Lee Odden

Viral Marketing or Linkbaiting?

SEO is constantly changing, but at the same time, the more things change the more they seem to stay the same.¬† Yesterday’s viral marketing becomes today’s linkbaiting. Despite changes in SEO tactics and nomenclature, the fundamentals stay the same: content and links. In order to keep up with these kinds of changes, smart online marketers are continuously revising tactics and execution to provide companies with a competitive advantage.

One of those tactics focuses on both content and links by promoting unique content that propagates virally through social news, blogs and network sites. This viral online marketing tactic is more commonly called “linkbaiting”. Regardless of what you call it, companies are starting to allocate marketing dollars to these tactics and search marketers are responding with new services.

The latest SEO to enter the linkbait game is old school mac daddy link master Eric Ward with a new linkbaiting service that¬† compliments the link building services he’s offered for years. Just in case you’re very new to the SEO business or you’ve been under a rock the past 10 years, Eric has been been doing content publicity and link building since 1994, and has worked on many high-profile sites like Amazon, ABC and PBS.

What do you get when you hire a consultant that offers linkbait services?¬† Here a breakdown of Eric’s new service at $2,000:

  • A proprietary “Link Opportunity Audit” for your site
  • Creation of a strategic link bait strategy for your site
  • Two hours of private phone discussion with Eric Ward
  • Training on promotion and link building for the new content

Linkbaiting at its simplest form is creating compelling content that encourages people share that content and also link to it.  With viral marketing, it had more to do with the sharing of the content Рvia word of mouth and email mostly.   Links drive traffic and can also affect link popularity Рa significant influence on search engine rankings. Linkbait can come in virtually any creative form, including (but not limited to): tools, contests, awards, lists, polls, controversy, and any other form of content that encourages linking.

Eric Ward is by no means the first to offer this type of online promotion. Well known link expert Andy Hagans offers a linkbaiting service ($5,000) as does Todd Malicoat (aka Stuntdubl) with Todd’ service focusing on written articles. Text Link Ads launched two plans priced at $5,000 and $10,000. The linkbait master, Rand Fishkin from SEOmoz also offers linkbaiting services, ranging from $5,000-$50,000.

SEOmoz’s services include linkbait development, design, promotion, or a combination of all three with a particular emphasis on creating interactive content like videos, maps, mashups and other cutting-edge media. Of the services above, SEOmoz gives the most information about their offering, while the others tuck the “secret sauce” away until you contact them. This is pretty consistent with SEOMoz overall though.

Rather than offer stand alone viral marketing services, TopRank incorporates elements of link generation via unique content and distribution through social media as part of its standard online marketing services.

The important thing to remember about linkbait services is that, like most SEO programs, there are no specific guarantees for outcomes. There is no way of predicting how compelling someone may find your link bait, nor how many times it will be linked to. However, the consultants above that offer linkbaiting services have performed extensive testing on their own to detect somewhat predictable cause and effect characteristics prior to launching their services.

What I would like to see are more case studies from companies that offer such services. I realize people don’t want to give away any trade secrets, but there are plenty of ways to explain a problem/solution case study without getting into the details. Perhaps this is something TopRank can undertake in the coming weeks.
Additional resources on linkbaiting:

Nick Wilson’s classic post, “The Art of Linkbaiting”
Darren Rowse, “Introduction to Linkbaiting
Google’s Matt Cutts: “SEO Advice Linkbait and Linkbaiting

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Great stuff Lee. My entry into the linkbaiting game is more of a minor tweak to what I have always been doing. It just wasn’t called linkbait back then. I use my experience to conduct an analysis of any existing linkbait, and then I work with the client to determine what types of linkbait/content they should create for the best strategic effect.

    My goal is to help identify what role link baiting can possibly play in any site’s online marketing strategy, and once that linkbiat/content is created, I’ll help promote and build links to it, showing the client how to do it as well (if they wish), each step of the way.

    I purposely do not create the actual content, leaving that to the designers and developers. I’m not in it to try and compete with the young studs like Andy, Rand, and Todd. Those guys are awesome and amaze me. I’m happy to refer clients to all of them. There’s lotsa link bait to go around.

    I remain steadfastly a one person operation obsessed with studying the nuances of linking and putting that study into practice for just a few clients.

    See you in Chicago next week.

    Eric Ward

  2. That

  3. Lee, you’re absolutely right about the differences here, and “Linkbaiting”, for better or worse, is most definitely here to stay (unlike article syndication and…hopefully…reciprocal links).

    Your call for a case study is actually right on target with some of the work that ben wills is working on at the moment. He’s spent some very important hours working along these lines–you should give him a shout. I’d be very interested to see the results and know that I wouldn’t be the only one…

  4. I will check out Ben’s site Abhilash. I recall him from Andy Beal’s SEO article contest, ie linkbait promo. I also think it would be interesting to see what Rand, Andy, Todd and even Eric Ward would have to offer in the form of case studies. There’s a lot of big media dollars that get turned on by that sort of thing.

  5. You’d want different types of case studies. Linkbaiting for a breaking news pop culture sort of bait, and one for a vertical BtoB site with no built in sizzle. This is where it gets challenging. In other words, it’s one thing to link bait
    for the upcoing Spiderman III web site, it’s another thing to
    link bait for a BtoB site about ball bearings…


  6. I authored an eBook about how to plan a After-Prom party for teens. This is a highly targeted niche, even though there are more than 30,000 high schools and millions of parents of teenagers. Also, the eBook is a ClickBank product paying 50% commissions. Even with a potential market size of millions, the book was slow to get rolling. We had a new website, few links and fewer affiliates. What to do?

    To help spread the word, we developed a second site called “Life Saving Virus”, http://www.lifesavingvirus.com/. The idea was to get a few people telling a few people about prom night being such a dangerous time for teenagers – kids die every year as a result. The viral effect was almost instantaneous. Traffic to the site increased immediately, book sales skyrocketed and Google indexed the entire site and gave it a PR-4 almost overnight.


  7. Great article! I have a couple of questions though: a) does Google have existing penalties for the term ‘linkbaiting’ and b) what do you think of the term ‘linkbaiting’?

  8. That’s an interesting post and I must admit you know what you are talking about. I think linkbaiting works pretty good… I’ve tested it with some lists and they not only get recommended on other blogs but also the search engines rank them pretty high although there comes not much content with these posts. I guess that’s a topic to further research, test and track.

  9. Link baiting is okay if you’re invloved in blogging and you know bloggers. I like SEOMoz, although I find them a little preachy.

    I think “viral marketing” is an outcome, not a tactic. Although, I believe there are certain things you can do to make a viral fly. I found this the other day http://www.demonzmedia.com/DemonzBlog/?p=9 which looks at a couple of good viral campaigns (mostly podcasts) and explains how they work in terms of social media / viral marketing. There is a similar thing here http://www.culture-buzz.com/.


  1. WebProBlog - Internet Business and Marketing Trends» Blog Archive » Search Blog Wrap-up says:

    […] Viral or Linkbait Lee Odden takes a look at the differences between these two marketing techniques. There are differences, so pay attention to Lee’s post. […]

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