Is Link-bait Ruining The Web?
Posted 06 November 2006 - 03:39 PM
Before the web, when you needed information on a general topic, what did you do? I looked it up in an encyclopedia. I read about it in an archaic volume of paper that was printed when my grandparents filled their diapers several times daily (or whatever they had back then). Sure, newspapers might have more current information, but what they printed was likely to be skewed, incomplete and out of perspective (when compared to a more global overview).
When I want information, I want information that is complete. Information that has been worked on - not once, but over and over again. I want information that has value which was not built in a day, not in a week, but built over a long time, by lots of experts. (Hey, that almost sounds like the Wikipedia )
I know a lot of that is still happening on the web -- people building more and more value over time, but I see a large trend towards the opposite: "knowledge burps".
"Time is money." This is (I assume) especially true for those really smart people out there. They want to get their knowledge out there, put it online, but don't want to spend much time on it. They "burp" it out in one quick session, write an article in the evening and publish it perhaps after proofreading (or even before). Bloggers come to mind, but the same goes for lots of other sites that live off of the quantity (not quality!) of information.
Is that valuable information? Is that content so valuable that you want to refer to it after 2-3 years? after 20-30 years?
Now add the "web 2.0" approach to the picture: the information is written and put online for pure sensationalism. "Link-bait."
At first glance, the content seems informational, educational, or perhaps it's just entertaining. However, that's usually not the case: the content was only created to cause a temporary stir, a short sensation, a short-term mass of links, a short-term rise in popularity; perhaps in the hope of building a medium- or long-term reputation.
I don't think it works that way, however. A "bubble-gum" content - nice, juicy, makes big bubbles: but stale after an hour. Boring. Lots of stale bubble-gum is just that: stale bubble gum. Lots of short term sensationalism / link-bait is the same: fresh for the moment, stale before your coffee gets cold. The only reputation that is built up is for providing stale bubble-gum. Looking at a website like that, you see a few fresh pieces, but 99% is old, out of date, out of fashion. Do you really want to be caught keeping old link-bait online?
When you search for something, do you want to find an old piece of link-bait? a stale piece of bubble-gum, an obsolete knowledge-burp? Or do you prefer to find something that has grown, that has sustained multiple revisions, that has been built into a complete collection of real knowledge; something that you know is being maintained and updated as new elements are discovered and proven?
I loved Rand's "Search engine ranking factors" and the "Beginners Guide to SEO". I linked a lot to them, I sent people from all over to read them. I fell for link-bait. They're out of date, not maintained. Not linkworthy any more. In another year, they'll just be embarrassing. (Sorry, Rand )
To me, the new articles and blog posts on the "master-baiter" sites are even worse. You can recognize the hard link-bait work by just reading the titles: top ten lists.. the best ... the worst ... guide to this, guide to that, etc ... To me, by posting things like that they're signaling that the content was not built to last - it was made for a quick link, for a short digg-buzz, for a short and high flight with a quiet crash into obscurity. It's a sign that I - personally - don't need to read them, they're stale in a minute. I know they must have worked hard on them: mostly in regard to viral marketing and linkability. What if they had spent the same time on the content itself? What if ... gasp! ... they spent the same time to maintain existing content, to keep it up to date and to move it to a higher level of quality?
Personally, I prefer quality over quantity. I prefer knowledge over sensationalism. I prefer websites that can keep my interest for hours and hours, day after day - not for a few minutes. I sure hope the search engines don't fall for it: when I want information, I don't want to hear about yesterday's burp.
What do you think, am I missing the point? Is it better to live for the moment than to plan for the future? Can link-bait build long-term value?
Posted 06 November 2006 - 04:05 PM
I just read over Rand's beginners guide last week - what changed? LOL
The internet is about choice. You can choose the sensationalistic latest "better than" widget or article that feeds our fast-food-it's-all-about-ma-NOW-DAMNIT! culture or you can play safe.
Like you mentioned, there's always wikipedia. But things don't have to change that much.
