teams are Better for Brainstorming

Invite a small team to your brainstorm. Larger teams may have the potential for more ideas, but most people sat in large meetings won’t be doing anything. It’s unproductive. Better still, three or four people can get into their stride with a brainstorm session with ideas rolling out, with each person able to contribute more, rather than having to wait for half a dozen other people to finish sharing their ideas.

That said, don’t just invite people who are directly involved in the linkbait campaign, or even just SEOs. The “outsiders” perspective can be really useful, for instance graphic designers are a good shout. If you can, try to invite one of your client’s customers (or potential customers). An email or in-person invite should entail the time and date of the brainstorm, the client, the objective and any major limitations – enough for anyone to be able to turn up with ideas ready.

PRO Tip: Invite people individually; people respond more when you appear to only be speaking to them. There’s also a sense of pride from being “the chosen one” to which you can tap into.

3. Use a Separate Space

Get away from the desk. Find another space where you’re away from your computer, regular work and distractions. A meeting room, coffee shop or even going to a local park or somewhere different will really help with coming up with creative ideas.

4. Time Limitations Encourage Urgency

Brainstorm meetings have a tendency to overrun, so state the length of the meeting at the beginning and set a timer for around 30 minutes. It’ll encourage people to express their ideas succinctly, and maintain momentum. You don’t have endless time anyway. When the timer goes off, the brainstorm ends. Period.

5. Encourage other people’s ideas. Never criticize.

If you think an idea isn’t that great, how can you build on it or spin off it to make it something better? That positive vibe will only encourage people to throw more ideas on the table. Don’t be “that guy” who criticizes everyone else’s and your own ideas.

6. Quantity, Not Quality

A brainstorm is an idea generation process; everything else is a distraction that makes idea-generation less efficient. Build up more and more ideas, rather than trying to carefully come up with the few “perfect ideas”. However tempting it is to say “ah, we don’t have time for that” or something equally damning stops the brainstorm in its tracks. Don’t worry, the quality assessment comes later. Now is just the time for getting ideas out on the table.

“You really want to come out with about 50 ideas. You don’t want to come out with one.”

Mark Johnstone Distilled

7. No Tools.

Don’t distract yourself early on with fancy tools for brainstorming ideas. Just get lots of people together with a whiteboard or some large sheets of paper and just start mapping out ideas. Yes, it’s archaic, but it works!

8. Sift Through Ideas Afterwards

Ideas need to be acted upon; post-brainstorm go through each idea that’s been generated and then check how feasible it is. Consider a category of ideas which wouldn’t necessarily work on their own, but might work with another idea. Don’t forget to capture your ideas. Take a photo of the whiteboard, and upload it to Evernote; the character recognition will be able to transcribe your handwriting so you can search and share notes for later.

Brainstorming on Your Own?: Although small group brainstorms are better for idea generation, you can still try brainstorming on your own. Use a mind-map to record your ideas, and perhaps consider a couple of separate brainstorming sessions over a few days. Keep a notepad or some other means of capturing ideas (I use notes on my iPod) close to hand just in case you come up with something incredible.

It’s better to consider idea generation as “hunch-generation”. Hunches are bits of ideas, which need to merge with other ideas and hunches. How are you letting ideas mingle, swap and take different forms? Take a look at Steven Johnson’s RSAnimate video on Where Good Ideas Come From.

You Should Read: Seth Godin on Where do ideas come from?

Return to Table of Contents

Brainstorming the Perfect Linkbait in 10 Steps

Step 1: Outline Your Objectives

From the start, it’s essential everyone clearly understands your client’s objectives. Go through these questions with your team, before moving onwards to the brainstorm. Use a whiteboard or mind-map software to outline your brainstorm. Try to map all your client objectives back to business metrics that matter – profit talks.

  • What’s the mission?
  • Building domain strength and authority?
  • Boosting and maintaining rankings of key pages?
  • What pages are you trying to rank?
  • How do they tie back to business and profit objectives?

You Should Read: Justin’s tips on Project Management for SEOs.

Step 2: Research Your Client, Exhaustively.

  • Who is the client?
  • What do they do?
  • In what way are they unique?
  • In what way are they thought leaders?
  • What does the client want to be known for?
  • Take a read at Mark’s Guide on How to Kick-Start an SEO Project

Step 3: Outline Your Project Assets

  • Who will be working on this project?
  • How much time do you have?
  • What’s your budget?
  • What will be your success metrics?
  • Who needs to sign this off?
  • What are the key delivery dates for this project?

Success Metrics are important to outline from the start; benchmarking helps. Take a snapshot of the clients important metrics; comb through their Google Analytics account, evaluate keyword rankings, current inbound links and domain authority using SEOmoz PRO tools and numbers of subscribers on to the blog, Twitter, email and anything similar.

Step 4: Brainstorm Topics

roger mozbot

Image credit: My animator friend Phil Rouse. Click Roger to see his showreel and grab your own MozBot!

It’s 4am, you’re in bed and you’re sitting in bed bolt-upright with that awesome, genius, absolutely-killer idea wired into your brain. Congrats; you’ve hit gold! But even if you do get a great idea more-or-less straight away, it’s not always going to be the best idea. You need to go through an incredibly thorough process to actually come up with a remarkable idea.

I warn you now, if you screw up the concept, you screw up your entire linkbait project. That’s why you need to create at least three workable ideas – it’ll force you to brainstorm better ideas, and might even lead to subsequent linkbait projects.

About Your Client’s Audience

PRO Tip: Check online forums, search twitter and find top industry blogs on Technorati to guide you.

  • What do they already know?
  • What do they think they already know?
  • What’s Hot or Newsworthy in the Industry at the moment? Search via Topsy.
  • What do they really care about? What are they passionate about? What do they spend their spare time doing?
  • Job? Salary?
  • What do they find to be a real pain? What’s the bane of their lives? What keeps them up at night?
  • Are there any related fields you could tap? Go niche? Go broad?
  • Do they have any sacred cows? What could they not live without? What shouldn’t you tread on?
  • How Can You Help? Do you know anything insightful about that industry?
  • Where does your audience hang out?
  • How large is your audience?
  • What are they sharing?

Use your answers to the questions to populate the first few spokes of your mind-map. There are alternatives of course, but mind-maps are a great way of organizing lots of different topics and sub-topics. It’s easy for another person to step in and expand on a mind-map – try using MindNode or Freemind – or using a Whiteboard to drap a mind-map of ideas; that way everyone has the big picture. No Whiteboard? Try Ideapaint on your walls.

“Don’t create what they want. Create what they need.”

Hannah Smith Distilled

You’re trying to find something that appeals strongly to the audience your interested in. Something that gives them searing pain, or that they’re deeply passionate about.

PRO Tip: Install the StumbleUpon Toolbar for Firefox, highlight a keyword on a page, right click and Stumble through that keyword. You’ll find lists of relevant pages lots of people have thumbed up.

Step 5: Brainstorm Your Linkerati

The best time to begin outreach is straight after your brainstorm where you finalize your core concept. Run your top ideas past someone you know in the industry, over the phone, via email or ideally in person. Ask them what they think, what they’d like to see in it, would they be able to help promote it, talk to their network and link to it. If the answer’s no, ask why not. Tweak your ideas and try again.

“I need to be able to meet a minimum goal before I start even thinking about this piece of content to avoid complete failure”

David Sottimano Distilled

That’s the real secret to successful linkbait.

The best linkbait projects are home-and-dry before they’ve really started. Work your network, and set out a realistic, minimum target number of links guaranteed before you start. Remember, all you’ve got at this stage is a concept, or series of workable concepts.

Try, if you can, to collaborate with your link partners in some way early on; involving them positively will almost certainly guarantee a link. Be careful asking for too much; send short emails with a short, manageable questions asking for their input. Lengthy essays briefing them on the purpose of the linkbait, ideas from the brainstorm, what other people said are all noise – short, succinct emails win.

“Who is going to link to this. Think of one person, just one person on the entire internet who is going to link to this piece of linkbait.”

Paddy Moogan Distilled

Create Personas of the Linkerati

Before you start trying to find prospects and contact them, build a persona of what relevant link prospects might look like. A handful of personas will be your reference point for researching different ideas for link prospects, and you can always go back to them if you get stuck for more ideas. Create at least 2-3 personas of different potential groups of link prospects:

  • Who specifically are you trying to persuade – who’s got access to the code? A webmaster? A community manager? A mummy blogger?
  • What are they specifically interested in – their passions, pains and problems?
  • Have you got their personal email?
  • Why are they online? To make a profit? For a hobby? Is it their job?
  • How could you add value in your pitch to them, making their life easier and make them look good?
  • How often do they spend on their website? How quickly, if at all, might you get a response?
  • How much effort might it be to link to you? Based on what they’re already doing, what is their preferred method of linking to or sharing other sites? Embedding? Tweeting? Blogging? Directories or resource lists?
  • Do they have any social media profiles? Who follow’s them? What are they sharing?
  • What would make them stop what they’re doing and respond to you?
  • What are their sacred cows? Is their anything you can’t threaten or talk about?
  • What can’t they stop talking about? What can’t they get enough of?
  • Are there any internet memes you could tap into to encourage sharing
  • Are they SEO savvy? Do they understand the value of a link from them?
  • Do they have any related interests you could tap?
  • What might make a really effective incentive for them in particular?

PRO Tip: Go to FollowerWonk, the search tool for Twitter profiles, enter your search term then copy and paste the URL of the search results page into TagCrowd under the website URL tab. You’ll easily be able to see what else besides your original search term twitter users in your niche are interested in.

