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The Linkbait Godfather: My Interview With Lyndon Antcliff

Published: September 6, 2012

Author: Todd Mintz

Today, we take for granted the convergence between online social media and mainstream media. It wasn’t always this way. A parody piece that Lyndon authored went mega-viral, shattering the wall that generally separated the two forms of media and laying the groundwork for future conjoined efforts such as the Bacon Explosion and any of Matt Inman’s recent undertakings.
As you will see from Lyndon’s answers to my questions, his insights into linkbait remain razor-sharp. The importance and influence of Lyndon’s contributions to the genre in which he participates cannot be underestimated.

1) Please give me your background and tell me what you do for a living.
My background is in creative writing, and I have been involved in website development since 1998.
Using the knowledge I had gained from building several profitable websites, I set up Cornwallseo.com in 2007, offering content creation and consulting services and using my skills as a writer to help websites get links.
I realised there was a huge interest in learning how to develop high-quality content that gets links and social signals, and in 2008 I opened linbkaitcoaching.com, which offers a complete coaching program helping members to become elite linkbaiters – and great content marketers and social networkers.
Quite a few of the top SEO and online marketing agency folks (people who regularly present at conferences) have been members. I love helping people create great content, and it’s always fun to see what people come up with.

I wrote 20 Business Lessons Learned from Monty Python specifically as a linkbait piece. It made the front page of Digg (back when it mattered) and was hugely successful. Can you explain why this article worked so well?

