You Can’t Grow a Blog On Negative Linkbait Alone


Planning on launching your blogging career by playing the role of That Guy, the one who yells, screams and insults his way to attracting eyes? If so, do us a favor, would you?

Kick yourself now.


I don’t know Kris Roadruck on a personal level, but I’m inclined to really like him. He’s got an opinion, some snark and he doesn’t appear to take things too seriously – all attributes I look for in a guy a person. Kris wrote a post recently that got a lot of people up in arms by poking at a well-known (and well-argued) SEO industry hot topic; he called white hat SEO a joke. Clever, right? Naturally, people ran to Kris’ blog to tell him he was wrong, right, and to link to him nearly 300 times. Earlier this week Kris followed up that post with one titled the Efficacy of Negative-Emotion Link Bait. Here, Kris talks about the benefits of writing posts that intentionally piss people off, citing it as an effective blog-building strategy.

And it is. Unless that’s all you’re bringing.

Kris is right that negativity will almost always get people’s attention faster and more violently than something about hugs and puppies. If mainstream media and/or politics has taught us anything, it’s that nothing brings people together quite like sitting around and griping over a common enemy. You probably even have a friend or two in your life that you made solely because you both hated the same person or thing. Hate and violence brings people together almost as well as a yummy meal you didn’t have to make yourself.

Unless the purpose of your blog is to attract people to your business. If that’s the case, putting a heavy focus on negative linkbait pieces can kill your credibility before you even get off the ground.

Kris’ advice of using negativity to win eyes isn’t new. Plenty of new and legacy bloggers have made a career of it – people like Robert Scoble, Jason Calacanis, Michael Gray, Darren Slatten. They’re all known for being harsh critics of the world around them. The difference is, they also bring a hell of a lot of value to their non-rant conversations. That’s the key. And if you forget that very crucial part of the pie in your quest to piss off people (which is often what happens when you adopt a negativity link-building strategy), you’re going to fall on your face. You’re also going to isolate a whole segment of the population.

Negative attention may have gotten you friends in high school. In business, it just makes you the person no one wants to play with in the sandbox.

Being a yelling Negative Nancy all the time doesn’t work for a few reasons.

  • It gets old to your readers.
  • It’s hard for the writer to sustain that level of anger. (You’ll notice many people who market themselves on ‘negativity’ burn out and disappear quickly’)
  • It doesn’t convert when you make that all you’re about.
  • It’s distracting and takes your attention away from creating real, authoritative content.

Yes, yelling will make people take a look back to see what you’re yelling about, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to jump on your team. They’re going to use you for their amusement and then go to your competitor when they want serious work done. Do not confuse eyes with customers, nor yelling with value.

Instead of attracting people who can help grow your brand and your business, you attract the drama-hungry, the rubbernecks, the people who thrive on flame wars, the morons, the loudmouths, the people who had no friends in high school, folks who get their human contact solely via the Internet, etc.

Who you don’t attract is anyone with a budget they want to spend with you. Earning eyes is pretty easy on the Internet. It’s earning trust and authority that is not. Earning respect for your craft and what you bring.

Is there a place for using negativity and rants as part of your blog arsenal? Absolutely. Leverage negative press, flame wars and attacks when they come your way. Be controversial. But don’t make that all you are. Make your negative posts the exception, not the rule, and pick your battles wisely. You want to pick the fights that will help you to best attract new eyes and get people passing around your content (which is what Kris did). But there has to be something there to back it up – something that adds way more value than just a person being mad at one more thing. Because that’s too easy, there’s too much of it out there, and your negative posts are bringing people down and pushing people away.

Remember that your corporate blog is about building trust and lowering the bar needed for someone to do business with you. It’s hard to do that when you’re the guy standing on the corner screaming. Yes, people are more engaged when you take a strong stance, but what’s behind it?

Like I said up above, I’m inclined to like Kris Roadruck. I like him because he’s smart on Twitter, because he shares some good stuff and because of everything I mentioned above. That’s your meat and what will define you. Everything else about your blog is just seasoning and should be used as such.

I couldn’t publish this post without directing you to read Kathy Sierra’s post on angry/negative people, which shows how constantly dealing with negative people actually changes our brains to make us more negative in return. Just something else to think about on your Friday.

Your Comments

  • Kristy

    Agreed. Of course. I think the thing about negative linkbait, especially building a brand around it (which is clearly not a good idea as you mention) is that many of us have seen it before. It’s tired. I also think it’s an unfortunate “punking” in many cases. But when well definitely has it’s place and obvious returns.

    • Lisa Barone

      There’s definitely a bit of “oh, we’ve seen this before” in play with bloggers who try to set the world on fire by being anti-everything. And it’s tired. And boring. And people don’t really care.

      There’s a difference between stopping to watch a fight and wanting to grab lunch with the people involved.