Personas can be fictional provided they cover a number of potential link prospects, but if you can find someone who matches the persona your creating, then great! Refer back to the personas you created to find link prospects later on, but also to keep in mind whilst you’re researching, writing and designing your linkbait. Creating linkbait for one targeted person or persona will help guide your research and creative process.

Make sure that the linkerati personas are the type that link out and share! Take a look at this infographic on the ‘Hectic Schedule of the Social Media Manager’ – you couldn’t get an audience that’s more likely to share something (with such an emotive hook as well). It scored almost 500 links, 500 likes and over a thousand tweets. It wins because it hits the spot with the linkerati.

Step 6: Choose Your Linkbait Tactics and Hooks

With a selection of topics to choose from, find a linkbait technique and hook that’ll work. Don’t forget, all of these techniques will flop without the right subject. Do take a look at what’s previously worked in your niche (and what’s almost worked), but it’s difficult to measure linkbait success externally; a pretty infographic may never have had enough successful outreach to attract enough links. There are tools you can use, like Open Site Explorer, but most of the external “linkbait grading” has to be done with an element of human judgement. Design, ease of sharing and comic value for instance.

Develop Your USP Early

The trouble with many forms of linkbait is they can be easily replicated by a competitor. Early on, try to develop something unique that can’t be copied or replicated easily by competitors. Find a unique selling point, something proprietary about your company and your website, or a mix of different factors which offer to visitors and customers will really give you the upper hand:

  1. Relationships and Contacts: Are there any people you can talk to, and relationships you can leverage exclusively? Do you have one-to-one relationships with influencers your competitors don’t have?
  2. Proprietary Tools, Data or Processes: Do you have, or could you create any proprietary tools that only you have access to, and control?
  3. Research & Development: Perhaps you’ve got exclusive access to certain data, or have knowledge of a certain process?
  4. Newsworthy: This is how the news hook is incredibly effective, since someones got to be first to break the news. Could you get exclusive access to any news story? Could you be the first to add some interesting data and expand on the story in a significant way?
  5. Personality: No one can copy you. You, are probably the biggest asset to this project, assuming you’re excited about the topic in hand. Personality is a really easy way to liven up your linkbait – if you can’t add personality yourself, find some or invent some. Look at what did for the dull insurance industry.

Think of superlatives where you’re justifiably better at something that really matters to the customer. Google has the fastest, easiest search for example.

  • Best
  • Fastest
  • Easiest
  • Cheapest
  • Quickest
  • Prettiest
  • Most fun
  • Most useful
  • Most outrageous

You Should Read: Paddy’s Hands-on Tips for Link Building

Does it Have to Be An Infographic? Really?

Infographics aren’t dead. But they’re so often overused and overrated. Perhaps if that’s perfect if the objective is just to pick up links and viral shares, but you’ve probably got quite savvy, old-school linkerati in your niche who probably can’t be bothered with some gimicky article or commercial dressed as an infographic.

“Infographics Work. Info[Crap]hics Do Not Work”

Chris Bennett 97th Floor

Data visualization engages it’s audience in two languages – the trick is making both the literature and the visuals to work together, supporting each other, not confusing the rear. Take a look at David McCandless’ TED Talk on ‘The Beauty of Data Visualization’

This whole guide for instance would make a hideous infographic. It’s far more useful to have it clearly laid out in text with downloads and videos. Besides, who really cares about huge image files which take ages to load when with the magic of CSS and HTML5 you can pull in a lot of those elements anyway?

If you’ve found something fascinating (and that your audience and linkerati will find fascinating) but think it won’t make a particularly good article, or it would just be too difficult to explain with it being wordy and boring – a list of statistics for instance.

“The most important thing is not the data. It’s not the tools, but it’s the questions that you ask.”

Mark Johnstone Distilled

Awesome Infographic Examples

  1. I don’t really care how long a something is compared with football pitches, but slap something directly in the 3D context of something lots of people know, and I might be able to guage the size of something easier. Like this visualization of the Allure of the Seas.
  2. Mundane lists of different combinations are difficult to understand and pick up. Look at how this simple illustration explains what’s really in your coffee – it’s idiot-proof.
  3. Here is a fantastic visualization of the size of American debt in $100 bills relative to humans, pallets, famous skyscrapers and football fields. It gets more and more ridiculous and a very effective way to present large numbers.
  4. Big numbers become more or less meaningless since they’re hard to visualize ourselves; this infographic shows the comparative number of servers owned and operated by some of the webs top companies, starting with Intel and Rackspace, eventually requiring you to scroll down and down to picture the full number of Google’s servers.
infographics by jess

Take a look at infographics by Jess for some great examples of successful viral infographics.

But it doesn’t just have to be an infographic! Here’s plenty of alternative ideas for linkbait you must take a look at as well. Take a look too at 37signals post on 10 Ways to Get Ink.

Linkbait Tactics and Hooks from A-to-Z

linkbait ideas

A-to-Z of linkbait ideas - it doesn


Create a system of awards for your industry or niche. Perhaps even create a voting system for people to suggest the best companies and people they care about; this could carry more weight than just one person, or one company’s opinion. Think tactically however; who in your niche might be able to link to you if they do win an award? Do they have a blog? Do they link out in their press releases?

Web 2.0 Awards was a highly effective linkbait back in 2008, securing links over 77,000 links from over 1,300 domains. By targeting and awarding influential websites online, it works as a form of egobait that so happens to be with powerful websites online who in turn will link to you.

Be First

Beat the competition to it, especially with newsworthy content or in producing useful tools. If big industry players roll out something revolutionary overnight, engage the blogosphere with the news, your angle and what you’re going to do with it. Remember Gizmodo’s early unveiling of the iPhone 4? Besides the 245,000+ Facebook likes and tens of thousands of tweets, it scored over 4,400 links from a diverse range of domains including authority industry sites like TechCrunch and Engadget as well as mainstream news sites.

The key to the ‘first-mover advantage’ game is to nail down your linkbait production process, so have the process ready and waiting. Keep your ear to the ground with live-updated Google Alerts, Twitter and customized RSS feeds via Yahoo Pipes set up to monitor your industry.


With the right prize acting as an incentive, competitions make great content that gets shared socially easily, and lends itself naturally to a multistep linkbait project. You could seed competition over several blogs, and encourage other people to share the competition – but then later on, go back to all these people with the results and get them to post it. And then the results of the prize; for instance a travel competition, “Two Weeks in the Sun after the Prize I Won”.

Be wary, this is where knowing your market can make a huge difference. Be careful also with the link juice that will flow in, make sure it’s pointed towards pages which you’d like to help rank. Even better if you can, incorporate the competition pages into the landing page you want to rank – once the competition is over, you can remove all the reference of the competition and still have the natural links pointing towards your landing page.

An insanely successful viral marketing campaign that failed to get links and turn into a long-run win was IKEA’s legendary Facebook Campaign. A store manager uploaded photos of IKEA showrooms, and the first person to tag themselves on items won the goods. Of course, each photo you’re tagged in shows up in your friends feeds, and the image is titled “Tag yourself to win”. This went crazy viral, but… IKEA failed to tie it back to their own website and leverage the huge wave of people sharing it; even something simple like profiling some of the winners, perhaps images of people actually receiving the goods from the store and videoing their responses.

Design and HTML5 Awesomeness

“Design doesn’t just matter, it’s 50% of the battle.”

Rand Fishkin SEOmoz

Aim for jaw-droppingly delicious design from the outset; you simply can’t afford to compromise on the design. Linkerati, visitors and potential sharers form their first impressions very, very quickly. A bad, or average design won’t convert into links anything like as well as the – it’s got to be a real pleasure to look at. The great news is everyone has an opinion on design; ask a few people if they like it or not, then. Be quiet and listen to them – remember, they’re the people who will be sharing and linking to it. They’re the people who matter.

Find a good great designer. Give them a lot of money. Include some proprietary graphics, not just stock images, to put your mark on the linkbait. Make it distinctly YOU, and not something that can be easily replicated. Later on in this guide, I’ll walk you through how to work effectively with designers, including video interviews with the design team here at Distilled.

Remember, you’re not just limited to infographics and little images to embed into a page. With the powers of HTML5, you can do all sorts of incredibly creative graphical designs and spacings. and Reevoo’s Online Magazine are two great examples of creative design involving HTML5. is a great resource of infographics for you to admire and pinch ideas from. The designer Dustin Curtis has done some incredible bespoke designs; look at his analysis on Sleep here.

reevoo magazine

It looks and functions like flash, but it's search engine indexable and a little faster. We love HTML5 awesomeness!


In almost any industry, there are key influencers. Individuals running strong blogs with thousands of followers and a regular commentary is a good great source of links if you can bait the leader at the top of it. The great thing is leaders have followers, and if the leader approves, the followers will likely share and link to it to.

Get creative. Something controversial, hysterical or that paints them in a great light – but not in a cringeworthy way. If you were a big (or bigger) shot, what would make you smile and share something on yourself?


Checkout our example of Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz.

Challenge: I bet you could find and create some awesome literal graphic interpretations of other individual’s Twitter handles. Tweet us @distilled and we’ll put together a blog post of some of the best.


Free stuff on its own isn’t enough to get links; free stuff that people really value gets links, so again it’s about intimately knowing your audience. One of the most linked to pages on the Internet is Adobe’s Reader download page. It’s free, useful software that’s linked to because it serves a use for other people’s audiences, and according to SEOmoz’s Top500 it’s the 14th most linked to page on the internet. It has more than 8.5 million links. Adobe win.

iTunes’ download page is another example; Apple working in the requirement for iTunes with the iPod helped with its adoption, and now it’s the “go-to” software for organizing your playlists. Add This, the embeddable sharing toolbar, is another “go-to” provider.