Or you can even look past the hype and realize that a lot of link-bait is slow moving. Quality content that stands the test of time also picks up links.
Linkbait didn't break the internet (yet).
Posted 06 November 2006 - 04:56 PM
I too think that creating content just to get traffic and quick viral links is something not so valuable. Though I may be guilty of spitting out a post a day for three months with basic tips on site optimization on my blog, I do it not for the quick links, but for a reference. I am just tired saying same things over and over again at forums.
Though such quick slap up content is better than machine generated content, it doesn't provide the long-term value you'd expect from something that will be stored in the digital format forever (unless deleted).
Lately, I am more inclined to create more thorough articles, like the recent post on creating and promoting charity websites. Though such content may get a traffic bump (it didn't), it is a worthy piece of content that people landing at in several years will find worthy.
On a related topic, there was a stir on Social Media Optimization (SMO). Some considered it as a perfect reason to create link bait content and spam social bookmarking sites with anything, instead of providing value to the people. I have ranted about it on my blog.
As for the content quality, remember the 80/20 rule. Most of the people will be writing low and average content. Be content with it, as it could be worse. The 0.01-10% will write stellar, informative content, built to last decades. It is just a nature of things.
Does the low quality content ruin the Web? It certainly makes it not 100% a pleasant experience, but it is better than machine generated content. I'd suspect that the average quality of content rises, when people realize the power of quality content and the search engine(s) don't show junk in their SERPs.
Btw, Eric Ward (the man on link building) has cussed at link bait before, too.
P.S. Now that I have checked the Ron's link, I can't agree more with Theodore Sturgeon
Edited by A.N.Onym, 06 November 2006 - 05:01 PM.
Posted 06 November 2006 - 05:08 PM
I enjoyed your rant. I really agree with some of the points you are making.
Unfortunately, 'gaming' the search engines has made the Internet a commercial venue, where profit is what drives most of the ventures going today. Macy's Department Store will spend x-millions of dollars to sell the public a pair of 'cool' jeans that are so poorly made, they will have fallen apart by next year. Macy's motivation is not to benefit mankind..it's to make money, and though one does frequently see SEOs claim that their aim is to build a web of better content, the skeptic in me makes me question whether they would continue to be committed to this if their clients weren't paying them. Some might, but probably not all....
Additionally, there is the funny phenomenon of Google, in particular, giving more value to older content (because it's old, and likely because it has gained more links in that time). This can mean that Olympic Games events results from 1998 outrank the ones from 2006, just because they are older. Obviously, one needs to be specific in searches for things like this where one can apply a date, but where a date is non-specific, you can get old news when you need something current. In changing fields like the various areas of technology, this can be a real pain in the neck.
I would like to see some more examples of outdated buzz pieces, if you've got the time. I was a bit puzzled by your reference to Rand's SEO guide. To my mind, that is still one of the best overviews of SEO, and would still be quite sufficient to introduce a newcomer to the basic concepts of SEO. I read it about a year ago, I believe, and can't think of anything out-of-date about it. However, I will add that we wrote a guide like this on our site, softening up the techie language for folks who are put off by too many uses of the word 'algorithm' and I have gone back and changed sections of it several times over the past year because I felt they didn't explain things well enough. So, I guess, like you, I want Internet sources to be kept up-to-date.
I think what you have noticed is a very interesting phenomenon that may be specific to the world the Internet has created. One does not want an updated version of War & Peace. You know that it will always be the same and you reach for it because it is a classic. Perhaps old Internet documents need to be viewed as we would view old newspaper articles...in other words, they are bits of the past. But the issue of Google ranking them well makes it confusing, as does something else I've been thinking about for a couple of years now...the rampant lack of dates on Internet documents! Blogs help a bit with this, but individual web pages seldom contain dates, and that's a real problem when it comes to sorting through the massive body of data humans have created over the last decade via the web.
Edited by SEOigloo, 06 November 2006 - 05:09 PM.
