SEO Archives

Are You Linkbaiting The Right Audience

Jan. 29, 2007 at 1:09pm Eastern by Eric Ward

Last summer, I was asked for my personal definition of the term “linkbait.” In a column titled Link Bait Kool-Aid, I wrote that linkbait was “more or less anything you create anywhere on the web that inspires other people to link to it.” The link to your bait can come from another web page, from a blog, from a social media sharing site (bookmarks, news, videos or whatever), from a tagging site or even from an email newsletter. In a nutshell, anywhere you are with a mouse and a clickable link can be viewed as a potential target venue for link seeking via linkbait.

There are several motivations for seeking links via linkbait creation. The most obvious motivation is improved search rank. Get a bunch of links, and your site’s search rank will improve. Not every time, but often enough to inspire a whole new micro-niche in what was already a niche industry.

After search rank, another key motivation for seeking links via linkbait is increased click traffic. Get your link on the front page at Digg, Newsvine, Netscape, Reddit, Technorati or for that matter, any of the sources you find at popurls, and the result can be traffic spikes that cause headaches like these and this for webmasters.

For some sites, there can also be a residual linking effect. Some of the people visiting Digg will learn about your site for the first time, and they might like it so much they link to it from their own site or blog or wherever. Call it trickle-down-linking. Links beget links. The filthy linking rich get filthy linking richer.

There are several rarely discussed fundamental flaws to practice of linkbaiting. The most obvious flaw is that the most valuable IBLs (inbound links) for any given piece of content are completely different. Most linkbait strategies I see ignore this fundamental concept.

An example I’ve mentioned before is the Diet Coke/Mentos fountain video. Sure it’s funny. It’s clever, it’s fascinating. I’ve watched it many times. And then I go back to my day. I didn’t buy anything, didn’t click an ad. I didn’t subscribe to anything. I came, I saw. I left.

On the other hand, the flurry of popularity and links the video sparked did actually result in some links that have some residual benefit, as nearly 500 .edu based sites mention or link to it. But not every video goes viral with a scientific angle that inspires links from teachers, and copycats dilute the power of the original.

Whatever your linkbait is, it will appeal to a certain segment of the online population. The rest of us will never see it unless by pure chance. In this regard, there really is no difference between linkbait and other type of online content. You can only expect linkbait to travel so far on its own or via the big buzz venues mentioned earlier. And no matter what steps you take to help ease the sharing of the content, it may never reach the most relevant audience most inclined to link to it.

Some types of content engender links from a wide variety of targets. For me one of the single best example of this is The Weather Channel’s Weather On Your Site. Here’s my announcement of it, nearly four years ago. We didn’t call it linkbait back then, we called it “useful content.” The Weather Channel example is also a rarity. After all, anyone with a web site and a zip code can add a weather forecast. The web helped The Weather Channel connect forecasts and zip codes and HTML code, and the rest is linking history. The odds are your linkbait doesn’t have the universal appeal and potential of The Weather Channel or Diet Coke / Mentos. What do you do then?

If you are considering implementing a linkbait strategy, do some homework before you spend money creating the bait. What is the goal? Who is the most likely person to link to your content, and where can those people be found? Can they be found online at all? (Hint: if your content is geared towards an academic or librarian audience, Digg is nearly pointless). What types of content will they link to it from? How do you properly reach out to them when seeking a link? What will the effect of any obtained links be?

The answers to these questions is likely to be as different as the content itself. When I was seeking links for the first Times Square Web Cam (what we now call linkbait), I approached the process in a far different way than I did for the Children’s Hospital Boston Virtual Stem Cell Laboratory.

The universe of potential linkers to your content often cannot be found hanging out at Digg, Newsvine, Netscape, Reddit, Technorati or any other online popularity contest oriented site. I’m not saying ignore these venues. I’m saying you need to take into consideration that the most useful links of all will come from an online audience that doesn’t depend on the collective wisdom of others. These folks must be identified and reached in ways that the linkbaiter usually ignores or misses.

Eric Ward has been in the link building and content publicity game since 1994, providing services ranking from linking strategy to a monthly private newsletters on linking for subscribers, The Ward Report. The Link Week column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.