Guest Linkbait

oli gardner

More people should guest post like Oli Gardner

SEOmoz readers got a pleasant shock when Oli Gardner posted a huge, incredibly-thorough beginners guide to online marketing on the SEOmoz blog. In effect, he’d produced a piece of linkbait for another website, but by making it so bloody good, he still milked a healthy reward. He also crafted in a giant infographic into the post too, which linked back to the website. Still, the move was a big risk. How could you know if it would actually benefit Unbounce’s bottom line in the end?

It wasn’t a marketing piece. It was a gift. Gifts are a means of sacrifice for someone else, with no expectation of a return. Could you gift your linkbait to a someone in the same broad field? How could you engineer it to still generate links – Oli included an infographic, but what could you do?

How-to, Instructions and Tutorials

The classic, rigorous tutorial or instruction will always resonate with a targeted audience. Be careful with content like this not to target topics that are easily found out about, or have been done before in detail. If you really want links, cover something new, something hard or complicated but in a simple way. Work in visuals and video to help people along.

Remember to keep it simple. That means making it relevant to the context of your audience (again, knowing your audience is key). Calculus is simple to a graduate maths student, but very complicated to a 5-year old – you’d go about teaching calculus to these different people in totally different ways. The same applies to your tutorial; simplify by breaking it down into smaller steps. It has to be actually useful! It shouldn’t become overwhelming for the reader (so understand what your reader knows, or thinks they know, already). Be sure to test out your tutorial on someone else before pushing it live.

The Excel for SEOs guide here at Distilled started life as a few internal tutorials being emailed around; now it is visited almost as much as the homepage. If your guide really is super-long, then consider paginating it like Dive into HTML5.


Interviews make great linkbait, particularly if you’re interviewing someone influential, or someone who’s incredibly insightful. Similar to tutorials, gauge where your audience is at before brainstorming good questions, but also research what kind of questions the interviewee gets asked repeatedly – you don’t want to bore either person.

Questions should be open and an outline of what you’re wanting to talk about sent ahead beforehand. A good opener to get someone comfortable talking or writing is to let the interviewee introduce themselves a little bit and what they’re doing. Look at great interviewers like Andrew Warner of, or on TV News Channels. When pitching an interview, state a specific time and date, the form of the interview (video, written, audio etc.) and an outline of what kind of questions are going to be asked.


Useful stuff is always better than funny, but together it can be a really powerful hook. People love funny stuff. If you can incorporate humour and hilarity in some form or another into your linkbait, that can be an excellent way to engage your readers. People tweets and share lots more when they’re grinning ear-to-ear! But know what’s funny beforehand, so know your audience.

Jokes on their own won’t necessarily stand their ground as content that will get linked to lots – shared maybe, but to leverage the power of jokes for linkbait, you need to work the funny stuff in with another tactic to make it effective.

How Web Design Goes Straight to Hell is yet another fantastic comic from Matthew Inman that scored some 6,800-odd links, but what makes this so funny is the unwritten personal story. The comic shows how client intervention sends a design project “to hell”, resonating with the design community across the web. Clearly, Matthew suffered from clients requests in the past like this. It’s linkbait that taps basic emotions (“I love this”. “I hate this”.) does well. Focus on what draws out pains or passion.

Kindness or Kittens

What can you do for someone, or an an organization or something else? Open letters of advice or suggestions, provided they’re not condescending, can be a very effective form of linkbait. Perhaps you could make somebody famous, and draw them into the public eye? Perhaps you could do a writeup on some emerging, unknown people in your niche? Could you setup a meeting between someone influential you know and someone who’s unknown but would really benefit from it – then host that on your website? You can already see some incredible stories coming out of this, right?

Alternatively, add some kittens. Cats and kittens do get loads of shares, and looking at and The Fluffington Post, they certainly get links too! Of course, random kittens, puppies and babies in your linkbait may not always be super-relevant, but if you can work in kittens and other things that make people go “aaaaawwww” then do.

Distiled Cat Viral

Distilled Cat loves to be linked to.


Lists are a proven method of linkbait, since they can clearly promise the reader what they’re going to get in the headline. Better still, the reader expects to have to read through X number of posts. AdAge’s Power150 list attracts links from all the blogs it mentions; sites like CopyBlogger and Search Engine Land aren’t not going to link to such a prestigious award from a brand like AdAge are they?

Lists of myths, tips, useful resources, best blogs, industry experts are all effective, but try to avoid lists which repeat themselves, got slightly off topic from what’s promised in the headline or just don’t really explain each point in enough detail. When in doubt, err on the side of fewer points in the list but in more detail. Top 10 posts work well. Top 100 posts don’t always…

And whilst it’s a good ideas to outline the number of points, don’t just stick to headlines. A-to-Z’s (are hard when it gets to the end) or Countries in the World or some other category you could be inventive with work well too, and make for a welcome relief from the usual number post types.

Microsites & Other Domains

Building a dedicated website just for your linkbait does mean that most of the resulting linkjuice won’t benefit your main domain nearly as much, but from a branding perspective, dedicated domain names are much more easily remembered and shared – critical for viral campaigns in particular. was a microsite created in an afternoon at Distilled; that’s a domain that’s hard to forget!

CV bullshit was built in half a day at Distilled more as a hacking exercise than a piece of linkbait, but it proves it is possible.

A dedicated microsite will also allow you to focus down on the target audience more, geographically for instance – an audience that might not necessarily value the sales-focused content on your central commercial website. Exact-match domains can be useful here. Microsites, orphaned from your main domain, make the perfect testing ground for trying new different hooks that could later be developed into larger linkbait projects later on. They might also take less developer time to setup and push live.

Make sure you come up with one way to make sure your site benefits your main website or ultimate business goal. At the very least, link through from your microsite to pages you’re trying to rank on your main website. Also consider a landing page full of useful resources and optin form that’ll feed your main email list. Avoid creating multiple microsites that duplicate, or closely match existing websites in your pool of websites or anywhere else on the web.


Somebody’s got to break the news first, and that somebody is bound to get links if the story is significant to the target audience, particularly if you’re syndicating your breaking news content via RSS. The death of Michael Jackson for instance was a great source of links, well documented here. Think through how you can create something new or introduce a different spin on the story; look at what The Onion News Network do for example.


Opinion works really well as a hook if you’re already a “someone” in your niche. Publishing a reasoned argument, citing useful sources to back it up makes for great linkbait. Everyone loves it when two giants lock-horns over something; it does get links! But if you are a nobody, or comparatively a nobody, then your opinion frankly doesn’t matter; even the “say something controversial” hook is destined for a flop.

You could still try to engage the opinion hook, just not with your voice. Find quotes and opinions from the “somebodies” in your niche and piecing together a conflicting argument yourself. Pitch differing opinions together; become the analyst.

Photos & Comics

Shocking, breathtaking, hilarious photos are great linkbait, but are especially powerful for getting shares on social media websites. If you can incorporate your own photos, do. Make sure they’re high quality and that they tell a story. If it adds something, edit your photos for effect.

Don’t limit yourself to stale, boring stock photos – it’s like the difference between cheap, commoditized bread on a budget supermarket shelf and the fresh, fragrant warm loaves in a bakers store – one has character, the other doesn’t. Consider adding short little comic strips or stories to enhance your point. Remember, photos and images can really help break up text, and eliminate the need for lots of reading (and writing).

Quizzes and Surveys

Quizzes, like competitions, naturally move towards a multi-step bait process. Using similar techniques to the competition, once people have gone through the quiz, ask them to share their result (make it easy, one or two clicks is good). Since quizzes are similar to surveys, you could then follow up with a fantastic publication of your findings and encourage participants to share the results too.

Research Findings

Everyone can find new and interesting data sources (more on that later), and most SEOs can find and research new data. Provided you can tell the story first, research is an incredibly powerful source of linkbait. OkCupid’s study that revealed iPhone users have more sex than other smartphone users was lapped up by all sorts of mainstream blogs and news channels.


Ever since we were cavemen, entertaining each other whilst feasting on wooly mammoth, humans have been hard wired for stories. There’s something incredibly captivating about how a story unfolds; good stories, well-told, can send user engagement sky-rocketing and encourage sharing. Good great writing comes from practice – try practicing on your own blogs first, or holding story-writing competitions in your agency.

stories for linkbait

Tell a riveting story. How do you key characters clash? What dramas unfold? What's the big climax? - Image credits: Disney Pixar

If you haven’t got a story to work with, play the journalist and find one. Go and interview people, look at data sources, read other blogs looking for interesting tales. Finding out a bit about people’s backgrounds is a great place to start.


Build useful tools for your niche to help them answer their problems, or work in an easier, quicker way. Tools like calculators, or that use your proprietary data or technology that people can use, similar to’s many calculators.

roger mozbot


PRO Tip: Build tools quickly. Checkout our webinar recording on link building with developers.

User-Generated Linkbait

Users can generate heaps of content, and don’t forget, the crowd is always the wisest person in the room. Second only to Wikipedia for shear volume of content is the World of Warcraft Wiki, an incredible resource with almost one and a half million links pointing to it!

You could easily cream-off the best of your community’s content and compile the best on a forum or blog into a guide, seeding your question in a forum thread or as a guest blog post (More tips on using communities for gathering data later on…).