Posted 06 November 2006 - 07:01 PM
I agree with DCrx, "Sturgeon was an optimist" -- at least with regards to the internet.
What bothers me most about link-bait is that it is often proclaimed as something "good" -- "read this, it's cool / good / funny", while it's actually just a hard piece of marketing. Thinking back at the "what is spam" thread, you could even sometimes classify it as webspam. Think about it: link-bait tries to get people to visit a website and even more: it tries to get them to link to it. It's a webspam-worm.
Looking long-term, the links to the link-bait are going to be devaluated (mostly blog / news links, I assume); the long-term link-value is bound to be very small. That means that the website doing the link-baiting is going to end up with stale content that is not even pulling in link-value. The only solution - if you're on the link-bait-train - is to constantly publish new pieces of link-bait... which is hard to do while keeping a straight face .
Perhaps Rand's beginners guide was not the best example, but to me it seemed like an "encyclopedia" of knowledge at the time. An amazing work, covering many angles. However, it hasn't been updated since February (perhaps even then only to fix typos? I don't know). You can sell me a bridge, but don't try to tell me nothing has happened since then . I'd have to dig through it to check things which have changed, but from the looks of it (looking back now), it was planned as a one-time article and not something which would be updated and built on over time. It could be one of the authoritive sources of SEO know-how, but instead it's a dated, static article, possibly even written as link-bait from the start (I don't know, sorry if I am stepping on anyones toes) -- it sure got me to link a lot .
I don't want to pick on Rand, but he's just very good at link-baiting and very busy at it (he's also very good in lots of other things). It's just that many people are picking it up because they think they can build "value" through link-baiting. IMHO that's not so.
In a limited way, it's the same for blog posts: the posting might be great, but the content does not gain on value over time because it was meant as a one-time posting. Even if an update-post is added months later, the original content is still... stale (assuming the update is elsewhere in the blog).
I get caught in the same trap as well: I'll put something online as a quick reaction to something else and grab a lot of links in a short time. Cool. But you know which links I treasure most? Those that come a year or more after I originally put the content online and those that come in response to updates in my original content.
99% of the web seems to be filled with "Zeitgeist" - here today, stale tomorrow. Creating long-term value might not be as sexy as the "top 10 reasons to dump digg", but isn't it something that would make sense to work on? (Why do I suddenly feel like a hippy - darn, I'm just too un-commercial )
Edited by softplus, 06 November 2006 - 07:02 PM.
Posted 06 November 2006 - 07:10 PM
However, I do agree that, mostly, a link bait piece won't be able to get the links in several months after it has been published. Then again, if it is a great piece of content, such as the Beginners Guide to SEO, it is of better value and no doubt is still generating some linking. But, I suspect, there aren't many new links, as compared to the month it was published.
Then again, it is a nature of SEO that it is constantly changing and what used to be the edge a year ago is todays textbook SEO.
That's where true valuable content differs from link bait, and I'll agree it's worth working on it, is that great valuable information is linked to over time a lot and has timeless information.
I suspect that another difference is this: a link bait gets most links quickly and random links afterwards, while real content gains any amount of links at the start and more and more links afterwards, as people recognize the value of the piece.
Of course, one can write about techniques that can be used forever, but sometimes the edgy stuff is just timed, no way to avoid it.
And yes, I sometimes too think that promoting real long-term, customer-oriented techniques is a charitable exercise, but it is an illusion. It will be obvious some time past the real long-term work involved.
People just forget that to get, they need to give. "You reap what you sow".
Edited by A.N.Onym, 06 November 2006 - 07:15 PM.
Posted 07 November 2006 - 12:00 AM
When I started writing about patents from the search engines for my blog, it was something that I was doing anyway - going through those patents, and trying to translate them into more manageable and understandable English, to get at some of the concepts and ideas behind them, and to get a sense of what the search engines might be doing in the future.