Good Cloaking, Evil Cloaking & Detection

100% OrganicIs cloaking evil? It’s one of the most heavily debated topics in the SEO industry — and people often can’t even agree on what defines cloaking. In this column, I wanted to look at an example of what even the search engines might consider “good” cloaking, the middle-ground territory that page testing introduces plus revisiting how to detect when “evil” old-school page cloaking is happening.

Back in December 2005, the four major engines went on record at Search Engine Strategies Chicago to define the line between cloaking for good and for evil. From the audience, I asked the panelists if it was acceptable to — selectively for spiders — replace search engine unfriendly links (such as those with session IDs and superfluous parameters) with search engine friendly versions. All four panelists responded “No problem.” Charles Martin from Google even jumped in again with an enthusiastic, “Please do that!”

URL Rewriting? Not Cloaking!

My understanding is that their positions haven’t changed on this. Cloaking — by its standard definition of serving up different content to your users than to the search engines — is naughty and should be avoided. Cloaking where all you’re doing is cleaning up spider-unfriendly URLs, well that’s A-OK. In fact, Google engineers have told me in individual conversations that they don’t even consider it to be cloaking.

Because search engines are happy to have you simplify your URLs for their spiders — eliminating session IDs, user IDs, superfluous flags, stop characters and so on — it may make sense to do that only for spiders and not for humans. That could be because rewriting the URLs for everyone is too difficult, costly or time intensive to implement. Or more likely, it could be that certain functionality requires these parameters, but that functionality is not of any use to a search engine spider — such as putting stuff in your shopping cart or wish list or keeping track of your click path in order to customize the breadcrumb navigation.

Many web marketers like to track which link was clicked on when there are multiple links to the same location contained on the page. They add tracking tags to the URL, like “source=topnav” or “source=sidebar.” The problem with that is it creates duplicate pages for the search engine spiders to explore and index. This leads to a dilution of link gain or PageRank, because all the votes that you are passing on to that page are being split up because of the different URLs you are using. Ouch.

How about instead you employ “good cloaking” and strip out those tracking codes solely for spiders? Sounds like a good plan to me. Keep your analytics-obsessed web marketers happy, and the search engines too.

I have to mention, you don’t have to cloak your pages to simplify your URLs for spiders. There is another option: you could use JavaScript to append your various tracking parameters to the URL upon the click. For example, used to append a “vcat=” parameter on all brand links on their Shop By Brand page through JavaScript. Thus, none of their vcat containing URLs made it into Google.

Is Testing Bad Cloaking?

Is multivariate testing a form of bad cloaking? This is where services like Offermatica or even Google’s own Website Optimizer show different users different versions of the same URL. That could be considered cloaking, because human visitors and search engines are getting different content. Spiders can’t participate in the test group, and thus the content of that test is invisible to the spiders; that’s because of the requirements of AJAX, JavaScript, DHTML and/or cookies for the test platform to function on the user’s browser. Google engineers have told me that they want Googlebot to be part of the test set. Therein lies the rub; the technology isn’t built to support that.

Uncovering User Agent Based Cloaking

The “bad” cloaking from a search engine point of view is that deliberate showing to a spider content that might be entirely different than what humans see. Those doing this often try to cover their tracks by making it difficult to examine the version meant only for spiders. They do this with a “noarchive” command embedded within the meta tags. Googlebot and other major spiders will obey that directive and not archive the page, which then causes the “Cached” link in that page’s search listing to disappear.

So getting a view behind the curtain to see what is being served to the spider can be a bit tricky. If the type of cloaking is solely user agent based, you can use the User Agent Switcher extension for Firefox. Just create a user-agent of:

Googlebot/2.1 (+

under Tools > User Agent Switcher > Options > Options > User Agents in the menu. Then switch to that user agent and have fun surfing as Googlebot in disguise.

Uncovering IP Based Cloaking

But hard-core cloakers are too clever for this trick. They’ll feed content to a spider based on known IP addresses. Unless you’re within a search engine — using one of these known IP addresses — you can’t see the cloaked page, if it also has been hidden by being kept out of the search engine’s cache.

