Linkbaiting for Small Businesses (or, What I Learned Last Week)

Filed in Link Building, MY BEST POSTS by Matt McGee on September 26, 2006 4 Comments

Last week I broke one of my own rules for Small Business SEM: I wrote a post that had zero valuable marketing content for small businesses. The post I’m referring to, you can probably guess, is Top 21 Signs You Need a Break from SEO. Small business owners were not the target audience for that post; the target audience was the incredibly active community of search marketing bloggers. It was a blatant attempt at “linkbait,” which — for you small business owners who may not be familiar with the term — is something that you write or create with the goal of getting others to link to the thing you’ve created.

Now that the dust has settled a bit, I’ve changed my mind about that post. Now, I’m convinced there are valuable marketing lessons to be learned from that post. The reason is that this blog’s place in the SEO/SEM industry is very much like a small business’s place in its industry — not incredibly well-known and, if we want attention, we have to fight hard for it. So in this post, I’m going to explain why I think it was valuable and what the lessons are for small businesses.

Value and Benefits

Let me start at the end with the value and benefits to Small Business SEM of that post. As best I can tell, the post received links from the following blogs or web sites:

Nice list, but what did it mean for SBS?

blog visitsVisits — On Friday alone, SBS had nearly 1,000 visits, which was far and away the biggest traffic day ever — far more than when I launched the Local Search Marketing Guide in June. But it wasn’t just a one-day burst of traffic. As you can see from the image at right, traffic has been higher since Friday than it was in the days before the linkbait.

Subscriptions — The linkbait also encouraged a lot of new subscriptions to the RSS feed. The image below is a graph of my Feedburner stats, which went up by about 250% on Friday alone. Likewise, the number of Bloglines subscriptions has nearly tripled since Friday’s post. All of this equates to greater readership.

RSS subscriptions

Popularity — All of those new links boosted SBS’ popularity ranking on Technorati by about 11,000. A week before the post, SBS’ ranking was 56,469. After the post and all the new links, it shot up to just above 45,000. (see comparison below) Nothing to get too excited in the grand scheme of things, but if I were inclined to keep pushing the linkbait buttons and grow SBS into a “big” SEM blog, this would represent a step in that direction. (I’m not; smaller is better for me.)

popularity comparison

So those are the benefits: short-term traffic burst, continued traffic boost after the burst, subscriptions increase, and popularity grows. Sounds like stuff any small business would want. So how do you get it?

Linkbait Challenges

In a recent interview with Mike Grehan, Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed the value of linkbait as an SEO tool:

Just make a great site, with great content and a normal reason why people would want to link to you and visit your site. A compelling reason why people would want to link to your site. And that’s going to help you capture the mind of the blogosphere and that’s really the best way to let search engines find out about you, too.

(emphasis mine)

This, of course, is easier said than done. The problem with comparing what happened here on SBS to what Sam’s Cycle Shop can do is that the SEO/SEM industry has a built-in network of blogs, all interconnected to some degree, and when you get mentioned (and linked) on just one well-read blog, you can almost guarantee that five other bloggers will read it and mention it, too. Chances are your industry doesn’t have the same big network of active bloggers, so linkbait becomes more of a challenge for the typical small business.

I certainly can’t provide a surefire method for every small business web site to overcome that challenge. But I think if I give you a peek into the thought process I used and the decisions I made, there’s a chance you can apply some or all to your situation.

What I Did

The first step in linkbaiting is always the idea. What are you going to do to get attention and links from other blogs and web sites? I’m not a programmer/coder, and I don’t have a staff, so creating cool tools (like you see here, here, or here) is out of the question. So that left me with one option: content as linkbait. Content can become linkbait when it’s informative, controversial, funny, or otherwise unique.

I chose the funny angle, not because I think I’m unusually funny, but because it would be different. There have been countless Top 5, Top 10, Top 21, etc., articles circulating on SEO/SEM blogs in recent months, but I can’t recall a single one aimed at the funny bone. I also chose the specific “you need a break from SEO” story angle because it was an “in joke” for the target audience — influential SEO writers. They’d be able to appreciate the content first-hand.

Bonus Tip: Check out the Lists Group Writing Project on last month. If you think you will ever take a stab at this kind of “list linkbait”, please bookmark that page. There are 301 articles listed, and just reading the article headlines should give you several article ideas that can be tweaked to apply to your business industry.

I wrote the article in my head at first, just storing ideas away, like stunt dubl is spelled wrong and we have a gray wolf, a randfish, and a web guerilla – lots of animal names. Then in about 35 minutes I typed it all out. As I was doing so, I realized the sheer amount of name-dropping in the post would be a good attention-getter; people would be glad to see their names in a post like this. But I almost blew it; it wasn’t until the last minute that I realized I had to make every reference a link to the blog / person in question.

Important Rule of Linkbaiting: If you want links, you have to give links.

With the article written, I had a decision to make: When do I post it? One choice was early in the week, when I thought I’d be able to get several consecutive days of attention from it. But I went with a Friday for a couple reasons: 1) Fridays are notoriously slow, so I thought I could get more immediate attention without having to compete with other industry news, and 2) Fridays are more casual, and more appropriate for humor. So I posted it shortly after midnight Friday morning.

Linkbait only works when people know about it. You can’t just post something and assume everyone will find it. As Andy Hagans wrote in his recent linkbait article about Beating the Sandbox, you have to be a promoter:

…every day a lot of people publish “baity” articles, but only a portion of them go viral. This natural selection process is driven neither by luck, nor “what’s fair.” The fact is, a lot of what gets on Digg or got there because the authors are good at promoting their work, or they have connections who can help them “seed” it (i.e., friends who are prominent bloggers, or influential users at the bookmarking sites).

My final step after publishing was to e-mail people like Rand at, Todd at, and just about everyone mentioned in the article whose address I have. In all, I sent out 13 e-mails; 7 of those e-mails turned into links.

Important Rule of Linkbaiting: No man is an island. You must develop a good network of contacts in your industry and create relationships that can help you spread your linkbait, in whatever form it is — article, tool, etc.

If you’re not doing so already, you should spend some time looking for any blogs or web sites that comment on your industry. Try sites like Techhnorati, Google Blog Search, and Blog Search to locate bloggers. If you sell products or offer services, do a regular web search for [productname reviews] to locate sites where people post reviews about the products/services you sell. At some point, you’ll need to approach these people to start a relationship, so be sure to read Pitching Bloggers: 10 Things That Make Bloggers Angry from Build a Better Blog. Very helpful.


As a small business owner or webmaster, you face a big challenge when it comes to creating linkbait. Getting attention is easier for bigger companies. But hopefully the example I’ve described here, and the links to other resources for article ideas, finding bloggers, etc., are a good start.

And one last point that needs to be mentioned: If/When you start trying linkbait, you will fail. That’s normal. You won’t hit a home run right away. But if you keep trying, and learn from your mistakes, you have a better chance of success down the road.

[tags]linkbait, link building, seo, online marketing, small business[/tags]

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  1. Linkbaiting: a howto | October 9, 2007
  1. MrPenn says:

    you could have made this article viral as well. (like frigging digg/reddit love articles about digg/reddit

  2. s_jenkins says:

    great article! do you think that ‘baiting’ is a gives the term ‘linkbaiting’ a bad precedence? it seems that some people think that ‘linkbaiting’ automatically means a trap of sorts. in the same breath, does google penalize for the term ‘linkbait’?

  3. Matt McGee says:

    Hi s_jenkins,

    I wrote a reply to your question in this new post:

    Hope it helps!

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