It made sense to write about those in the blog, because it was narrowly focused, and might generate some ideas and input from others who were also interested in looking at those documents. Links are fine and good, but when I recently wrote about a presentation that someone gave on behalf of Creative Commons at Google, and the presenter posts some comments on my blog adding to what I've written, I find myself a lot more excited about his voice joining the conversation than any links that might have been pointed at that post.
I find myself going back to a couple of posts that are more valuable to visitors when they are updated, like one I did on Google acquisitions last December. I have a series of posts on Yahoo acquisitions that I haven't updated like that, and feel that I should.
I've been thinking about the nature of blogs, and how they differ from some of the sites that I work on that are more static, and provide information that changes, but doesn't show the changes, or have timestamps connected to them.
Is the web a compilation of the world's knowledge, or a data stream that changes over time? I think it possesses elements of both. There are documents that gain value because they don't change, or at least don't change much, such as the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence. There are others that gain their value because they do change, such as newspapers, and blogs.
I probably wouldn't go back to too many of the blog posts I've made in the past, and change them, even if the material becomes dated, but I might write something new about the subject matter and link back to the old post, and even provide a link to the new post from the old one. I sort of see the blog as a journal of a journey, and I think that many others see their blogs that way.
Linkbait? There are a lot of blog posts that are written mainly to attract links from others. But, hopefully the ones that do gain the most attention are ones that start conversations, and get people talking and thinking. That's not always going to happen. But, I think that the web has as much value as a medium of communication of ideas as it does a repository of knowledge.
Sure, Ron has a great point. But not every word that comes from people at every hour of every day is Shakespeare. And there are people who aspire to writing They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano But When I Started to Play! instead of Hamlet.
Posted 07 November 2006 - 12:38 AM
The real problem is the quantity of people writing articles with the sole intent of trying to garner a few links: poorly researched articles with controversial titles, etc. These types of things tend to just clutter up the web...
(As if the web weren't already cluttered enough!)
One thing that I feel is important in creating good link-bait is not just to create something which gives an impression of value: "Top 10 tips to cleaning your inner ear" or "10 Best Nose hair trimmers of 1986" but to create a meaningful contribution to a topic. If you create a truly valuable resource (like Bill's SEObytheSea, for example), then links will come.
If you publish a bunch of articles just trying to garner links, you will probably succeed: but you'll mostly get links from people who are themselves not very discerning. Essentially, creating the next generation of linkfarms: crappy linkbait linked to by people who link to just about anything.
Really, it's the same principle that applies to almost any marketing strategy: create a desirable resource and sell it. If it really IS desirable, it'll sell. If you've actually created crap, it probably won't.
There are always exceptions, of course...
Posted 07 November 2006 - 12:43 AM
The whole difference between link baiting and quality content is that your aim is to get links, not to provide value, acquire friends, start conversations, etc naturally. Of course, some of the link baits may be geared to them, but it doesn't make them any much less artificial.
For instance, I won't be against someone creating only quality 3-5 page articles/posts in order to provide value to his readers. But I should object to this very person to do this just to get links. There's no charm in going to the lake with TNT to fish, really (even, if we forget about manipulating peoples' emotions to get links for a second)
P.S. Joe, I think you just said the same we've been saying in slightly a different manner.
No value - link bait.
Valuable resource - quality content.
Edited by A.N.Onym, 07 November 2006 - 12:46 AM.
Posted 07 November 2006 - 12:50 AM
Does anyone feel that way now? At worst, people now see it as morally wrong, not a disease.
Maybe the problem isn't that 90% is crud, but that the 10% is now harder to verify, as the 10% may have been right, but is not anymore.
As bad as wikis are, they at least offer the chance that they can and will be improved. An "article", even an encyclopedia article, ages and becomes false very fast.
And I don;t just mean in social issues, like homosexuality. Articles like how many planets there are, or even things like genetics (Epigenetics anyone?).
Perhaps the issue isn't link bait, but our inherent short term, quarterlyneeds and desires?