Actually, there’s still a chance. Sometimes Google Translate can be used to view the cloaked content, because many cloakers don’t bother to differentiate between the spider coming in for the purpose of translating or coming in for the purpose of crawling. Either way, it uses the same range of Google IP addresses. Thus, when a cloaker is doing IP delivery they tend to serve up the Googlebot-only version of the page to the Translate tool. This loophole can be plugged, but many cloakers miss this.

And I bet you didn’t know that you can actually set the Translation language to English even if the source document is in English! You simply set it in the URL, like so:

In the code above, replace the bolded URLGOESHERE part with the actual URL of the page you want to view. That way, when you are reviewing someone’s cloaked page, you can see the page in English instead of having to see the page in a foreign language. You can also sometimes use this trick to view paid content, if you’re too cheap to pay for a subscription.

Many SEOs dismiss cloaking out-of-hand as an evil tactic, but in my mind, there is a time and a place for it (the URL simplifying variety, not the content differing variety), even if you are a pearly white hat SEO.

Stephan Spencer is founder and president of Netconcepts, a 12-year-old web agency specializing in search engine optimized ecommerce. He writes for several publications plus blogs at and Natural Search Blog. The 100% Organic column appears Thursdays at Search Engine Land.

Make Search Conversational

Search marketers should rework their content to make it more conversational according to Adam Broitman of Morpheus Media, and I think he’s on to something.

Broitman points out that much of marketing is now a conversation, but search marketers have not incorporated the concept into their keyword purchases. Consumers are getting used to hearing about companies through viral marketing, blogs and interactive ads that enable them to participate. But if you look at the ads used by search marketers, they are still one-sided pitches to “buy, buy, buy.”

Search ads should be more inviting and use language that offers information and participation. Using terms like “vote, learn, compare, or evaluate” in a search ad could boost click through and differentiate your ad.

Broitman also suggests developing RSS feeds around keywords that relevant to your brand, another good idea. It will take some effort to generate content that doesn’t come off as a fake blog, but if done right a feed could considerably raise your natural search ranking.

Posted By John Gartner at 12:36 PM

Legitimate SEO Tactics

A lot of people call me about optimizing their site to improve their standing within the major search engines (Google, Yahoo!, and MSN/Live) for a few to multiple keyword phrases.

Many callers or website visitors are shocked to learn that I ain’t cheap, and I make no apologies for that. I prefer to say I’m extremely “cost effective” when compared to radio, television, newspaper, magazine, or billboard advertising. Furthermore, I share my processes and methodologies throughout which means my clients receive valuable educational benefits that will enable them to take over their own optimization campaigns once they feel comfortable enough. I also offer basic plans which allow a client with a good web presence to maintain their rankings with a lesser investement. The truth is most of my clients don’t have the time or staff to dedicate to a successful SEO campain so that’s where I come in. I can offload some of those tasks for them and provide that peace of mind they are looking for.

With all of that said, I figured now would be a good time to share some basic tips & tricks for those that do have the time to dedicate to improving their website’s presence within the search engines. All of these are ethical and time tested. If the search engines change their algorithms, it won’t impact you too much.

1) Write content rich articles–this is a common sense approach to growing the popularity of your business online and offline. If you write something that people really want to read, they’ll generally want to learn more about the author. That’s where your byline at the bottom comes in. You should always include a link to your site in any correspondence you produce. Some of the better online article directories you can submit your articles to in order to gain exposure include:


2) Include your link everywhere–again, this is another common sense approach that applies offline as well as online. In your e-mail signature, you should have a link to your site. On your letters to potential customers or partners, you should include your web address somewhere on the letter. If you use letterhead for a majority of your letters, make sure you have your web address on there somewhere. Same with envelopes, product packaging, brochures, handouts, giveaways, fillers, company vehicles, etc. Anywhere a potential customer may see something from your company, they should also see a web address. This is another form of marketing that doesn’t cost an arm or a leg. If you’re looking for some items to brand with your website, visit for some ideas.

