5 Ways to Build Links Without Hoaxes, Whiteboards, or Other Tomfoolery

The internet was all in a tizzy this week after Jenny Whiteboard was briefly thought to be incredibly awesome but ultimately found to be incredibly fake. (Go check it out. It’s funny.)

If we really analyze it, we see many signs of a hoax:

It is posted to theChive (a site that seems to exclusively feature girls in bikinis) and not a personal social media site like a blog, Twitter, or Tumblr. (A tweet photo stream would’ve been much more believable, if much more difficult to distribute.)

It seems unlikely that a woman who was angry about being objectified at work would post things to a site where the most popular articles seem to be “hot girls of facebook” and “star wars motivational posters.”

33 Photos? Costume/hair/makeup changes? Additionally, the photos seem to be taken inside a model home. A staff of at least 2 off-camera helpers? Who has a production team to help them quit their job? Maybe Jenny got the Bluth family to help her?

The whiteboard is perfectly clean in each shot – there’s no trace of the previous letters. Have you ever owned a whiteboard? Do you know how hard it is to get one that clean?

And this ignores issues with the plot, why would anyone do this, the lack of contact information for potential employers, etc.

However, this was an awesome exercise in linkbait for theChive – they received a huge amount links and re-blogs initially, but even more upon being outed as a fake. According to my trusty SEOBook Toolbar Plug-in, this piece has received more than 7,000 Diggs, more than 2,800 comments, and hundreds of inbound links. Truly a piece of linkbait at its finest.

But what if you have a serious B2B website? How can you create linkbait content that appeals to both your prospects and the ‘linkerati’?

Well, my friends, there’s a lot you can do. Today, I’ll show you 5 ways you can create link-attracting content, without resorting to hoaxes, actresses, and freakishly clean whiteboards.

(In case you’re not sure why you’d want links to your site, it helps both people and search engines find you and your great content. See Aaron Wall’s SEOBook for more information. )

#1 – Infographics

People on the internet love great visuals, and they love to link to them. Infographics are visual representations of data – like this. An infographic of your industry data will draw lots of links, and you’ll probably find it repeated and attributed to you in presentations and keynotes throughout your industry. If you have any unique insights that you can draw from the data created by your service, these make even better infographics. For examples, take a look at the AdMob metrics reports. An infographic of this report would be a link magnet – but because AdMob was acquired by Google, avoiding anti-trust prosecution has become more important than building links.

Infographic about Lame Infographics

As this hilarious infographic (from Phil Gyford) shows, infographics are just passing their peak of effectiveness. Even spammers have caught on – you’re starting to see linkbait infographics that have nothing to do with the site they’re on.

To really kick it up a notch, you can use HTML5 and CSS3 (or Silverlight or your other favorite rich internet technology), to create interactive infographics, which will impress just about everybody. (This idea comes from the awesome Neil Patel, whose interview I will post later this week.)

#2 – Parody Videos

Twitter’s recruiting team used this tactic perfectly with their parody of the opening sequence of Rushmore. Rushmore is one of my favorite movies, so I was blown away by this one. It makes me want to learn Scala simply so I can be part of the ‘Finer Things Club.’

But you can do more than recruiting with these. What if you’re a serious company that makes, say, ERP software? Parody videos can also work for you – see this winner from NetSuite.

#3 – Tools

If you can create tools for people to use, they will link to them. See for instance, the SEOBook Keyword Tool, the SEOMoz Linkscape Tool, and the Hubspot Grader Tools. Even the lawyers have gotten into this – eminent Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini has created their own automatic term sheet generator.

While it helps if the tool is related to your domain area, it isn’t strictly necessary – Patio11 used A/Bingo (an open-source A/B testing library for Ruby on Rails) to build links for his Bingo Card Creator software. Patrick sells his Bingo Card Creator to teachers, but teachers do not typically create lots of high-value links. To gain search engine rank, he open-sourced the toolset he created to leverage the link-rich FOSS community.

But what if you don’t have any tools? Or you work in a space that doesn’t lend itself to tools? For starters, you should consider putting any ROI calculators you have into Javascript and putting them online. Another option is creating a custom search engine of all the influencer and analyst blogs in your space. With Google Custom Search, you can create a custom search engine that only indexes selected sites. (I hope Bing rolls out some similar functionality so there’s some competition.) You should pitch your search engine to all the bloggers featured in it, who will hopefully link to it, creating a virtuous cycle of links and traffic.

#4 – Short Interviews with Multiple People

Another quick and easy tactic for creating great SEO content is conducting very short interviews (one or two questions) via email with a variety of important people in the space. (Both the Influencer Project and I use this tactic.) Many of them will link to it or tweet it, and if you include two or three thought leaders (and maybe one from your own company’s executives), you can create a nice piece without too much work. I recommend optimizing your question around a middle tail keyword that you can win with two or three good links (if SEO is your main reason for creating this content.)

Expert Hint: If you need 10 responses, you should send 20-40 emails. Alternatively, Help a Reporter Out can be very effective. PR people on HARO will put their content in whatever format you ask for, as long as you mention the company they’re pushing.

#5 – Quizzes and Checklists

Everything that works for Cosmo Magazine will almost always work on the internet. (Change ‘Please Your Man’ to ‘iPhone Apps’ and you’ll be on the front page of Digg in no time.) Next time you’re in line at the grocery store, put that time to good use getting new ideas for great content. (Additionally, Cosmo’s headline writing is impeccable.)

Just like in Cosmo, quizzes and checklists are very popular. If you can create a quiz (even something like “Quiz: Is Your Company Effectively Managing Its Paid Search Spend?” or “25 Questions to Ask Your Wedding Photographer Before You Sign a Contract”) that will provide some value to your customers, it can be the sort of link-bait content that both builds links and trust with people once they arrive on the site. Checklists are great too – like this 25-point Web Usability Checklist.

There are also some strategic concerns around linkbait – such as drafting off a current trend (like this post), being interesting, and having valuable, relevant, well-conveyed information for your target audience. I also suggest having a call to action. If you have a website in a more difficult niche – like poker – the tactics are somewhat different. I’ll cover all of these in a future post, so make sure you subscribe to Grattisfaction. (See what I did there?)

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