While link bait is frequently seen as more "fun", and it's definitely more creative, than doing things like guest blogging or emailing people asking for links, it has its challenges. I wanted to share a few things I've learned about creating link bait from my experiences. If you have other insights, I'd love to hear them in the comments.
Keep a Tight Scope
In most cases you will want to keep your content extremely focused around your target, or the person that you are going to get to link to you (Justin wrote more about this process here). While it’s tempting to try and cast as wide of a net possible, typically you will be more successful focusing on targeting one or two targets (and shaping the content around these demographics) rather than trying to create content that targets everyone.
While this is really important for a lot of link bait content, there will obviously be exceptions to this rule. A couple examples come to mind (if you can think of others, feel free to leave a note in the comments):
If your content or subject really is universally applicable – While this is very rare, there is some content topics that apply to almost everyone on the web. A good example of this would be Facebook; just about everyone on the internet has a Facebook account and has an interest in changes (especially when it involves privacy settings).
Creating exhaustive guides – Super in-depth and extensive guides and documents can receive a lot of links if they are done really well. Think about how many links SEOmoz’s Beginners Guidehas received.
Keep the scope tight especially with revisions and additions. When you want to add in more content to make it better, or the client wants additions, you need to ask: “Will adding X improve the linkability of the link bait”?
Offer Something New
There are two aspects of this: perspective and information.
The internet is huge; sometimes it feels like everything has already been written about. Fortunately people tend to write the same thing. If you want to write about a topic that has already been written about a lot, come at it from a different angle. If everyone is writing about why something sucks, write about why it’s awesome. And don’t just say it’s awesome, back it up and make a case for why it’s awesome.
Though it seems like just about everything has been written about think about what you can contribute that other people don’t know. Here are a few types of information you can use:
Sales data – you can analyze your sales data and segment it by population, gender, or other information you collect in the sales process to contribute something new. Yes this data might not be completely accurate as it is your sales data and may not be representative of the market. That said, it is still new and typically unavailable to people.
Do your own research – Offering brand new data is great because no one else has it so you get to be the definite (linked) source for forthcoming references. This can be really helpful with infographics – if you are having a hard time finding research that someone has published, do the research yourself. Tools like Ask Your Target Market are great for this as they provide you with a large panel so you can get quick responses and you can focus your time on creating your link bait, not doing research.
Publish your data from the research you did and provide excel/csv downloads for people to be able to use the data to do their own research as a way of earning links. You can even go as far as requiring attribution to use the data.
Feedback is Key
You need to make sure that your infographic is correct and there aren’t mistakes or typos. These will get your link bait torn apart on sites like Reddit. You should minimally have people looking at:
Spelling/Proofreading – do you have typos or misspellings. It happens. A lot. Get someone who is really nitpicky and uptight to go over it.
Technical details – Make sure that the content is technically correct and that you aren’t wrong. Find a subject matter expert and have them verify your work.
Readability – While the linkbait might make complete sense to you and your cohorts, you this is your baby (and nobody thinks their baby is ugly) so some things that might seem obvious to you really aren’t obvious to everyone else. Have your mom look at this, kind of like when you were in grade school and your mom checked your homework. Get someone object who isn’t invested in the project verify that it makes sense (and that it’s cool).
Get subject matter experts (especially those who you would like a link from) involved in the project – reach out to them before the project launches, tell them they are awesome and ask them to review it because they know so much more than you. When it goes live tell them and thank them for their help. Then encourage them to share it. They have invested time in the project and are more likely to share.
Have a Killer Hook
You can have great data but if you don’t have a hook, then it is significantly less likely to succeed. Todd Malicoat has a great overview of link baiting hooks here that you should take a read through. I will list them here quickly for you though - to get the full explanation you'll have to read the post ;):
While each of these hooks are effective, you should choose the hook based on who you are ultimately targeting and who you want to link to you. While a humor hook may work well for broad appeal, if you want to increase topically relevant links you might want to go with something like a resource hook or contrary hook.
Likewise Copy Blogger has a crash course on magnetic headlines that you should read through. Having really strong headlines will not only help improve the number of people reading your content but can have a big impact on how well-shared your link bait is. As such make sure your title contains a hook.