Linkbait at any Cost?

Linkbait at any Cost?

(Update added beneath post)

Good linkbait is the holy grail of online marketing. The right post or web article can spread through social media sites, or sometimes mainstream news sites, to point potentially hundreds of valuable links back to you.

But what is the “right” article and is it “anything goes” to create a story that captures the web?

Online marketer Lyndon Antcliff recently helped a client achieve over 1500 inbound links in under a week with a story designed to grab attention.

The article – 13 Year Old Steals Dad’s Credit Card to Buy Hookers – appeared on money.co.uk as part of Lyndon’s linkbaiting campaign, and it was certainly successful.

The story soon appeared around the world. Digg users pumped it up to a total 2452 diggs, driving tons of traffic to the page. Then news outlets started leaping on the story. In Australia News.com.au, The Daily Telegraph, and more all publicised the story (Update: these are now deleted), driving hundreds of links and thousands of site visitors back. Back in the UK, best selling newspaper The Sun published the story in their pages. News services loved the story of what American teens can get up to. In the states, Fox News aired the story, later spread wide through YouTube.

But the whole article was fiction.

Tricking the Media

On announcing the hoax on his own website, Lyndon was both buoyed by congratulations and surprised at the criticisms. Online marketers were all very quick to split into two camps on a topic that could have serious repercussions for the industry.

If producing highly successful linkbait requires nothing more than fabricating a salacious news story, then online marketing presents a serious danger to the integrity of online news. It is no secret that news outlets trawl the net looking for interesting tit-bits for their readers. It is also true that they should at least attempt to check the facts before publication. But does the truth that many websites don’t adequately check small stories exempt an online marketer from responsibility in producing fabricated news?

In conversation with Lyndon this morning on Twitter, he insisted continually that he is not a journalist and that it is not his responsibility that news sites chose to run with the story. Yet many critics – me included – voiced their dismay that Lyndon could deny responsibility when the whole purpose of the linkbait piece was to convince others to link back.

There is no doubt that the piece was written in a journalistic style so as to encourage readers to accept the story as truth. If readers understood the piece to be fiction, there is no likelihood it would receive any traction on Digg, or any other site for that matter. Short stories don’t get shared much on social media sites. The piece only has value by mimicking fact.

Readers are conditioned to accept journalism under a different set of rules to, for example, fiction or comedy. Although readers may question the bias or agenda behind journalism, it is assumed the facts contained within a journalistic article are correct, even if they may only represent part of a larger story. To deliberately misrepresent facts in journalism can land the writer in court. This leads to an inherent authenticity embedded in any piece that apes a journalistic style without any hints to the contrary.

Trust Me – Not Everything I Write is Fake

Lyndon maintains the piece is satire or comedy rather than journalism, despite admitting to using a journalistic style. But as the host site and Lyndon’s client, money.co.uk, is not a satirical or comedy site but is actually a large British financial advisor, a reader is given no reason to suspect the fiction.

After all, if this article is incorrect, how can a reader trust any of the financial advice contained on the site?

This element of trust is most at stake with Lyndon’s tactic. The website loses the trust of readers and also the wider online community who will be less likely to treat any press releases or information from the business seriously again.

But – and this is why so many marketers are worried – it also calls into question the trustworthiness of any linkbait articles produced by all marketers.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

If my client has a wonderful news story based on some statistics, it could form a great linkbait piece. But if the wider online community develops a view of online marketing as untrustworthy, they may not believe the statistics or facts, regardless of how accurate they are.

One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that the media is a powerful beast. It can carry you and your goals a long way, but if the media realises it has been duped or misrepresented, it can bite back ferociously.

Marketers, both offline and online, have long understood the line between journalism and marketing. Adverts that mimic news pieces traditionally have to appear with a disclaimer clearly identifying it as a sponsored advertorial. Incorrect statements of fact within the media are often ordered to be corrected with a full apology at the earliest opportunity.

Blogging and web development is open to everyone, which is the beauty of the communal nature of the internet. But that freedom comes at a price. If unregulated marketers start muddying the waters of online communication, there is a risk that we may end up inviting the regulation we have long avoided.

This recent development demonstrates that online marketing may also soon need an international code of conduct to protect the integrity of online information.

Which side of the fence are you on?

(UPDATE)

Since originally writing this post, the ‘linkbait-gate’ debate (try saying that three times fast) exploded across online marketing websites as webmasters and linkbaiters argued over the points raised here. I continued to report on and shape the debate and the subsequent posts are worth reading for the full story and final outcome.

Linkbait-Gate: Examining the Fallout

Linkbait-Gate: Money.co.uk Apologises

MediaWatch on ABC Television in Australia then entered the fray with a detailed report.

The final outcome for the website in question was covered on Blogstorm.

