As with so many different marketing tactics, we see the technique rise, gain in popularity, become a bit more sophisticated and then give way to new innovation. We’re seeing this lifecycle with a linkbaiting technique that I’ve seen become much more popular of late. Here’s how the “Linkbait and Switch” works, and a look at the pros & cons of running this sort of play for your site(s).
It’s clear that linkbaiting for commercial sites in particularly tough verticals would be the most effective way to gain a leg up on competition. Few would argue that top diggers and social news hounds are very very very sensitive to commercial intent. Any whiff of commercialism on a piece of linkbait is likely to result in its quick burial (b/c come on, don’t you hate all those marketers on digg & propeller these days? .
Make no mistake, surely there are myriad ways to linkbait for a commercial site. Even sites that are selling products (rather than b-to-b or service-oriented) can have solid blogs that get promoted from time to time. A few people have been really good at getting around the challenges and flexing their viral muscles to linkbait a commercial site anyway. Cameron, Cornwall, Russ, Todd, et al have shown plenty of skills at coming up with solid ways to virally market commercial sites. But nonetheless, it’s become harder and harder to do so. If your facebook apps aren’t burning up the members, if your stumble traffic isn’t converting (big surprise there), then you should still be able to rely on tons of great links from viral articles to boost direct search traffic.
Enter Linkbait and Switch.
- Setup a standalone domain/site/blog and seed it with several linkworthy articles.
- Launch a piece of linkbait from this standalone site.
- Promote it successfully (note: requires skill)
- Then 301 the article or the entire domain into the site you’re actually trying to promote.
First, however, I want to disclaim my position here. I’m not advocating any unethical practices or any link schemes designed to game search engine rankings. I do believe that it’s perfectly legitimate to use additional sites to convey separate messages. If you want to start a standalone blog to publish more edgy, viral content without tarnishing your corporate image, then you should be able to do that. If you want to consolidate the value of your various efforts into one domain, you should be able to do that. But I’m not in charge.
Ethics of the Bait n Switch
- Is this shady? Perhaps.
- Links are earned legitimately through killer content in a way that would not have happened were the piece published on a commercial site.
- In these cases, a commercial site basically “acquires” the mini-site for its popularity. Why shouldn’t the parent site benefit?
- Of course, to a nun, this could be considered a “scheme” (after all, the name bait and switch is categorically schemey, but it’s just so damn perfectly descriptive).
Challenges to Running Off-site Linkbait
- More Labor. Set up a distinct blog, unique design, unique hosting, etc.
- More Creativity. A bait-n-switch blog should have 4-5 pieces before launching a real piece of viral content
- More time required. Rather than just publishing a piece and launching ASAP, this takes time & deliberation. The payoffs are worth it, but it’s not as easy anymore.
- 301s should pass the value of the links, but Google does have a tool to view these (Matt called it the “Greg Boser Tool” @ Pubcon).
Benefits of running the linkbait on a separate site
- NO Commercial Overtones!
- More freedom. Say whatever the hell you need to say
- Competitors will have more difficulty spotting the links after you do the 301s.
- Successful launches may not take down your site so easily
Tips before you run away and give it a shot.
- Clean & fresh design on the standalone blog.
- No ads!
- Show a history of great posts (at least 4-5 good pieces before you launch the first)
- Pick a slick domain name. try to incorporate your primary keyphrase if possible, but it’s not necessary.
Now what do you think? Do any of you have any pointers that I’m missing here? Or is the whole thing of a questionable nature and deserving of being stricken from the playbook?