a)      Great headline.
If you do not have a great headline, it mostly doesn’t matter how great your content is. Most people won’t even get to the content if they’re not hooked by the headline.
There is a point of contact where people learn of the content; this is usually via Twitter, Facebook, email, etc. – or in this case, Digg.com, which sadly is not what it once was.
The headline here gives the relevant information in the fewest words possible. It’s to the point with no fluff. It contains the important elements of the attractive content.
It promises to give the reader a benefit, to increase knowledge through 20 business lessons, which are in some way related to Monty Python. I say in some way because the reader does not yet know the content, only the headline, and this simple headline will trigger powerful thoughts in a certain audience. Those who have experienced and loved Monty Python will instantly be curious about the mixing of business and Monty Python. The two aspects of the headline conflate and create something in the brain that must be resolved.
This headline will not only get attention from interested parties but also will prepare the reader to experience the content. In other words, the headline has put the reader in a receptive state of mind. Most marketers talk about a pre-sell; in a way, the headline should presell the content.
b)      Content that delivers.
The context of the content is that it delivers what the headline promises. Even though it is using a lot of found content the readers could have easily collected themselves, the content is presented in a specific context, which is that of business help.
The humour in the videos creates a mood that is positive and makes the reader happy, and because it is using a business angle, it can help the readers feel like they are doing something worthwhile. As the website is about helping find business products, the reader will feel it perfectly acceptable to have a seemingly silly piece of content. After all, this is the Internet and people expect and desire something different.
It’s very important that the content that is on a website is contextually correct in the eyes of the reader or user. If it jars or seems too out of place, it will not create a reasoned argument in the mind of the reader to link, and the link or social signal is the goal.
However, there is something called the incongruous juxtaposition of the seemingly unrelated. By this I mean that putting two or more things together that shouldn’t normally be, can create an attractive proposition for the reader, as is the case here.
The structure of the piece is also excellent; it scans easily, and as a Monty Python fan I can quickly find my favourite bits. Not everyone will read the whole thing. Once they “get it,” it may be enough for them to assess that they like the content enough to link or like.
c) Space to enjoy.
The purpose of content like this is to allow the reader to enjoy the central theme of the piece and not get hammered by marketing signals.
Too many times, I have seen great linkbait swallowed up by aggressive branding. People are there for the fun stuff, not to buy stuff or even learn about the business. Of course linkbait can do this, but it should not be the initial aim.
I like that this content has the space to do its job and that the branding signals of the website are muted and in the background. This makes me feel more positive towards the brand, and if interested in the product, I am much more likely to explore the rest of the site.
d)      Useful, fun content.
The content gives people exactly what they want. It doesn’t give them what the business owner of the website thinks they should like. It is actually quite useful in that it could give bloggers something to talk about with their own users. It’s a useful conversation starter, not too controversial but presented in a different way nonetheless.
There are quite a number of other points we could talk about with regards to this piece, but let’s move on.
3) It seems like linkbaiters are chasing social media virality more than traditional links right now.  Can you discuss this trend and whether this ultimately best serves the needs of the content creator?
It’s always useful to step back and ask, “Why am I doing this, and what is the purpose?” The reason we want links is that Google will rank the site higher for its keywords so that people searching for the keywords will find the site and become customers.
However, more and more buyers of products and services are using other methods to get the stuff they need, and Google is giving less space on their results page to organic results. Twitter, for example, can create an online viral storm that sucks in news media, helping with PR and branding, which can result in increased sales.
Linkbaiters are chasing social media because they can and it’s where the money is – not all the money, of course; SEO and ranking in Google still represents a fantastic ROI if done correctly. But if you think about the skill set that good linkbaiters have, it’s something that can easily be used for getting positive results from social media.
All a linkbaiter does is:
–          Attract
–          Engage
–          Cause a reaction (in most cases a link)
And so the linkbaiter simply needs to go where people are and deploy their skills. Users of social media are actually very easy to attract, but they’re difficult to engage and even harder to get a reaction from, and so it’s not so much an easier space in which to operate. Unfortunately, linking possibilities through people coming from social media are not as good as most people hope, as people are more likely to retweet or post on Facebook the content than link to it from a blog.
This is why the content must be aimed at the kind of people who do have a website and who do like to link. There is still benefit from a retweet, but I would argue that the preferred reaction be a link from a leading blog or website.
4)          How can an otherwise good writer learn to conceptualize and actualize linkbait?
As with any writing, it’s important that the writer be aware of the reader’s needs and desires. It helps if the creator of the linbkait is aware of something called “cultural capital,” which is the knowledge that people share a specific culture and rank items in that culture in a similar way. Fans of Monty Python, for example, share a certain cultural capital, and you can define the group as having similar interests in other things. This is important to acknowledge if you want to create content that attracts, engages, and causes reaction.
For example, if I wrote the 20 Business Lessons of the Clangers, most non-British and younger people would not share that wide cultural capital that Python has and so would be a narrower audience.
The creative process is a process that can be broken down into steps.
Not everyone who uses the steps will be aware that it is a process and may think it’s simply the act of having a good imagination. Everyone has the capability of coming up with great linkbait ideas; it’s simply a case of doing the following:
–          Understand your goal
–          Be aware of the brand that the content is representing
–          Define the target audience
–          Deconstruct content that the target audience likes to link to and isolate specific elements
–          Glue elements together under a theme attractive to the target audience
–          Produce the content to the same standard as previously successful linkbait in the niche, following best practices
–          Show as many people as possible, but specifically those that may link
This step-by-step process is something anyone can do, and parts of it may already have been done. (Who would have thought knowing that learning which Monty Python videos would work as business lessons would one day be useful?)
Learning what works is not the same as knowing why it works. I know a lot of linkbaiters do not know why what they do works; they just know it does.
But spending a little time in deconstructing the process and focusing efforts on what really works can be very useful.
In essence, it actually becomes very sensible to consume some very stupid content. If we had more time we could go into the naked, zombie, kittens-on-crack aspect of linkbait, but I’m afraid that would have to be for another time.
5)          How important is reaching social influencers now in the linkbait process?
This is interesting. First, we need to define what an “influencer” is, as a lot of people seem to think it’s simply someone with a large Twitter following or other social media system. I wouldn’t think that reaching “social influencers” is as important as reaching “market leaders” or “thought leaders.” If we are referring to “social influencers” as those who can squirt their social following onto a target, then I think it’s less important than people think, because most of those who are players in the social media space tend to be those who generate a lot of signals for their followers. And so the signal gets diluted.
However, if a “social influencer” is a respected voice in your industry (someone like Danny Sullivan is in the SEO industry) who happens to have a sizable social presence, then reaching such “social influencers” is highly important. If, however, you are someone who has 200K+ Twitter followers who like the pictures of cats you share, not so much.
Someone with an avid social media following can be very useful in seeding a high-quality piece of linkbait. But it will only help to increase the number of people it may potentially attract; it doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed a captive audience.
Sometimes you see a social media player putting out what seems to be a paid promotion and because it does not resonate with the audience/following of the social media player, it falls flat.
6)      Pinterest is the latest trend for linkbait.  Can you discuss how someone might successfully facilitate Pinterest linkbait?
Having run linkbaitcoaching.com for over four years, I am able to see that trends come and go and that the return on investment of the latest trend can be worse that the untrendy stuff. What happens is that people are looking for the quick and easy fix; they don’t realise that to get anything to work takes a lot of effort, and so when the volume of noise created by the new thing on the block reaches a certain point, you get a stampeding crowed effect.
Not that new stuff like Pinterest does not work for linkbait; it can if used correctly. But it doesn’t work any better than techniques and systems that are not being talked about. Pinterest works very well for certain niches, and for a while you could make a lot of money using an Amazon affiliate trick, but as for most things you only really benefit when you learn how to dominate these systems. Most people are too lazy to put the effort into learning the detail and nuance.
I wouldn’t target Pinterest for the aim of getting links; rather, I would use it to build a brand and for PR. You would get more from the marketing budget if this was the goal. You can also use it to build a following. And of course you can use it for something we haven’t touched on yet: building a social network. The social network should be seen as the best method of getting links.
You can use Pinterest to effectively build your social network by introducing yourself and making connections with people who can give you links. Lots of bloggers use Pinterest; by repinning their pins and making useful comments, you can create a network of bloggers who could link to your linkbait when shown it. It’s obviously a lot more complex than this and really needs to be thought of in the wider context of your online marketing strategy.
What I would like to finish on, and it’s something I focus on a lot in Linkbait Coaching, is that effective linkbait is about people. It’s about publishing content to people who are going to link to that content. A lot of people can be too focused on the content, but any linkbait must first start with the people it is intended for.
Todd Mintz, Sr. Account Manager

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