User-generated linkbait is like egobait but on a grand scale. Whilst this sounds great up front, be wary that having so many contributors contribute only a little dilutes the value of each contribution. They’re one of many rather than something special – try to find something unique for each person if you can. Get the community to build links for you too.

You Should Read: Geoff’s guide to SEO for User-Generated Content and this Distilled PDF Guide to UGC for SEO for Reevoo


Video rocks for engaging visitors, and has the powerful bonus of going viral easily if shared on the right platforms. Everyone can create awesome video for SEO; even bootstrapped SEOs can buy a Flip camcorder (or even borrow something!), use free video editing software and post it online for free.

YouTube for instance uses metrics like how long the user watches until they click away, if they watch it again etc. to a serve up the best, more popular videos. Dave’s post on the Distilled blog can walk you through the basics of SEO for YouTube.

You must choose between hosting videos yourself on a professional platform like Wistia or Vzaar and having complete control over embedding, plays, content, streaming quality and analytics or choosing a platform like YouTube or Vimeo which already has a large audience, is free, but where you’ll have less control over the quality and promotion. Save time and use TubeMogul to distribute your videos to lots of video sharing platforms simultaneously.

Widgets and Badges

Can you produce content that users can embed on their sites, that provides value to their visitors? Can you make it dynamic? Twitter and other feed providers often provide embeddable widgets with the users latest posts or tweets in it, linking back to the homepage via the logo. Be careful with widgets though.


What has your linkbait got that makes your audience just saw “WOW!” ? Wow, words-of-wonder, is a the codeword you need to uncover serious numbers of links and shares. The mission is to impress. What makes good great linkbait though is where it continues to impress the second, third and nth time round. Novelty wears off. Avoid negative WOWs too. Folks won’t have have the same feel-good sensation if and when they share it.

Year Summaries

People lose track of all the great blog posts, videos and materials released over the course of a year; if you can do a yearly summary of the industry, then perhaps pull some interesting data from it, retell the big stories of the year and maybe combine it with some awards.

Zue Someone!

I meant “sue” them – you try coming up with something good for Z! Suing someone makes good PR material, and gets shared if you start picking on someone big. The alternative is to get sued by a company people hate, then writing about it. Of course, legal action for links is a last resort, and for goodness sake talk to a legal professional beforehand. Better suggestions for Z? Please tweet us @distilled!

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Step 7: Develop Your Headlines

A tweet is only 140 characters long. You only get 70 characters of title tag in a search result. You need to compress your best ideas and bait down into one succinct sentence to get that first click – a headline. This will help you immediately weed out the poor ideas; bad ideas will just sound wrong. The bit that’s going to be shared, going to become the anchor text, going to be attached to your brand is the headline. Online, most of what we read is headlines. Good and bad headlines determine what we read online.

Of course, what makes a good and bad headline differs between different people. It’s important to understand what’s important to your target audience (what keeps them awake at night, good and bad?) from the outset. However, there are some hard and fast rules of what good headlines generally include:

1. Self-interest

Fear and greed drive basic human motivations. Your headline clearly promises a tangible benefit to clicking through and consuming the content. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a terrific example.

2. News

Updating your target audience about something new and exciting is great. Perhaps there’s a new use for your tool, or a problem that you’ve now solved or something fascinating you’ve discovered that’s newsworthy. Better still, newsworthy content has legs for PR outreach.

3. Quick, Easy Relief

People with problems don’t want to be told that it’s going to take weeks of gruelling work to fix their car, get fit or become a millionaire. People like to hear from headlines that their problem can be solved quickly and easily with your magic formula. That’s appealing, and that’s why these headlines work.

4. Curiosity (kind of)

Asking questions and provoking thoughts and ideas in questions. do this brilliantly. “5 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Apocalypse Could Actually Happen” yielded almost 17,000 links and well over 10 million views. Result, right? But be aware that curiosity will struggle to always work on its own as a headline; it works best supplementing another hook.

It’s easy enough to put together a few headline ideas from your list of topics that have come out of your brainstorm, but refining your headline to appeal to people, linkerati and search engines is where the hard work is. Expect to draft at least a dozen different ideas for headlines, then pick bits of the best ones to go into the final headline. If you’re struggling to come up with an effective headline, that’s a surefire indicator that you don’t know your niche well enough, and the linkbait is destined to flop.

What Headlines Don’t Work

headline fail

PRO Tip: Good artists borrow. Great artists steal. Build up your own swipe file of awesome headlines and use it as inspiration for your content. Some buy Cosmopolitan magazine, not for the content, but the headlines. Where do you get your great headlines?

The best way to really understand how to write a headline, is to understand the methods behind successful, and unsuccessful examples, then try to create your own.

1. How Web Design Goes Straight to Hell

  • It sets up the reader for a story
  • It clearly targets audiences involved in web design
  • Emotive language resonates with the target audience

2. How Y Combinator Helped 172 Startups Take Off

  • Has the buzzword “Startups”. The target audience is already salivating.
  • It’s specific, answering the “who’s and what’s”: “Y Combinator Helped 172 startups”
  • Again, sets up the reader for the story.

3. The NOOB Guide to Online Marketing [Infographic]

  • The “new guys” to online marketing feel at home
  • [Infographic] in the headline – that’s code for “you will share this”
  • It targets the niche of ‘online marketing’ which is full of natural sharers.

4. What’s Your Fascination Score?

  • The question arouses curiosity
  • It implies a benefit of knowing your fascination score
  • It’s personal. “Your score”

Checklist for Your Headline

  • Is it keyword rich? What keywords is it targeting?
  • Is it less than 70 characters, including spaces?
  • Does it include any “Buzzwords”? Are the buzzwords effective, or just a cliche?
  • Could you make the headline simpler? Could you use less language?
  • Is it explicitly clear what the headline is promising? Have you asked someone else what they’d expect from reading your headline?
  • Does it include an element of self-interest hook? Does is provoke fear or greed?
  • Does it also share news, a quick-relief or arouse curiosity? Could it include one of these?

When to Write Your Headline

If you intimately understand your niche, and are excited about it, try putting together a headline earlier on in the project. The likelihood is you’ll tweak it as the linkbait comes together, but since you understand what works in the niche, a strong headline from the outset can really help shape your linkbait.

If that’s not the case, and you don’t have a close understanding of the industry you’re targeting, and can’t find someone on the team who does, then its essential that you get to know the industry as best you can. It starts at Google with some broad searches, read through forums and blogs (starting with the latest, and most popular posts). This is critical to resonating with the audience that’s going to share it, but also exciting the people who are going to link to it – they need to feel that your linkbait isn’t just good, but perfect for their audience.

You Should Read: Proven Headline Formulas on CopyBlogger

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Take a breather.

Go play sport. Walk the dog. Grab a drink and chillax.

You want to leave time after the brainstorm before reviewing your ideas.

Step 8: Review Your Brainstorm

At this point, it’s time to weed out the poor ideas for topics. This part of the brainstorm needn’t require a huge team of people – two or three is plenty. The bad ideas will just stand out and should be discarded. Separate out some of the ideas with potential on their own, then consider a category of ideas which wouldn’t necessarily work on their own, but might work with another idea.

Find the goods that people desperately need; remember people “make-do” a lot on the web. They aren’t going to go the extra mile looking for the perfect solution necessarily, but will find the first reasonable option.

  • Does It Meet the client’s criteria?
  • How does this get back to making money?
  • Why would your audience care about this? When would they care?
  • How else, and how easily could I find this kind of stuff out?
  • Do you have, or know of, any similar successful linkbait pieces like your ideas
  • Why would they trust you rather than someone else?
  • What constraints are you likely to face when creating this? Do you have enough time and money?
  • How are you going to find the people to help you make and market this?
  • Take a look at Mark’s post on dealing with linkbait and infographic projects.

Step 9: Set Your Goals

Make sure you have a goal clearly in mind before you set off and create your linkbait. Whilst it’s a good idea to include some very ambitious goals (if your concept really is awesome, you shouldn’t have a problem with this) for hitting big bloggers, the press and other powerful link targets, you should stick to a minimum realistic goal as well. Also, discussing a final deadline at this point will focus everyone’s minds on what must be done.

Fewer metrics are better; it show’s a closer understanding of what really matters. A few key metrics to consider:

  • Number of links
  • Number of Facebook likes
  • Number of Tweets
  • Links from X, Y and Z specific link targets
  • Keyword Rankings
  • Sales leads and conversions
  • Profit
  • Blog subscribers
  • Email list size
  • Twitter followers
  • Time spent on site
  • Pages viewed per visitor

Be confident that everyone really understands what each metric means, and the value to the client. 50 links might be quite achievable via comment spamming one blog for instance, but will have no real value in the end. Educate your clients, any related people or agencies they’re working with and explain to them the value of the metrics your chasing.

Find or Create Excited SEOs

Linkbait, like viral marketing, is critically dependent on its audiences reception. The trouble with SEOs, particularly if its not their site, is they don’t necessarily have the insight into what the audience lives and breathes – what gets them riled? What keeps them awake at night? What are their sacred cows? What sounds interesting, but has been milked to death in their circles, or is just incredibly dull?

The trick to discovering these insights is not to try and fake it. First, you must at least try and find someone. Email around in your company, your associates, friends, family, employee’s families and other acquaintances and document at the beginning of the project, maybe even before you’ve finalized your core concept – have them look over some of the ideas that came out of your brainstorm. Bringing excited people onboard who know the niche your working in early on is critical for two reasons.