      Can you use it to build attention to the POSITIVE stuff you’re doing? When you use it well, yes. But most people don’t. They get stuck in the LOOK HOW LOUD I AM approach and never move beyond it.

  • Joe Hall

    See this is why I feel like this industry is suffering from multiple personality disorder. Some bloggers act like rude jerks online, and then when you meet them in person, they are the kindest folks you have ever met, (like donating-organs-kind). But then there are bloggers that are so negative and abrasive online that you assume they must be just fishing for links, but then when you meet them in person they really are just jerks.

    I feel like any amount of gimmick that you try to use isn’t scalable. Because real business happens between human beings, not links, blogs ectra. If you are inauthentic it becomes very apparent when you get offline.

    • Ross Hudgens

      This. Kris is just getting started blogging though so we’ll see how it persists if he keeps it up (which I hope he does).

    • Lisa Barone

      I totally agree with you in the inauthentic thing. You have to be real or it’s not going to work. You’ll be found out eventually and then the fractured brand image will lose people.

      That said, if you really are that jerky of a person, maybe you shouldn’t be blogging. Give that to someone who actually does have people skills.

  • Deb Ng

    I’ve actually been ridiculed and called the “positivity police” and “Polly Positivity” because I choose not to take a negative approach. I’m not a good ranter and just about every attempt I’ve made at angry blogging only served to piss people off. I’m too insecure to wonder who is angry with me on any given day. It’s not what I’m about in real life, and I’m not going to make it my schtick as a blogger.

    I understand the occasional “tell it like it is” post, but anger directed towards people who simply don’t share the same beliefs or technical expertise makes me cringe as does the whole “you’re doing it wrong” mentality. Even if folks are doing it wrong, there are ways to assist without chastising them and sending them to the corner.

    i also get that linkbait brings in the eyeballs and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but linkbait traffic is short lived, just as negativity doesn’t keep people coming back every day. So is it more beneficial to go for the short term traffic spikes that may drive people away or the helpful, positive posts that are evergreen, catch the right kind of attention to the search engines and keeps folks coming back for more?

    Finally, and yes, I know I have a lot to say on this and I’m sorry for hijacking, but I’m afraid to do business with ranty, negative, angry people. I worked for too many of them in the past and I’m over all that browbeating and belittling. So if I’m researching a business or business person and the blog is all negativity I’m going to move along. Life is too short to be stressed out by a bad attitude.

    • Lisa Barone

      Hi Deb, thanks for the great comment. Feel free to hijack away. ;)

      There’s definitely a difference between people who “tell it like it is” and people who are just negative and angry. I have no problem with people who need to set the record straight, it’s when you start purposely attacking people for attention that it starts to lose that authenticity that Joe was talking about and just turns people off.

      And working with negative, angry people isn’t really a fun experience for anyone. If you’re that guy all the time on your blog, don’t be too surprised when the clients aren’t lining up to work with you!

  • Kris Roadruck

    Hola guys & gals!

    This is a great article Lisa. Going all the way down through it I agree with just about everything you said. Couple of points. There is a reason why I recommended adding this as A tool in the link building toolbox rather than THE tool. Building a brand around being an ass isn’t going to get you invited to any parties. (well actually.. it might.. some of those affiliate marketers are crazy)

    Ross thanks for the words but I’m actually not new to blogging. I’m just new to using that domain to post anything on :-). I’ve actually been blogging on and off since 2004ish. Just haven’t had much time to do it as of late. Also a ton of the stuff I write online isn’t credited to me as its written for clients.

    The run was a test. I’ll probably actually build it out at some point ( i might as well.. it ranks for my name ) but the test was only meant to serve 2 purposes. The first being entertainment. The second being to get a few people to think outside of the box. While negative linkbait may be familiar to a lot of bloggers I think all of us as experts in ANY field need to remember there are constantly newbies flowing into our career paths. Whats old news to us is often new-news to newbies. Thats why you can find many basic SEO concepts being blogged and reblogged over and over again.

    I’ve been in SEO just over 2 years now. By the time I was coming in things like keyword density were well on their way out. But if I hadn’t found a RECENT post I probably would have chased that for several months before figuring it out on my own that it was pixie dust that stopped being effective a good while before I hit the scene.

    Anyway again- Great post Lisa. :-)

  • Rae Alton

    Never trust someone that doesn’t have bad days. Cheers for this post, Lisa. Taking a stance is absolutely necessary to set yourself apart, but taking a stance doesn’t imply negativity. It’s a bit too “playground-bully” for me when people make a name for themselves by being jaded, cynical harpies.

  • Josh

    I totally agree negativity sucks, is bad for business and for juju…Unless your Angry Birds!

  • paisley

    totally agree with you..
    in 16 years online, have been the negative one or the positive one.. (as a commenter). sometimes i cant resist and spout off unprofessionally or most of the time, i just shake my head and walk away.

