The question of linkbait is always up in the air. Some say it is imperative, while others warn that Google doesn’t take kindly to deliberate misdirection for links sake alone. We all remember the summer of ’08, when notorious baiter Lyndon Antcliff ran the story about the 13 year old who supposedly stole his father’s credit card and holed up in a Texas motel with two hookers he hired to play X Box with him (and whom he told he was a circus midget to allay their worries about his age).
The hook set deep, and the story went viral, generating an insane amount of links back to the UK banking site Antcliff was working on. Antcliff scoffed at the idea that he had done anything underhanded – his attitude was that anyone who had been fooled by the story deserved it, and that he couldn’t believe how many people had been taken in.
The SEO community, however, was incensed. Some might have been sour grapes, true, but many felt that the integrity of ‘useful, valuable information spread through linking’ had been compromised. If Google counts links to a site as part of its core value, how accurate could that valuation be if the links were all bogus?
Viral marketing took on a completely new and ugly tone. Is it really ethical to bait a real, established site with a lie to get links? General concensus: computer says no.
That doesn’t mean all linkbaiting is bad. You can plug a celebrity name or pick up an angle on a current news story to boost your rankings and get attention. Use social media for all you are worth to garner links back to you, and create compelling, intriguing copy to get those clickthroughs. What you shouldn’t do is construct stories out of nothing just to get attention.
Matt Cutts from Google was asked by Danny Sullivan in a You& A session about his thoughts on the incident:
Matt says they don’t want to be the “truth” police. Matt says it was different than a prank like April Fools. It was more deceptive than that as it had no disclosure that it was fake. Matt looks at it then as more intentional than accidental.
Matt says to not take any action on a story that is fake like that one was would be irresponsible. He sees it as an attempt to get links even if you have to “lie” about it and feels that is just wrong. In reality, it was a move to protect Google users from lies and deception.
Matt is kind of Google’s mouthpiece when it comes to webmaster ethics, so we’ll leave you with that. Don’t be evil. Linkbait responsibly – or not at all.