3) Regularly comment on blogs, message boards, and news based sites. Be sure to include a link to your site either in the message body or in the area provided for your link. If you can, use a targeted keyword phrase for the anchor text. Anchor text is the more descriptive text you see to mask the long drawn out website URL as demonstrated below:
If you are interested in SEO Pricing, you may want to visit this page: Both links point to the exact same page, but one is “optimized” for a targeted keyword (SEO Pricing) whereas one is not. When people search, they are more likely to search for “SEO Pricing” than they are for a URL. Think about it–if someone knew the URL, they’d simply type it in, but most people can’t remember a long URL whereas they can usually think of a couple of words to try to find something online. Many blogs and message boards will use your name section as the anchor text so replace your name with a targeted keyword phrase. The best blogs to post comments on have a lot of links pointing to them (often referred to as “authority”). To find a blog that might apply to your particular company, industry, or general interest, visit and do a search for a phrase that you believe applies. Search for sites with a lot of authority, and have fun participating in the conversation. Don’t forget to include that link!

One last bit of advice that may generate a lot of buzz around your site. If you post comments on blogs, news sites or social networking sites and include your link, try to find a topic that has a little bit of controversy built into it. Subjects such as religion, politics, and sports have passionate believers and huge followings that will take a side on an issue very quickly. I’m not suggesting you go in there and piss everyone off, but it wouldn’t hurt you to contribute something thought provoking or a differing point of view to further stoke the debate. Your objective is to stand out somehow so that people will take notice. The easiest way to accomplish that goal is to contribute something unique to a topic that already has people buzzing.

There you have some very basic SEO tips that are as much marketing tips as they are anything. I hope you’ll put some of them to the test and share the results.

How to Get Good SEO Clients

SEO Question: I have been submitting my articles to article directories and submitting my site to directory after directory, but I am not getting anywhere in the search results. What should I do to promote my SEO site and services?

Answer: Rankings do not matter.

The first thing you have to understand about getting good SEO clients (as in clients actually worth having) is that ranking is not the key to getting good clients. Building trust is the key. In fields which have a bad reputation (especially ones where there is high value and a lot of competition) you need to do more than just rank to sell. Here are four examples to back up this point of view.

  • Ranking for SEO Book sends me far more traffic than ranking for SEO. Most generic searches in the SEO industry are automated traffic, competitive research, and low quality leads.
  • When did not rank for SEO Book for a while during an aggressive algorithm update that filtered out sites with too much similar anchor text my ebook sales were 85% of their prior month volume. Imagine selling almost the exact same amount of an ebook about ranking in search results when you don’t even rank for your own brand name. That shows that my sales come mostly from recommendations, not search results.
  • ClientsideSEM is a new site and we have not marketed it aggressively, and the site does not rank for many keywords, yet we already get more leads than we can possibly handle.
  • I ranked in the top 10 for search engine marketing a few years ago and got very few leads from it. I didn’t start getting many leads until I wrote a popular article about the Google Florida Update. Oddly enough, my rankings were worse when I was getting those leads, but because people were reading my stuff and talking about me I got more leads than I knew what to do with.

As an SEO you don’t build enough trust just by ranking. And you don’t build trust (or rankings) by getting an unlimited supply of garbage links on the edges of the web. The key to picking up clients is to be seen where the potential clients are. Participate in the active parts of the web and be seen as an expert. Submit articles to sites like WebProNews.

Target YOUR Audience:

Pick your audience and appeal to their interests. And while not all traffic is created equal you do not have to target Digg if you are looking for clients, it is easy to bias your demand toward the target market.

If you can come up for reasons people would want to talk about you then you will get more exposure than you can handle. There is still a lot of opportunity out there. For example, you can commission a study of fortune 500 websites to see which of them are using cloaking or IP delivery, and then market the hell out of it. If you do a good job a few weeks later you are suddenly one of the experts of SEO for fortune 500 websites.

Making the Invisible Visible:

SEO is largely painted as a bad hated field and SEO services are often viewed as an invisible service. If you know how to get people to talk about your brand and SEO you should be good at getting people to talk about other topics (for your clients) as well.

If you know how to make the invisible visible you have an endless supply of affordable quality links at your disposal.

Go Offline:

And if you go to conferences and meet people in person it is far easier to build a solid trusting relationship. That is where the best potential SEO clients are, as they have capital, knowledge, and an interest in the topic. If they have enough resources to attend a conference they probably can afford to hire a good SEO too.

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