  1. It’s more likely you’ll produce a piece of linkbait that resonates with the audience.
  2. It’s insanely motivating.

Human excitement is infectious, and even if you get just one person who’s delighted to be involved, the excitement will spread. The feedback you’ll get from someone knowledgable onboard, will give you confidence which is especially important during outreach. The linkerati can sniff out genuine excitement – that’s why insanely excited SEOs are your secret weapon. Excited SEOs eliminate the hard work, turning a daunting project around into something fun and rewarding.

“I might have to fake it.”

Uh, no. Not so fast. If you can’t tap the excitement and energy of someone you know who really understands the niche your trying to tap, then you’re going to have to try talking to someone you don’t know. Approaching strangers, asking about something broad like “so tell me about cycling” isn’t going to get the best response. First, you’re going to have to try and get your head around the niche a bit yourself, so when you approach people you appear to have some kind of initiative and interest in learning the topic (you want to learn, right?) rather than appear to be an all-consuming a-hole who’s needlessly sapping someone else’s time.

You could turn around this reaching out into a collaborative project too – mention the fact that you’re producing a guide or infographic, and maybe even interview them to incorporate into the linkbait… but make sure you’ve researched interesting questions though before diving in with an interview.

If you really are out of your depth in figuring out how the people in your niche work, then your on course to fail. Go back and dig through some of your other more viable topical ideas.

Step 10: Verify Your Ideas with Test Outreach

With subject, headline and the linkbait technique and hook in the bag, it’s time to test whether or not the linkerati will be happy to link to it. If you’ve got a few regular contact – another blogger, forum owner or webmaster – then run the idea past them over a coffee, in a short phone call or in an email. You must try this with a small number of potential link prospects in different categories. This is your final litmus test to see whether or not you should go on with your final idea.

“Before the thing’s finished it’s always a nice idea to go to some of the people in the niche that your looking to target and ask them what they think.”

Hannah Smith Distilled

If it’s a “no”, ask why? Adapt your idea if necessary. Don’t take no for an answer. A no is never a no unless it’s a no. If you’ve got positive feedback back from a handful of link targets, and those guaranteed links in the bag, then it’s time to go and create your linkbait!



  1. Have you brainstormed at least three workable ideas?
  2. Have you found SEOs or other people who are excited about this?
  3. Have you done some test outreach? Was the feedback positive?

Got questions? Ask them here and we’ll answer them in our upcoming linkbait Q&A webinar.

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All happy? Sweet. Move on to the intensive research and analysis stage.

Research and Analysis

Use Data First, then Information

In general, look for data sources rather than information sources. If you can find data sources that publish fresh, new data regularly, then being the first mover to do something interesting with the latest ‘annual population figures’ or something has advantages over rehashing previously published information. The likelihood is, by just finding interesting information you end up with “10 fun facts” type content, which is most likely going to have been done somewhere before.

Remember that most information probably started from some data analysis at some point. Of course, once you’ve got some interesting data, begin to look for other interesting data sources and information to support it. So the next big question is what kind of data would support your linkbait idea, and where can you find the original data?

“If you’ve got data, it can be a lot richer. You can pull it out in different ways and really create something that hasn’t existed before.”

Mark Johnstone Distilled

Five Handy Data Sources

1. Public Data

Governments publish statistics on a regular basis; statistics which are used to determine everything from the extent of national debt to the shape of public infrastructure. Quality of public data varies from country to country; it is largely dependant on development and infrastructure, and even the most developed countries can have less than accessible public data. In terms of linkbait, for english language sites anyway, of most interest are probably statistics for the UK and the US.

You Should Read: The Guardian has aggregated a directory of hundreds of data sources all over the world, as well as running their own data journalism blog. Take a look at their Google Spreadsheet.

Large, international agencies collect and collate data on a macro-scale, and can be useful for assessing developing countries without internal statistical agencies. These include: the CIA World Factbook, the UN and World Bank (check out their API as well). Another resource that takes data from the CIA factbook and allows comparisons is NationMaster.

In the UK the Office of National Statistics has data on a huge range of factors like population, education and the economy for instance. Often published in pdfs or as summaries, detailed data on the ONS site can be hard to find. You can find the ONS census data here, broken neatly down into areas (post codes or towns) and then further segmented by smaller areas (local authority, super output areas, wards).

For the US, good sources include and the Bureau of Labor Statistics If you’d like a fuller list of data sources, then download your copy of Distilled’s data sources via Google Docs Spreadsheets.

It is often better to go directly to the government department that the data is related to. For example, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Work and Pensions have subdomains for its stats. Here there are lots of ready made stats in Excel documents – no pdfs to work through. There isn’t much consistency across departments. For example, the Department for Health have a Publications section on their site but no subdomain for stats. Here it’s harder to find data in .xls form. Plus, there are sub-departments that contain detailed data (e.g. The Information Centre for the NHS) which is where the Excel documents may be. It is a case of researching within a site to find the links to the data. Searching for data sources requires a bit of creativity: it’s good to follow a load of data people on twitter. Most of the Government departments have twitter accounts too.

PRO Tip: Use advanced search operators like filetype:xls or filetype:pdf with to find Government datasets via Google

2. Pull Data from APIs and Scraping

If you’re aware of any useful APIs in your industry, or have found some via ProgrammableWeb (check through the mashups listed too) that can be a fantastic way to harvest lots of data very quickly. Alternatively, you could try scraping data from around the internet; this handy ImportXML Guide for Google Docs and this guide on How to Build Agile SEO Tools using Google Spreadsheets will prove useful.

3. Wikipedia & News Citations

People argue how reliable Wikipedia or even journalism is, but don’t forget that the citation links at the bottom of every article will always take you to something useful. Wikipedia is a mashup of lots of different sources useful cited sources for you to use, and since Wikipedia articles are so easy to find there’s likely to be plenty of useful data sources you can go and research, even if you don’t trust the Murdoch or Jimmy Wales.

4. Clients’ Proprietary Data

Your client probably has all sorts of interesting data from their own market research and investigations. They’ll also probably have their own ideas about what might be effective and if there are any interesting anomolies. Take a look at their sales data too; is there an outlier? What do men buy that women don’t? Does one country have a craving for something strange?

“If your client has access to data that hasn’t previously been released, that’s quite a nice hook in itself.”

Hannah Smith Distilled

5. Primary Research via Forums, Blogs, Twitter and Mechanical Turk

How easy is it to reach your target audience and find out interesting data from them? A favourite tactic of mine is the talk to forums. In a community, give more than you take – ahead of posting questions for your community, dive into the conversations and answer questions.

Be transparent from the outset; the objective is to build a little trust and recognition. Don’t hide behind false personas, don’t add lots of spammy links to your website and don’t write in a way you wouldn’t talk like face-to-face. Take note of what threads are popular, and why; on most forums now, you can filter the threads by most viewed, most replies or by best ratings.When you’re posting a thread, introduce yourself with your role and what you’re trying to achieve. Briefly explain what your doing, and tell them how they can get involved.

You could also try the same idea on blogs, introducing yourself, what you’re doing and linking out to a survey. This could be a great way to engage a potential blogger and gaining several links from one source. Twitter works well for shorter surveys (take a look at TwtPoll), and referencing individuals by their twitter handles’ works as a form of egobait; they’re quite likely to share the end result when it goes live!

Finally, there’s also Mechanical Turk (but use it via Smartsheet) where you could pay people small sums in order to complete a survey – this may be more useful if you want participants to complete a lengthier questionnaire.

Link out to a survey (Google Docs forms work well) and set a notification at the end to ask people to go back to the forum thread at the end saying they’d done it – social proof will help drive more and more participants. Of course, this has the effect of seeding excitement amongst participants so when your linkbait goes live, you’ll likely get at least a few social shares from your participants. Be wary about how representative your survey results may be, and perhaps put a little disclaimer in your final publication.

PRO Tip: Don’t complicate it too much, but comparing two or more similar or contrasting data sources to support your point can be really effective. Primary research versus industry statistics is popular for instance amongst TV documentaries

Distilled SEOs on Finding Useful Data Sources

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How to Process and Analyze Your Data

Before you start to use your data, it’s worth checking over the reliability of the data before trying to extract interesting information from it. Look for incomplete or incorrect entries, formatting errors, ensuring all the meta-data is in place. Double-check if you’re making any assumptions as well.

PRO Tip: Remember you can also type conversion queries into Google like ’1000 miles in kilometers’ and the smart monkeys in Mountain View will work it out for you in the search result.

  • Is there enough data to work with?
  • Are your sources reliable?
  • How was the data collected?
  • Is this sample representative of the population?
  • Are you making any assumptions about the data?
  • How important & useful are the different pieces of data? Have you prioritized them?

Once you’ve got a selection of reliable data, it’s time you play detective and find interesting fragments of data which is directly relevant to your audience. This starts by forming questions and using tools like Excel to find and extract the interesting bits of data to pull together the focal story of your piece of linkbait.

Try calculating averages, standard deviations and the correlation between two variables. Pull the data into some simple graphs and look for interesting trends, patterns and differences across separate categories and time.

“The most important thing is not the data. It’s not the tools, but it’s the questions that you ask.”

Mark Johnstone Distilled

Which bits are relevant to your audience? Is there anything alarming? Funny? Peculiar? Anything newsworthy, or relevant to the current industry news? Ultimately, by comparing different statistically significant numbers, graphs on different variables over time you should hopefully find a story or something that means something significant to someone, somewhere!

