The term “link bait” or “Digg bait” is sometimes used in a negative light, meant to indicate a type of post that is meant to pander to a lower element than most blog posts. But while this can be true and often times is, it is also not always the case.
What the term “link bait” actually means is that the post is the type of work others will want to link to. The types of content people want to link to is as varied as the types of content available on the Web, ranging from pure garbage to enlightened discussion.
However, creating a link bait post is not something that just happens by accident. It requires both a good idea, great writing and a structure that is easy to read. However, if you can master the art, you can literally grow your site overnight by generating countless Twitter mentions, inbound links and even social networking references.
In short, link bait posts may not be the reason regular readers hang around, but they are often how they find your site in the first place.
Step 1: Know Your Audience
Before you put the first word down on paper, you need a good idea and, to get that, you have to know what your audience wants to know more about.
Specifically, you need to know the topics and keywords they are interested in and you can glean that reasonably easily by looking at your site’s statistics and see what people are searching for when they find your site and then using a keyword research tool, such as the one available for Google Adwords, and see what comes up.
These are the terms you are going to want to include in the headline or headline of your post, ideally also mixing some in as subheads. You want this information to be front and center, both to make sure it ranks well in the search engines and that readers know instantly they have found what they were looking for.
Step 2: Craft a Catchy Headline
Though the debate about whether it is better to write the title before or after the body of the post will rage on, with link bait articles, you almost always want to start with the headline as it is the most important part of the work.
Your headline should use the keywords you gleaned from step one and should find a way to focus on conveying a message that the article both A) Has the information they desire and B) Doesn’t require too much effort to get it.
The easiest way to do that is to either phrase the headline, and thus the article, as either a list or as a comparison. A “Top X” list “X Steps” or “How X is Like Y” articles do very well as they are easily understood and viewed as being informative but easy to read.
Step 3: Include Visuals
Though including at least one image in your post is a good idea all of the time, it is especially crucial with posts you want to serve as link bait.
Images help posts stand out in RSS readers and also give social networking sites, like Digg and Reddit, something to use for thumbnails when displaying links to them. In short, a good visual helps a post get noticed almost everywhere it travels.
If you can include more images, it is usually better, but don’t throw in needless images that distract from the content. It is important to remember that the goal is to get the reader into the article, give them the information they want and get them out quickly so they can link to it.
Step 4: Break the Post Apart
Carving the post up into bite-sized chunks not only makes the article easier to read and more skimmable, but also more visually appealing. As I discussed in my previous article, writing for the eye is crucial for getting content read as few will sit down and parse through a mass of gray text.
Use large amounts of subheads, short paragraphs and a clear structure when writing your post. If you chose to go with a list format, this is likely done for you but you can follow it with almost any post type.
Failure to do this risks turning readers away and certainly discouraging them from sharing your link with others.
Step 5: Write Good Content
If you’ve done everything else, you have a good headline, a visual and a solid structure to your post. All you need to do now is fill in the blanks with good, useful information.
Though it is useful to be a talented writer, it is more important to be succinct and knowledgeable. If you stick to topics you know well or have researched heavily, you can add what the reader needs/wants to know and do so with a minimal number of words.
Though heavily-linked posts come in all lengths, most fall in the middle range, neither too short nor too long, but packed with enough information that they feel “dense” and useful.
If you do these things will you be guaranteed a link bait post? Absolutely not. If you don’t do these things will a post never get linked? Of course not.
Simply put, there is no way to be completely sure that a post will attract the wanted level of attention when you hit publish. Sometimes, despite all of your best efforts, it just doesn’t work out and other times, when you aren’t trying, it does.
Instead, the goal of these steps is to give your post the best chance possible for success.
However, you probably will not want to use this formula for every post on your site (unless you are Cracked.com) as you need to cater to your regular readers and try to attract new ones at the same time.
But, if you do link bait very well, you can actually create articles that both generate a lot of links and are still useful to your regular readers. Those posts, as rare as they are, are truly the pinnacle of blog writing.