Alright, time for the next installment of “X Is Not A Content Strategy”. I’ve decided to write a few posts around this because of the reception my post from last week, A Blog Is Not A Content Strategy, received from the community.
This week, we’re going to talk about linkbait. Linkbait is a term that was coined, apparently, by Aaron Wall of SEObook back in 2005 when he said if “”you are in a field that can’t build links naturally create linkbait” (source). To be clear, in this post I am talking about one-off linkbait pieces and not linkbait as part of a content strategy.
Linkbait interest spiked in 2007 and has since held at a homeostasis, albeit on a bit of a downward trend:
Here’s my problem with linkbait though: most linkbait fails and linkbait is not scaleable.
Why Linkbait Fails At Life
Linkbait has been seen as the savior of linkbuilding, though in recent days Matt Cutts declared that Google may discount infographics, every SEO’s favorite linkbaiting tactic, in the future. Linkbait fails for many different reasons, including crap design and crap outreach, but I would bet at the end of the day that linkbait fails, especially your first few pieces, because your audience (if you even have one) does not expect it from you. If a plumber goes and creates an awesome visualization of plumbers around the United States, who cares? Who’s going to see it?
Unless the content is amazing and goes viral (which almost never happens), the first few pieces are being used to create an audience which then may (but also may not) push future pieces. No one understands why certain pieces do well and others don’t, though we can decipher some hooks that help, but at the end of the day it often does, as most experiments and risks do. Which brings me to my next point.
Why Linkbait Fails Clients and Agencies
One-off linkbait pieces fail both clients and agencies, in my opinion.
What is the point of linkbait? To get links.
If that’s the point of creating a piece of content, and it goes by the name “linkbait”, then I’d love to see you try to convince a client that you are going to report on a different metric other than links. Therefore, let’s stop calling it “linkbait” and instead call it something like “marketing bait”.
And this is why linkbait fails both clients and agencies. Agencies will often sell a client on linkbait by showing them examples of other content they have produced and done outreach for for other clients (after all, who doesn’t love a good case study), but what is often left out here is the client’s audience, other content they have done, and many other details. Potential clients will get caught up on “hundreds of links” if you’re not careful, and this is what they come to expect, even if they verbally agree that “this content may or may not work as well”. At the end of the day, their expectations have been set. And if you don’t deliver what they’re expecting, then you’ve failed.
A story: The reason I don’t like doing it this way, though I have done it myself in the past, is because of an experience I had back in college when I was a Cutco knives salesperson. Yes, I was one of those guys, selling through the parent company called “Vector”. Basically, I went around trying to sell knives to friends and then get their referrals and try to set up meetings with them to sell them knives. It was a great learning experience for that summer, but the biggest lesson I learned was about setting expectations. One day I was meeting with a family friend (who had money). During my pitch, I mentioned the number “a couple hundred dollars”, but I knew that the set that I wanted to sell them (called the “Homemaker”) cost about $900 at the time. These were some seriously sweet knives.
Now, I sold them the Homemaker and was extremely proud of myself, but the father of the family (a brilliant businessman in his own right) told me after the fact “Now, we were just so happening looking for a new knife set for our new kitchen, but when you told me the price of the Homemaker I had a bit of sticker shock. You telling me about that other knife set that costs a couple of hundred dollars set my expectations.”
I have never forgotten that lesson, though I don’t always adhere to it (and I apologize to those that have been affected by it).
Beyond Linkbait to Top Of Funnel Content
I had the impetus to write this piece because I was thinking of a specific client that is severely lacking in top-of-funnel content (a concept I was introduced to by Kieran in his post over on SEOmoz). Top of funnel content is the content that you produce at the top of your marketing funnel (you know what yours is, right?) that will attract users (yes, and maybe links) to your website and then may get them to buy. The idea is to get users in the door, capture their information, and then remarket them continually until they convert.
Of course, top of funnel content is a marketing idea outside of SEO. This is where SEOs shoot ourselves in the foot - we fail to understand where our work comes into play in the funnel of the broader marketing plan. SEO is not a full marketing plan and must be integrated into the full plan if we are to truly win at helping our clients get more business.
If we want to get access to bigger budgets that creative agencies have (and let’s be honest – our work does a lot more for our clients than a lot of just creative content), we have got to start speaking the C-suite’s language!
I’m not going to go into complete detail here about integrating SEO into a larger marketing strategy (though I will say if you’re agency side you need an awesome in-house person to work with), but I want you to start thinking about it on your own.
If you’re thinking about how to start creating TOFU content, here is a great post over on KonuCreative about it.
I’d like to give a few examples of content that qualifies as this “top of funnel” content in the marketing lifecycle. I’d rather do this than talk about content that hasn’t worked so that you’re actually given something to work towards/off of.
First, Hubspot does a great job of this with their Internet Marketing Whitepapers:
Another company doing it well, that I have talked about recently, is Salesforce with their Social Media Success series:
Another company doing a great job is SimplyBusiness with their Knowledge section:
Mailchimp does it well with their Email Marketing Resources section:
And Grovo is doing it pretty well with their Resources section:
I sincerely believe that if SEOs are going to start being integrated into the larger marketing plan and budget, we need to understand what users are looking for and the different stages of the marketing funnel. Completely gone are the days of building links from anywhere and ranking for important terms. The web and internet marketing are becoming more integrated than that.
Either we adapt and survive and thrive, or we hold onto our stubborn ways and don’t get the budgets and slowly become obsolete.