Write it Up

The hardest part of writing and creating your linkbait will be the first thing you type. They say to young novelists to strip out the first chapter of their first book; tough love, but it’s probably waffle. Your creative juices often don’t get going until you’ve already spent some time writing up your ideas. Here’s some ideas to help you get your writing off the ground:

  • Open With a Question
  • Anecdotes or Quotes
  • Stories
  • Analogies or Metaphors
  • Cite a shocking Statistic
  • News

PRO Tip: Look out for any potential small or big-shot bloggers in your niche who clearly understand the topic and what you’re going to be creating. Consider paying them (or otherwise incentivizing them) to write your content; it’s what they do. Maybe just show them some of your shocking statistics or information you’ve uncovered and ask them what they’d like to see done with it.

How to Write Remarkable Content, Quickly

It’s not your fault. You’ve been trained to use long words, write lengthy paragraphs and “show off” when writing throughout your time in school and college. Online, the simplest, most digestible content wins. Your reading this, buried somewhere within a 15,000 word epic, but I’ve worked hard to keep your attention so far. Some of the tips that have worked for me writing this.

  • Short words.
  • Short paragraphs
  • Clear, logical order
  • Kept on topic
  • Write like you talk, but give advice, not waffle

To get started, you really need to close off all other doors and just write. Shut down your email client, close all other programs, maximize your screen and just write. Don’t edit. Just get your ideas down. The organization of your ideas comes later.

Maybe just start by writing down a few sub-headlines of what you want to write about; that’s worked really well for me. The A-to-Z Linkbait Hooks and Tactics was just over 4,000 words (edited down) and I did it in a day.

One tool that really helped me (it’s for Mac only at the moment) was iA writer. It’s a really minimalist word processor that has a special mode where covers the whole screen and greys out all the other words except the sentence you’re working on then. It’s awesome, and you should take a look.



  1. Have you got enough material to produce an effective piece of linkbait?
  2. Is your data and information accurate and correct?
  3. Is your writing simple to skim-read?

Got questions? Ask them here and we’ll answer them in our upcoming linkbait Q&A webinar.

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With your analysis complete, you need to move onto making your linkbait look beautiful.

Design and Presentation

Start With a Sketch

First off, sketch out roughly how your linkbait will look in a wireframe form, even if it’s just with a thick pen. Your early drafts needn’t be that detailed provided you’ve got all the key elements on page like where graphics, videos and the text will fit. Think of how it’s going to be used; allow for some white-space, and break up large sections of text. It shouldn’t require too much constant scrolling either.

Design like you would for a billboard you’d drive past at 70mph. No need to reinvent the wheel (in fact design conventions are a users best friend) but keep it simple. Easy to read headlines. Big pictures. Sub-headers. Like you would glancing at a billboard, if you don’t “get it” in a snap, it’s failed.

Remember people read online in an ‘F’ shape, starting from the top left, reading across lines then skipping downwards, reading less and less. Sub-headers will help “reset” the readers attention, but are only a means of limiting the skipping. Always keep in mind the ‘F’ shape when laying out your content.

It isn’t up to you to do the designers job of course, but one of the purposes of wireframes is to find the constraints. Where are you planning on publishing this on your website? How wide, in pixels, is the page you’re publishing on – including indents? Where will all the images, videos and other important on-page elements go.

If you’re linkbait idea is slightly more complicated, it might be worth creating a proper wireframe using tools like Balsamic. It takes time, but will make it crystal clear for designers and developers what you’re looking for exactly. Here is the free fully-functional version of Balsamiq to use online.

  • Have you got any proprietary graphics? Could you make some?
  • What graphics can reinforce content
  • Can you cut out text with more graphics?
  • Graphical sub-headers rock. Put some more in.
  • What iconic images or colours could make your visualisation quicker and easier to understand?
  • What colour palettes will you use?
  • Do you have a corporate style guide?
  • What dimensions, in pixels, should your graphics be? How wide is the webpage you’re using?
  • What about typography? Fonts types, sizes, colours and positioning?
  • Where will the graphics be featured exactly?
  • Can you replace any text with graphics?

Five Ways to Make Your Linkbait Look Stunning

  1. An eye-catching graphic + headline above the fold will work wonders for grabbing the readers eye and guiding them down the page. That’s an easy win.
  2. Include some graphics made specifically for the linkbait; something to put your mark on the linkbait in a way that bog-standard stock images can’t.
  3. Graphical headers and sub-headers rock. People are bored with just another text headline; imaginative graphical headers that break up text are great, and since the ‘skim-readers’ will more-or-less only be reading the sub-headers (which should still make sense), it creates a really great impression, increasing the likelihood of sharing and linking.
  4. Don’t stick to preformed templates. Eyes become accustomed to glossing over “normal” blog post styling. Look at Smashing Magazine’s article on ‘The Death of the Blog Post’ evaluating the pros and cons of adapting a magazine-style design policy, where no two articles look the same.
  5. Depending on how wide your page is to work with, don’t make paragraphs longer than 4-to-5 lines. It’s scary for the reader.

The “Do You Know What You Are Doing?!?” Designer Checklist

If you’re struggling with any of this, it’s well worth your while hiring a graphic designer.

Return to Table of Contents

How to Work with Designers

Your relationship with your designer throughout the design process is critical. Have the courtesy to involve them early on in the process; ideally at brainstorming stage – you’re working with them because they’re more creative than you, they’ve got tools and skills you don’t have and have different insights to you. That’s lots of great things to take advantage of, but…

The big mistake people make when dealing with designers is to give them no room to be creative, but to do nothing but what you say. They’re creatives, and they’re better at being creative than you – working with a good designer, you’ll always get something better out if you let them create something, rather than trying to translate that “perfect image” you’ve got in your head to them to create for you. That just doesn’t work.”I’ve got an eye for design” just doesn’t make sense when you’ve hired a professional to do a job for you.

“Too many people try to be too specific. You’re completely losing the value of using a good designer.”

Mark Johnstone Distilled

It sounds risky yes, but that’s the nature of the game. What you do have control over is the conceptual ideas, the constraints (like dimensions and a corporate style guide) and communication. Be very clear about all these from the outset, in written form at the very least, but ideally also face-to-face, via Skype or over the phone – designers are human! Besides that, it’s much easier to talk through ideas with the designer in real-time than over several spaced-out emails. Then, follow up with the full written brief to make everything exactly clear.

There are some things which will take a very structured brief, for instance a logo, whereas something like an infographic will take a collaborative effort to make it happen together. Make sure when you give your designer the data and brief that is all in good condition – let them design, not organize your notes for you. Again, like the writers, tell them about your audience, perhaps introducing some of your personas you’ve already brainstormed.

It’s also a good idea to share any graphics that you like, or bits of designs you’d like to see worked into your graphics. Although you’ve got the whole Internet and offline graphics to scan in as well, it’s probably best to look through the designers own portfolio for inspiration first – this would imply that they’re comfortable creating stuff they’ve already done and published rather than having to adopt the style of someone else you like.

Keep in regular contact with your designer, without interrupting them too much – take a look at Paul Graham’s excellent essay on Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. Take what he says to heart; contact designers ideally at the beginning of the day or at the end. Don’t interrupt workflows through the middle of the day.

Early on, you should discuss is some concept ideas, for instance reviewing a 2-3 simple sketches visualizing ideas the designers have come up with. This is important to avoid having to redo whole designs later on. Critiques during the latter part of the design phase should really be limited to minor cosmetic issues.

“Generally, if there’s been a lot of communication in the earlier phases, that means the iteration phase is much shorter.”

Leonie Wharton Distilled

It’s better too to have just one person liaise with the designer, else the designer can be overwhelmed by different messages from different people. The worst case scenario is that the designer goes off and creates something that conceptually isn’t what you need – that’s always the clients fault. Remember, if the design is not what you need, its your fault for not communicating with your designer, not theirs. Don’t blame them. Of course, suggesting alterations over simple cosmetic issues like fonts or colours are okay, but anything major is a fault of the client.

Your Design Brief

From your skeleton outline, make note of any potential graphics which will enhance the content. The earlier you can involve your designers, the better. It gives them time to think over a project and plan out their time.

Before you brief your designer, prepare notes on what they need to work. The key to successful design projects is clear communication. Its much better to have everything ready, rather than blagging ideas on the spot in front of your graphics designer. Here’s what the designer needs to know upfront:

  • Core Concept of what the Linkbait is
  • The Purpose of the linkbait
  • The Deadlines
  • Client expectations and objectives
  • The Exact Number of Graphics
  • The concept of each graphic exactly
  • Any limitations or constraints
  • Any styling information: fonts, preset colour palettes, client style guides
  • Any similar graphics or ideas you like.

When Talking to Your Graphic Designer, Remember This:

  1. Written communication is the clearest of all, but always try to speak to your designer in person. Working through ideas face-to-face, over the phone or via Skype and talking through what’s what.
  2. The best designers don’t need to be told how to do their jobs. “I’ve got an eye for design” means nothing when you’ve just hired a professional to do a job for you. They’re creatives – let them get on with it. Don’t overbrief them and constrain their creativity down to nothing. You’ll end up with graphics and designs which are poor.
  3. Briefs shouldn’t be a complete free-for-all either. Explaining the boundaries makes it easier in many ways to “be creative”, guiding designers towards what you’re looking for.

You Should Read: Two design case-studies from here at Distilled, one for an internal project redesigning our conference logos, the other for a web design client.

Questions for Your Design Brief

  • What does your company do?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What’s the purpose of the graphics?
  • What’s the topic and the linkbait tactic being used?
  • Do you have any specific colour palettes, fonts or styling in your organisation you need designers to stick to? If so, have you got a style guide with all the requirements clearly laid out?
  • How wide, in pixels, is the webpage that will feature the graphics?
  • Have you found anything online, or ideally in the designers portfolio, that resembles something that would work for you?

