Why LinkBait Doesn’t Translate To Dollars


Hey. It’s been a sluggish morning as I try and recover from running around BlogWorldExpo this past weekend. But I couldn’t help but perk up and pull my chair a little closer when I stumbled upon a post from the New York Times. The headline? Traffic Bait Doesn’t Bring Ad Clicks. Well, duh, but let’s go there.

The New York Times is referring to analysis from Perfect Market, a company that helps publishers monetize their content, which analyzed more 15 million articles from 21 news sites like the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, etc. What they found was that the most profitable articles weren’t the linkbaity ones that attracted a lot of clicks, but the useful articles that readers engaged with. While endless articles about Lindsay Lohan’s latest stint in rehab brought the clicks, the meaty stuff about unemployment, mortgage rates and the egg recall brought the dollars. Because Perfect Market is all about monetizing content they tied this back to better contextual ads, however, let’s be narcissistic and make this about us.

As a business owner on the Web, you are both publisher and advertiser. In case you’re sitting there whining that I’m wrong because you don’t have ads on your site or because you don’t (in your mind) make a living off your content, let’s just settle this now:

  • Do you have content on your Web site? Do you have a blog? Do you have a Twitter account? Do you have an email newsletter? Do you have a brochure/pamphlet/card with your name on it? Say yes to one of the above? Cool, you’re a publisher.
  • Do you have ads on your Web site? Do you use calls to action on your site? Are you using your Web site to sell yourself, your product or your expertise? Say yes to one of the above? Cool, you’re an advertiser.

Now that we’ve settled that, we can start thinking like both advertiser and publisher to make serious money.

As both an advertiser and a publisher, your job isn’t to attract wandering, gossip-loving eyes. Your job is to create something of value and match up the right content with the right call to action. You must have something in mind for users to do, as well as a way to compel them to do that. Whether it’s to click on an ad, to call you, to get off their computer and visit you in store, it doesn’t matter. You have a decision to make: Are you going to do that through flashy, mindless, distracting content or are you going to do it with content that educates, connects and causes people to engage with you?

At Outspoken Media we believe it’s better achieved through the latter. And that’s probably your thinking too, unless you’ve ever been to a marketing conference or read anything on the Internet.

Marketing conferences are great for spewing crap that people actually believe. They get otherwise intelligent business owners in the room and profess that linkbait is key. Linkbait content is what brings the eyes, brings the links, and what gets you attention. And it can do that if the content is valuable. But if all you’re creating is flashy linkbait to the tune of mindless infographic, fake controversy, and Justin Beibers, then you shouldn’t be too surprised that that content doesn’t convert. For people to click, they have to care. You have to MAKE them care.  Like the high school class clown, just because someone is looking at you doesn’t mean they give a damn.

You have to use marketing hooks (as opposed to emotional whoring) to make them want to engage with the content. That’s why so many social media marketers talk about engagement these days. It’s not because they care about their customers or want to hold customer’s hands. It’s because engaged people buy stuff. Engaged people open their wallets and purchase things. It’s that simple.

Trafficbait doesn’t work as a marketing strategy. What does work is creating content customers can engage with.

Where do you start?

To engage with content, users have to care about it. It has to make them feeling something – whether it’s smarter, overwhelmed, scared, in love, disgusted, anything. No one shares meh. We don’t feel anything when we see Lindsay Lohan in handcuffs. That’s why we read it why trapped at our day job staring at the clock. We don’t want to feel anything.  You want to avoid that.

As a marketer, trafficbait is the opposite of what you want to be creating because the goal of your site is NOT to increase traffic. The goal of your site is to convert. And you do that when you pair engaging content with matched calls to action. So focus on that, not traffic bait. If you can’t do it yourself, consider hiring a content creation company to help. We’ll leave the light on for you. Save the flashy, vapid stuff for Vegas.

Your Comments

  • David Zemens

    Great article, but old news.

    I feel like a broken record. It’s all about establishing relationships.

    Link bait is just that. Bait. Just like a smart fish avoids the baited hook, a savvy web user avoids link bait. Rough analogy, to be sure, but accurate nonetheless.

    “If you build it, they will come” was a great line from the movie Field of Dreams. Same thing is true of your website content. If you’re *real*, they will come. Only a few will take the “bait”. The rest will only come when there’s something significant on the hook – something besides bait.

