(just a quick post.)
On a meta-level, I think of “linkbait” as something interesting enough to catch people’s attention, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There are a lot of ways to do that, including putting in sweat-of-the-brow work to generate data or insights, or it can be as simple as being creative. You can also say something controversial to generate discussion (this last one gets tired if you overuse it, though). Sometimes even a little bit of work can generate a reason for people to link to you.
Example 1: Danny Sullivan actually sat down and checked the spam filtering accuracy of SpamCop, Yahoo Mail, and Gmail. And not once or twice, but three different times. Personally, counting false positives in your Spam folder would annoy me to death, but putting in that work generates insights on the differences between the competing services. Admittedly, the results will vary by individual, but as the great Fred Brooks would remark, often some data is better than no data at all. Now Danny doesn’t need any more links than he already has, but it’s producing info-laden content that makes a site or blog well-known over time.
Example 2: You can be creative. I’m happy to link to Marc Hil Macalua for a creative app that he wrote in which you can vote on head-to-head battles between SEOs. The Ning service attempts to make it easy for people to write social web apps, so this is a really easy app to create: just drop in your own photos and you’re good to go. Now did Marc do a ton of work? Well, a little bit, but not a ton. But he had that creative insight of something that would grab people’s attention and generate discussion. By the way, it looks like someone is click-spamming on DaveN’s behalf.
Example 3: Saying something controversial. You can be cheeky, like Threadwatch, or you can be incredibly earnest. I give the creator of Google Watch credit for staking out the “anti-Google” territory way before anyone else. Later, Andrew Orlowski probably realized that taking potshots at Google or blogs was a way to generate lots of discussion. By the time it trickles down to sites like FuckedGoogle or whatever, it gets to be “done”–that niche is starting to be tapped out. So how do you take a new approach?
Example 4: Back to something creative: the Google: Evil or Not? site. The site takes RSS feeds that mention Google, lets people vote between Real Good or Real Evil, and adds a graph. It took a little bit of work, but probably not a ton. How much work would it be to extend that to another subject, like graphing the mojo levels at the Yahooplex as it waxes or wanes?
Linkbaiting sounds like a bad thing, but especially if it’s interesting information or fun, it doesn’t have to have negative connotations. I hereby claim that content can be both white-hat and yet still be wonderful “bait” for links (e.g. Danny’s spam email analysis). And generating information or ideas that people talk about is a surefire way to generate links. Personally, I’d lean toward producing interesting data or having a creative idea rather than spouting really controversial ideas 100% of the time. If everything you ever say is controversial, it can be entertaining, but it’s harder to maintain credibility over the long haul.