Distilled’s Design Team and SEOs on How to Work with Designers



  1. Have you got some sketches, however rough, of what the layout of the linkbait will look like?
  2. Have you got designers onboard? Do they have an effective design brief?
  3. Are you happy with the finished designs – do they match the brief you gave?

Got questions? Ask them here and we’ll answer them in our upcoming linkbait Q&A webinar.


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Publishing and Sharing

Distilled Cat

Phew! What a hard day earning links

By now, your probably feeling a bit burnt out perhaps? That enthusiasm may have died down since you first brainstormed that project. The best thing to do, is leave it for a bit before beginning the crucial editing job. Go away and do something else for a bit.

When you’re ready to start up again, the energy and encouragement to take you through to the next stage will come from your warm outreach. Find and contact potential linkerati to get their feedback and buzz about your linkbait. The best linkbait in the world will fail without effective outreach.

Review Your Linkerati Personas from Your Brainstorm

With your personas in mind, it’s time to go and create a list of link targets in your industry, and outside your industry who based on what they write about and link to anyway might link to you. Remember, websites don’t give links. People do. So don’t just find websites, blogs and other link sources. It sounds like a headache, but you need build a database of all your potential link prospects.

You Should Read: Justin’s post on What Makes an Effective Link Builder


Go Get Some Links!

Five Ways to Find Link Prospects

1. Use Link Prospecting Tools and Advanced Search Queries

Services like Ontolo and Buzzstream let’s you to automate link prospecting and organization by organizing results from advanced search queries. SoloSEO’s sweet tool allows you to generate search queries based on one keyword; SEOmoz’s free Link Acquisition Assistant does the same kind of thing but with more variables, including competitors links. I also love their Juicy Link Finder. Try using MergeWords also to construct more complex advanced search queries. Geoff’s got some great ideas for advanced search queries as well.

2. Canvass Your Competitors Links with these Three Tactics

  1. Run their sites through Open Site Explorer’s ‘Top Pages’ to pick out some of their most successful pages, then run analysis on those in particular. Look also at the ‘Linking Domains’ to see if there are any useful sources.
  2. Consider running Xenu or Screaming Frog over your competitors websites, find missing pages for instance and run an Open Site Explorer analysis over them. If there are any potential linkers then contact them, let them know they’re linking to a broken page and point them to your working webpages.
  3. If your competitors have done something similar to what you’re doing, approach the people who linked to them and present your newer, better version and ask if they’d link to that as well, or instead of your competitors?

You Should Read: Competitive Link Analysis for People Who Hate Link Building

3. Find Top Blog Lists

Find curated and ranked lists of top blogs in your niche. Technorati is a great resource to search for blogs and blog posts in your niche, as well as Best of the Web’s Blog Directory.

4. Find Linkerati on Twitter, Forums and Quora

Influential twitter users and published can be indexed via tools like AllTop, FollowerWonk and WeFollow, so you can search people by interests really easily. Friend or Follow is a great tool for sorting through people following you, or competitors that you could try and contact. Using APIs however, you can get access to a lot more data and prospects quicker; Distilled’s SEO John Doherty did a write up of his experiments into link prospecting with twitter tools and APIs. Take a look at the lists of journalists you can search for on TweepGuide.

You should also try finding influential forum members once you’ve found relevant forums on Boardreader; most forum software packages allow you to sort the top users. Quora, the “quality” Q&A site, has dozens of journalists and bloggers on there too (with “journalist” or “blogger” in their profile) which is great for finding linkerati, but also actively helping them out and building a relationship

5. Use APIs, Scraping and Spreadsheets

If you’re not familiar with using APIs or scraping link, take a minute to look at some of these Distilled tutorials, some with free spreadsheets and tools ready to use straight away.

Segment Your Link Targets

Armed with a exhaustive spreadsheet of potential link prospects, you need to segment and prioritize them according to the method of outreach you’re going to use and the pitch you’re going to give them; are you going for a full blog post? A directory listing? An embed of your infographic? All of these different variables will need different approaches to outreach. The trouble with human relationships, and outreach is it’s incredibly difficult to scale without appearing insincere and spamming.

Relationships that build links are built off generosity – rather than initiating a relationship by asking for something, be generous. But you haven’t got infinite time to be generous to everyone; that’s why picking and choosing your battles early on is so important.

  1. Link Metrics: Run their websites through Open Site Explorer to get their domain authority; also make sure to look at the page authorities across the pages you’re likely to get links from. For instance, does their blog actually get much juice?
  2. Multiplier effect: Will other sites link if they do? Is the site popular with other linkerati, or bloggers? Are there lots of guest posts on their for instance?

outreach matrix

Next, divide prospects into three categories.

High level prospects who you’ll tailor your relationship building and pitch to. These people will include the press, top level bloggers and industry influencers, but don’t be afraid to be generous to some smaller, niche or developing bloggers. These are the kinds of places with higher link metrics, and provided they link to something, it might encourage others to also link.

Moderate-level targets who you’ll reach out with some level of customization; name and any supplementary information to help get the link.

Low-priority link targets who will receive a standardized template targeting people who might link, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they didn’t. This is where you have more room to scale up. Just because you’re sending a “template” however, doesn’t mean your email or whatever form of contact has to be bland and boring. How might they link? Categorise that.

  • A new blog post? (Are you going to write it? Could you give some suggested post titles and content instead?
  • Via an old post?
  • Via a list of links or directory?
  • Footer link?
  • Via your profile?
  • Via a biography?
  • By answering questions in a forum?
  • Why Will They Link to You?
  • How likely are they to link to you?
  • How different/samey is your linkbait, assuming its incredibly awesome?
  • Have you got a contact name?
  • Do you know if they’ve got access to the code?

PRO Tip: Test your templates against each other; if one email’s more effective, ditch the runt and come up with another. Rinse and repeat. Make this easier by using Tout for monitoring your outreach emails.

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Getting the *BIG* Links

You must read Lexi’s Guide to the fundamentals of getting big links. The real trick to securing the big, juicy links is to build relationships well in advance; your first lunch together needn’t be pitching for a link, but just getting to know them.

“If you get the right people, they’ll want what you have. If you can find the right things to offer people, that builds a good relationship – because they can trust you.”

Lexi Mills Distilled

But knowing journalists, who they write for and where in the publication they write for is helpful, don’t let a thin address book put you off approaching the press. These kinds of publications are desperately looking for great stories and ideas for articles to write about. Your doing yourself and them a disservice by not reaching out.

“PRing something that you’ve created yourself is quite tough. It’s much easier to feel confident and assertive selling in something that isn’t your own. So if you’ve got two SEOs sitting next to each other, they swap and they PR each others stuff, and they’ll do it with confidence and the confidence will shine through.”

Lexi Mills Distilled

It’s much easier to pitch PR if you’ve got a remarkable story – something worth “remarking on”. OkCupid’s story on which smartphone users have the most sex was totally irresistible, right?

You Should Watch: Our Webinar Recording on Linkbuilding Lessons from PR

“You’re building a relationship, you’re not just building a link. And then you can use that relationship again in future.”

Craig Bradford Distilled

For the people who you really, really want a link from, consider some more advanced tactics. Principally, be incredibly generous.

  1. Get on the phone: Unlike email, good old fashioned phone calls get the other guy speaking to you live, so your able to address any concerns there and then. Getting their approval in person can be easier, than having someone put
  2. Take them out to lunch: If you can reach them, taking someone out to lunch is a great way to get to know someone. People relax when they’re eating, it’s intrinsically social (just as link building should be!) and it’s fun. People like
  3. Send them something in the post. (Letters can get mistaken for junk mail. Send a parcel)
  4. Go meet them somewhere: On the the back of your business cards which you give away, handwrite – for the personal touch – the URL for people to preview your linkbait. Make it downloadable or behind an email opt-in page to build up your post-conference army of linkerati.
  5. Use email when you can’t do any of the above.

“The guy on the other side of that email isn’t a machine. He’s actually a real person.”

David Sottimano Distilled

Tim Ferriss’ “Get Drunk with Bloggers Strategy”

  1. Attend conferences where lots of target bloggers will be there.
  2. Go to bars where bloggers will be.
  3. Ask lots of questions to individual bloggers; this should be easy, since you know your niche and what interests both of you, right?
  4. Be persistant here. Keep engaging in conversation.
  5. People are naturally curious, and so at some point will ask “so who are you? What do you do?”. Congratulations! You’ve earnt permission to tell your story. Keep it short and sweet, deliberately inviting more questions. Suddenly the conversation can tip in your direction. Win!

You see a pattern happening here? You build the big links mostly offline, and by building relationships. If big relationships and big links are really going to make a real difference for you, grab yourself a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People, then read it cover-to-cover. Also, watch Andrew Warners’ interview with Seth Godin on How to Ask.

“If you’re wary about contacting them, then it might mean that this concept’s not actually that solid.”

Mark Johnstone Distilled

PRO Tip: Get an introduction. Search your contacts’ contacts on LinkedIn.

Online twitter is a far more natural place for flattering potential link targets than a link request email; Retweet their good posts, suggest them on #FollowFriday, add them to lists, ask them questions and share interesting stuff with them directly

“Authenticity scales relationships”

Justin Briggs Distilled

What to offer them?