    However.. SEO industry bashing linkbait.. by someone who is has been doing SEO for 2 years.

    “I’ve been in SEO just over 2 years now.

    reminds me of prison.. you get thrown in.. you find the biggest baddest meanest inmate and you kill them. then you are respected.


    It’s kind of like the girl.. who tells your boyfriend you cheated on him.. so boyfriend breaks up with you and never speaks to you again, but you never really cheated.. too late, damage done.

    In this example.. you have people writing negative blogs on things they do not have extensive experience on. Our industry suffers, our reputation as professionals suffer, client budgets suffer, our budgets suffer.

    Sometimes when we are new, we really don’t understand the consequences of our actions.. white hat SEOs are accountable.. normally working with Fortune 50 companies who are publicly traded and under intense scrutiny due to previous issues with SEOs who didn’t follow the rules, and maybe did a bit of grey, a pinch of black hat in the process.. to do the quick fix..

    (overstock, jcpenney, BMW, etc..)

    Instead white hat seos do searcher personas, keyword volume conversion funnel studies, buying cyucle research based on client demographics and needs, seasonal searching habits in relation to that client’s service or product offerings..

    normally these budgets can be well over 6 figures.
    (im being very serious, fyi..)
    there are meetings, and confirmations, and goals, and 25 people involved working on just the organic seo.. not the ppc, not the online display campaign, not the microsite, not the twitter acct, not the facebook page..


    25 people.. all doing validation for white hat procedures and measurement initiatives.. sometimes these campaigns run for 6 weeks.
    yes.. 6 figures, 6 weeks.. and that’s just ONE project.. that client may have 3 or 4 going art a time.

    (seasonal? hello?)

    these campaigns are being tracked to the credit card used on the purchase of the item and traced all the way back to the keyword, which search engine and what placement within that search engine. Even if the search was done at work and the purchase was made on the weekend.. it’s still…

    measured against KPIs for the project
    examined for ways to increase the traffic to that “item”, (whether it’s in google shopping display on the front page, Google local shopping display from mobile android search… yes.. even Bing conversion studies.. (i am doing them today)

    either way… people shouldn’t write negative articles about industries they really do not have the experience in. it affects people’s paychecks.. people who don’t know any better, yet still are in the position of budget approval, read these…

    “SEO is dead” (X25?)
    oh.. how about editor of prestigious search publication pens article,
    “SEO is a boondoggle”

    “white hat seo is a joke”
    (wait til you get sued by publicly traded company for jacking up their website in Google)

    an article on mashable by some seo who was fired that same day..
    (yes i called his boss and his client.. really tired of idiots bashing my career.)
    he quoited – “i use google daily to give results that mislead searchers on behalf of clients”

    Seth Godin thinking he can do SEO by brandjacking people.. then an SEO applicant coming in and when i asked what blogs they read they said “Seth Godin”.. (needless to say.. they didnt get hired) MISINFORMATION!~!! GAHH!!

    This is my (our) career.. some people (clients with checkbooks) only read headlines.. some people think they can hide online and throw grenades and not get hit by shrapnel..

    The SEOs of the world are getting tired of social media douchbags who don’t realize social is a concept not a total solution, we are getting tired of the Michael Arringtons of the world writing articles bashing our industry we lose sleep over to perfect.. and constantly must inform our clients and explain irresponsible articles written by inexperienced (ill-informed), people like;

    (columbus SEO guy, they guy who tried to trademark seo that Rhea beat in court, seo champion, tech crunch and the kid who used to work some place close by who wrote a really stupid article on mashable who is no longer an employed seo, and of course digital thought leaders.. Seth Godin and Steve Rubel..)

    Back to the above example.. 25 people almost lost a client because someone with checkbook writing credentials, read an article bashing seo… a meeting was called.. 27 hours were billed to client to present to them the points on why said article was invalid.. client renewed SEO engagement.. but wasted 27 hours in the process making an SEO billable more expensive (and more confusing), than it should be.

    in the end.. these negative articles bashing our industry costs people jobs, money and reputation… So Lisa.. I applaud and thank you for writing another pie in the face against the wind article. seriously.. Thank you.

    p.s. thanks for live blogging my black hat panel presentation from Pubcon “Due Diligence – White Hat SEO for Fortune 50 companies”

    • Bharat Patel

      Paisley you really crafted the Big seo industry. I don’t have much seo experience and also i really do not believe any seo expert either. The main reason is different people different opinion.
      What i do is test for myself what works and what does not, its our responsibility to test everything whats works and what does not.
      You might know as reputation grows its harder to maintain it.

  • paisley

    sorry about the typos.. didn’t spell check the mini blog post within a blog post.. LOL

  • Nick Stamoulis

    There’s nothing wrong with being controversial every once in awhile. It promotes discussion. However, you don’t want to anger too many people too often, especially if the blog is being used for business. Nobody wants to work with a constant complainer.