  • Rob Woods

    Seems like a no brainer but people do need to be reminded of this. When I publish “linkbait” it’s almost exclusively for links, social mentions, traffic, and other inputs that will hopefully send signals to the engines for better rankings and traffic in the long run. That’s why we do a smattering of linkbait type content but focus 95% of our strategy on useful, engaging content. There’s a place for both as long as you don’t expect either type to be something it’s not.

    • Lisa Barone

      I agree that there is definitely room (and a reason) for both, but like you said, businesses shouldn’t expect either type to be something different than what it is. I think conferences/blogs are really good at pushing the flashy stuff and do a worse job promoting the meaty stuff that causes people to connect with your brand.

  • Jill Whalen

    Good stuff!
    My only beef this time is that I wish you said “As a business owner on the Web, you are both publisher and marketer” rather than “advertiser” as I think that’s technically more what you are mean.

    • Lisa Barone

      It may just be a case of semantics, but I like “advertiser” over “marketer”. I think advertiser does a better job implying that you ARE trying to sell something even if you don’t have ads on your blog. You’re selling yourself.

      • Jill Whalen

        I’m sure it is semantics, but I’m a stickler for them in our world because using the incorrect words often leads to confusion.

        In my understanding, advertising is a subset of marketing, just like SEO is a subset of search engine marketing (SEM).

        There’s a good article from some years ago on WebProNews that sums it up nicely:

        I suppose if you are thinking of a website as an ad in and of itself, then your definition does work.

        Sorry, I don’t mean to hijack your post as it wasn’t really about this!

        • Lisa Barone

          Ha, it’s okay. I appreciate you jumping in like you have and sharing that article (wow. 2004? Time warp!). Based on that article, I think it’s interesting to think of your Web site as an ad. I mean, “the paid, public, non-personal announcement of a persuasive message by an identified sponsor”? That definition may be closer to the truth than some would like us to believe, no?

  • Jill Whalen

    Oops typo…what you mean, not what you are mean (I know you’re not mean!).

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    That’s a very nice lesson. I am actually a tough cookie for all link baiters, since I am probably the most anti-gossip dude out there (I know, how boring), I made my Google Reader list putting in blogs I find valuable in content, not in baiting.
    After all, if I want flashy content I watch an episode of Fringe (that’s the first thing that came to my mind ’cause it’s on a break, sigh).

    • Lisa Barone

      ooo Fringe! Good show choice. :)

      I think that’s a good point you bring up, though. Chances are, people found and fell in love with you because you were providing content they found valuable and useful. Don’t lose your standing with them over some flashy linkbait. Keep giving what they’re here for.

  • Mike Murray

    Great piece – and good reminders. Businesses routinely want people to link to them for no reason or miss the boat on link bait (i.e. good content that can convert). Link bait is OK – nothing wrong with getting links. But the content should be rewarding for the visitor. It can translate into revenue. It depends, in part, on how much money was invested in the link bait in the first place. I appreciate what you wrote about making them feel something – “whether it’s smarter, overwhelmed, scared, in love, disgusted, anything…” I still think link baiting can be part of along-term strategy – influence natural rankings that can eventually lead to more conversions.

    • Lisa Barone

      I definitely think there’s room for baiting people as a way to capitalize on what’s hot/attract links, but you do have to be aware of what you’re doing. At the end of the day, you’re trying to attract people – you’re trying to get people to buy. And I think the meaty stuff paired with a compelling call to action is time and time again the best way to do that. Just because people stop to watch the car wreck doesn’t mean they’re engaged enough to get out and help.

  • Jennifer Rotman

    Timely conversation in light of Perfect Market’s report. I think a lot of publishers and advertisers/marketers go sideways when they fail to see that their business might be comprised of a wide and rich range of content components, and not just the short-burn, in-your-face bait. So your article makes an important distinction between the one-hit “gossipy” linkbait pieces versus content that is reliably valuable and engaging–which too can be made up of some part “linkbait.”

    • Lisa Barone

      Thanks, Jennifer. You make a good point that businesses need a variety of different content components to make sure they’re getting the most from their efforts. That may include some of the shiny stuff, but you need much more than that in order to really attract and keep someone. Thanks for the comment!

  • Tace Thompson

    Here Here Lisa, spot on article, simply put lets all be humans together and interact on that basis, making the internet a better place for everyone.
    With Best Regards Tace

  • Jeremy @ Agence Web Marketing

    Great article Lisa, it will make us think more than once before adventuring in the realm of linkbaiting for all of our clients.

    But I do think we can achieve a nice balance between bait and content; something like contentbaiting :).