  • Customized content: Can you customize an infographic for them? Or a bespoke guest post? Or a unique “behind the scenes” story? Could you do an interview for them? Offer something original which makes them look good and stand out. Be generous.
  • First coverage advantage: This only works with a small number of websites, but some bloggers will really appreciate being first to cover your linkbait. Give them advanced notice and offer them the chance to have the first coverage, and to look good themselves.
  • Offer to cross-promote their stuff: In exchange for promoting your linkbait, promote their stuff, maybe even in the linkbait you’re publishing.
  • Partner with them: Tom’s SEOmoz post covers this as a scalable link building tactic.

The Five Minute Rule for Mid-Level Link Targets

  • If they have a blog, take a look at their recent posts. Find the most popular, most commented and most relevant to your linkbait What do they like to write about? What do they like to share which gets a good reception?
  • Run their site through Open Site Explorer’s Top Pages tool to find their strongest pages
  • Establish where they’re making money or achieving other objectives. Brainstorm ideas to help them out.
  • Find their contact details. Personal contact details ideally (you may have to try a WHOIS domain check) – if you can be 100% sure you’ve got a correct name and personal email address, then you can send more effective personalized emails.
  • Find out who they’re linking to. Where are they linking from? Do they have a links page? What do they link out to in their blog? Based on all this, where might be a place to ask for a link that makes sense for both you and them?
  • Also check if they’ve got a high page authority figure, but no PageRank. That’s a signal that Google has penalized them – a link from them might hurt you.

Rules for Link Request Emails

  • Introduce yourself early on. Transparency is best.
  • No fluffy compliments. Genuine appreciation however…
  • Don’t fake anything
  • Don’t be pushy either
  • Don’t make it “feel” like a template
  • Tell them how they benefit more than once.
  • Shuddup with the link value waffle. Never mention “PageRank”

You Should Read: Geoff’s post on How to Write a Link Request based on tips by OkCupid

Scaleable Link Building Strategies

If you’re really trying to scale up, it’s best to get someone or something else to do the heavy lifting for you.

  • Have people come to you. Build something that encourages people to talk about you away from you, but comes to you to use it. For instance a private journalists-only portal to access your proprietary data.
  • Hit infuencers first and sneezers first. Smaller bloggers, journalists and other folks. The idea is to get links where other linkerati are reading. If it makes Mashable or Hacker News look good, then surely it’ll make Joe Bloggs blog look good right?
  • Make sure you get on Tumblr early. The “reblog” system is very effective at spreading content, but if you don’t have any links or even just positive, useful content then you’re missing out on an opportunity.
  • Forums can be an effective way to hit sneezers too; many forum members will feature their websites in their signatures. If you can hit a forum thread and get a discussion going that goes hot (should be easy with the great concept you’ve brainstormed, right?) then linkerati on the forum can’t help but link to it.

Alternatively, you can resort to using software to automate link prospect acquisition and track emails. Ontolo and Buzzstream are two effective providers of this kind of service. Be wary not to have this kind of software overlap with other strategic, manual outreach and take care when constructing your initial keywords else you’ll end up with a poor selection of link targets to approach.

You Should Read: Geoff’s tips for Scaleable Link Building

Distilled’s SEO and PR Team on Effective Outreach for Your Linkbait

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Time to Start Editing

Spelling and grammar – use a spellchecker. Unfinished sentences. Sentences that don’t make sense. Spelling and grammar, again! If your in any doubt, Matthew Inman, creator of The Oatmeal has done some fantastic comics to sort out your basic spelling and grammar mistakes. Since your brain gets accustomed to recognizing words and sentences its all-too-easy to skim through your linkbait and not really get critical and edit it.

Use Words Carefully.

Start at the bottom. Go backwards one sentence at a time; ask yourself if that sentence stands on its own or not; could it be shorter? Could it be eliminated?

This will also weed out “actual word” typos – pubic relations departments don’t really exist. Public relations departments however… Reddit would love to tear you apart over your spelling and bad design like your old school teacher would – without mercy. Poor writing guts your likelihood of getting links, because bad spelling and whatnot makes the linkerati look bad!

The downside of “write like you talk” content is it produces lots of excess. Really good writing is like really concise talking; it’s hard. Cut out the redundant words. “Actually”, “rather”, “just” and short phrases like “a little” all clutter up great writing. That’s vague writing; be precise. Cut out exaggerations, adverbs and any unnecessary repetition you come across.

You don’t want to people to think. Don’t use really creative language and design, metaphors and “A-grade English”… except for when it is useful. Make it as long as necessary, and no longer. Make use of varied sentence structure, punctuation and formatting, but like you would with make-up, don’t overuse it. Punctuation and formatting like bolds, italics, sub-headers, bulleted lists and more should be easy on the eye. People scan-read on the web, and will want to be able to pick up the gist of what your talking about by skimming over the page.

How to Avoid Torpedoing Your Linkbait Before You Even Launch

  • Is your design jaw-droppingly awesome? Do other people think so?
  • Is your writing imaginative, engaging and sounds as if it were written by an expert? What do experts in your niche think?
  • Would it make a print-worthy article in its own right? What have editors in your niche said about it?
  • Have you incorporated suggestions from talking with your link partners? Have you engaged with link partners yet?
  • Does it work in all-different browsers? Languages? What about on mobile devices? Have you tried them all out?
  • What’s your page load time? Can you reduce or organize the code so the above-the-fold elements load quicker?
  • Have you got any broken links?

PRO Tip: As you get into the later stages of editing, make a backup of your HTML or sourcecode to avoid having to rewrite it. A few hours redoing work is much better than a few days!

Three Ideas to Test Your Linkbait Out

  1. Give someone 10 seconds to look over your piece of linkbait, asking them to summarize what they saw at the end. Maybe even don’t tell them you’re about to turn the screen off after 10 seconds. Get more than one person to do this; proofreading is critical.
  2. Better still, get them to read it aloud. Reading it aloud yourself is great advice, but the temptation to busk-over bits because you created them or you’ve seen them before; a fresh face reading something they’ve never seen before will reveal exactly how it reads. Ask them to pick out the key points in a set amount of time.
  3. Next, recruit a handful of young people (10 years old at most) and promise to buy them an ice cream if they go through your text. Ask them to cross-out any words, phrases or images that they don’t understand. This will draw your attention to complex words and diagrams which you should redesign unless you’re entirely confident that your own audience understands it. The simpler your language and design, the better. Then ask yourself the size of your audience that will actually need (or want) to look at each section of a piece of linkbait. Is it really necessary? Do they think they already know about it? Could you make it smaller, cut it out, or link to a relevant article to explain it?

Questions to Test Your Linkbait’s Usability

When you test your linkbait on an audience, find people who haven’t been part of your linkbait creation process; other people in the office, friends & family and any ‘close’ twitter followers. Let them go through and ‘consume’ the content, try the 10-second recall test if you can, before asking them the following questions.

  • What is the key message?
  • Is the visualisation easy to follow?
  • Is the title clear and easy to understand?
  • Does the title convey the story you are telling?
  • Does it tell a story? Is the story clear?
  • Do you trust this information given here?
  • Does it appear to be produced by an expert?
  • Do you get the sense that this is original, not pinched from somewhere else?
  • Would you expect something like this to be published in print?
  • Would you consider bookmarking this page?
  • Is the information misleading or confusing?
  • Are there any obvious errors?
  • Is the language clear and easy to understand?
  • Does your content appear to flow logically?
  • Is the typeface easy to read?
  • Does the design draw attention to the most important points?
  • Does the design detract from the story at all?
  • Does the design grab you?
  • Is it information overload?
  • Or is it completely over-simplified?
  • Does it come across as commercial at all? Are there excessive ads?

This should be incredibly revealing to you. These are basic usability and “Google Panda” style questions as suggested by Will in this Whiteboard Friday and by our data scientist Alice are a great way to user-proof your content and be sure at least there won’t be a negative response.

PRO Tip: Use for gathering general user reviews of your content; it works using Mechanical Turk, you’ll get real human results, quickly and cost-effectively.

This leads to a handful of follow-up questions…

  • What can you leave out that won’t sacrifice clarity?
  • How much work does the reader have to do?
  • Does your content produce the desired outcome?
  • Are you speaking your audience’s language?
  • Is it commercial at all? Your getting links, not selling products. You must strip this out.

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How to Maximize Reach for Sharing and Getting Links

  • Include a Call to action in your linkbait – “Please ReTweet” or “Please Embed”
  • Launch around or before peak times; 3pm EST is the daily high (evening in Europe, afternoon east coast and lunch on the west coast)
  • Submit to niche social media sites as larger, more generic sites.
  • Don’t forget online forums too.
  • Don’t stand back from the conversation. Get stuck in! Monitor where your linkbait is going hot with real time analytics like Clicky.
  • Setup Google Alerts to track your linkbait too.
  • Rob Ousbey’s sweet tool Linkstant will inform you about new links realtime. It’s a really fun way to motivate your linkbuilding team. It’s completely free.
  • Make it easy to share; include Tweet, Like and +1 buttons as well as embeddable codes for graphics, videos and widgets

PRO Tip: Include the embed code inside the embed code; that way the embed code appears next to the widget for more people to share. Include different anchor text or something different to track subsequential embeds.

You Should Read: The 7 Secrets of Social Media Conversion

The Good News on Scaling Social Media Outreach

You don’t need to reach everywhere. You just need to reach the people who matter. So relax; go and do what you do best which is one-on-one, person-to-person interactions to build relationships and build links. Don’t muck in with the enormous amount of fake networking there is on the internet. Spend your time scaling individual relationships, not scaling the numbers of accounts and followers you’re trying to build.

Take a look at what Seth Godin has to say on social networking

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How did you do?


You’re Now a Linkbait Hero.

linkbait hero