Comments

  1. spostareduro says:

    the people’s fence.

  2. Barry Welford says:

    If you’re willing to do anything, then undoubtedly you can start a buzz. However you reveal more about yourself in so doing, than you reveal about the buzz topic. You’re quite right, this is not the way to get attention.

  3. Lyndon removed his post explaining how he did it, but you can read a copy here:
    http://www.widerfunnel.com/traffic-building/when-linkbait-goes-mental

  4. spostareduro says:

    just in case anyone is interested in lyndons full post (since he has now removed it) this is a link to someone that saved it. ;-) ps, lyndon’s post was removed because he knew it was creating drama for him..so here’s the post in full, if anyone is interested. http://www.widerfunnel.com/traffic-building/when-linkbait-goes-mental

  5. Great article, Jonathan.
    As a journalism major at university, integrity was always one of those things that was constantly advocated and reinforced. Blurring the line between journalism and marketing (I hesitate to call this marketing) is a very dangerous practice.
    SEO’s of all types and tactics advocate open disclosure, and I don’t see where disclosure was provided in this case. I hope that I am wrong and it was provided at some point. I also can’t excuse the media from their severe lack of judgment in running an article without checking their facts.
    Tactics like these bring linkbait to a new low, and will negatively affect the perception of an already tarnished industry.
    Matt

  6. Very, very good Jonathan. What is almost as appalling as the fact that so many in the SEO industry think this tactic is a good thing, is also the fact that quite a few so-called leaders in this industry are totally silent on the issue. That speaks volumes.
    I guess most in our industry just don’t give a hoot about how we all get incoming links…as long as we all get them in some way. Fake or true; anything goes. I really do equate it with blackhat search engine spam. There is similar characteristics as blackhats get links any way they can as well. Wasn’t this tactic all about getting the links for Google? Sure it was. It’s pure blackhat spam as it cannot be anything else.
    And yes; big media should take responsibility, but that’s not my concern in this case. This Lyndon guy offers up both SEO and social media services which means it’s the territory of every legit SEO out there…. which also means it puts another nail in the coffin of an industry slowing dying due to it’s own people.

  7. Faking stories and spreading rumours to generate links is just plain wrong and unethical. Anyone who possesses decent writing skills and above average creative could create stories that diggers and other social media followers drool. It’s alright for sites like the onion to publish stories like that since they are notorious for entertaining fake stories, but not on sites that people visit for real articles.

  8. Anyone have an issue with the fact that journalists and editors no longer fact-check anything?
    In an election year, I certainly have an issue with it.

  9. Kimota says:

    Oh I agree. There are a number of worrying questions that come out of this event. At some point, there will be a backlash that says we want to maintain the internet as a source of reliable information. We need to stop blurring the line between fact and fiction.

  10. I agree with Antcliff. When it can get you so many backlinks and newspaper coverage, whats wrong with lying a bit? In my eyes this was a brilliant idea!

  11. This provides each website with a one way non-reciprocal link. This technique has evolved from reciprocal linking.

  12. Nice summary, Kimota.
    “When it can get you so many backlinks and newspaper coverage, whats wrong with lying a bit?”
    Lorm, it’s a short-term tactic that burns credibility. In this case, for example, it certainly lowers trust in money.co.uk and Lyndon.

  13. what? like this doesn’t happen 1500 times a day with completely twisted Digg headlines. It’s even worse to do it with headlines because people read those so much more.

  14. This story made it all the way out to Colorado and was on all of the radio stations. Do any of these other news sources that just copy other news sources do any due diligence?

  15. Kimota says:

    It has been amazing how media networks have revealed their shortcomings with this debacle. Last night, Australia’s Media Watch program on ABC television covered the situation.
    http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s2256090.htm

  16. I think that This recent development demonstrates that online marketing may also soon need an international code of conduct to protect the integrity of online information.

    Thanks for sharing all with us.

  17. Jordan Kicks says:

    I think that This element of trust is most at stake with Lyndon’s tactic. The website loses the trust of readers and also the wider online community who will be less likely to treat any press releases or information from the business seriously again.

    Thanks for sharing us. Jordan Kicks

  18. Blogging and web development is open to everyone, which is the beauty of the communal nature of the internet. But that freedom comes at a price. If unregulated marketers start muddying the waters of online communication, there is a risk that we may end up inviting the regulation we have long avoided.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] was written by a marketer to help promote the site by generating links back to it (I’ll let others debate the ethics and likely consequences of this kind of marketing, known as linkbait) – it [...]

  2. […] article which summarizes this whole affair on Jonathan Crossfield’s blog entitled ‘Linkbait at any Cost?‘. He rightly points to the old story of ‘The boy who cried wolf’. How can your […]

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