Posted 07 November 2006 - 06:13 AM
As I've been reading through this thread I think there are some amazing points but my confusion level has increased. Maybe there is a catagory of linkbait that is offensive?
Reguardless the internet is a measure of our focus as a society at the moment. In this moment there are many straw and stick houses. Cre8asiteforums encourages and attracts brick-layers. Our standards of excellence are much higher than the average web designer/developer/professional. For most of the folks here to link to something it does have to be of extraordinary value - and the funny thing is, these are some of the most generous people on the net.
...and they want to link out.
And I don't think linkbait is new. I read a post somewhere recently claiming it's just the word for "buzz".
Posted 07 November 2006 - 06:16 AM
The early application of PageRank rewarded sheer volume of interest. Hopefully as TrustRank comes into play the visibility of these link-bait created 'train-wrecks' will diminish relative to other places that are creating a justifiable 'buzz'.
Posted 07 November 2006 - 06:26 AM
Then again, the approach is different: to get links or to provide value.
However, I agree that some kind of link bait, with semi-useful content, may be useful for some. But in general, in the long run, quality content will provide more value to the readers and the authors.
Posted 07 November 2006 - 07:00 AM
What I consider link-bait are things which were written from the ground up especially to attract links -- where the desire for sensationalism determined the content which was created.
I guess it's a bit like marketing in general: if done really well, the people being marketed to won't realize that someone is marketing to them. The same goes for link-bait: If done really well, the users will not notice that the content was created purely to attract links. The problem is that most "link-bait" is not that kind and simply a cry for attention: "look at this great article! Top 10 fingers to dig in your nose with!"
I know, I know -- the average mass of people wants to link out to funny and useless stuff on the web. They want to be entertained with a short-lived "burp" and want to click the ads when they see something "kewl" to click on. Link-bait works for them just fine.
But in the long run, is it just "filler" that would be best deleted after a few months? What justification does most of the link-bait have to remain available after it is stale? Is there a reason to be able to find old link-bait through the search engines?
Posted 07 November 2006 - 09:53 AM
Posted 07 November 2006 - 10:18 AM
Edited by sebastienbillard, 07 November 2006 - 10:19 AM.
Posted 07 November 2006 - 12:25 PM
There is stuff that is badly written though, sensationalist headlines, with inaccurate, poorly thought through content, designed as link bait. And yeah, that's annoying.
Some of Jakob Neilsens Alert Boxes would come under that category. For a long time he's gone out of his way to write articles that are ripe for dispute, and he's gained many many links from the discussions people have had about them.
But that's a case of good content Vs bad content, not about link bait in general.
I think the tactic is perfectly reasonable, and something I'd encourage. But from the point of view of worthwhile content, that people are actually interested in.
One of our magazine recently posted some descriptions, images and video of the PS3 they got to play with. People loved it, perfect link bait, Sony asked them to take the video down shortly afterwards, but that didn't slow the hits and links much.
Good content people were interested in, and it worked, they are now a lot better known in their market, a few days later someone gave them a Wikipedia page, and after posting more (sanctioned) video's on YouTube, have a load of people subscribed waiting for more.
It was pure link bait really, it was good, and it worked.
I certainly prefer it as a way to gain links than annoying link exchange requests.
I don't go much on the problem of stuff going 'stale'. Anything you link to is going to be 'stale', link bait or not. Link to it because you think it's interesting and worthy of linking to. If people were worried about linking to information that was going to be stale, bloggers would never get any links.
With most stuff on the internet, as soon as it's posted, it's out of date....
Posted 07 November 2006 - 03:45 PM
#1 - The Beginner's Guide needs updating, but I still think it's pretty valuable. If I had the time, I'd probably make it something that is updated every 6 months. That said, I'm really hoping this isn't true
#2 - Linkbait is a marketing tool, and while it can be thought of as great content, it balances between that and attracting attention quickly. Maybe a "come for the linkbait, stay for the great content" approach is what I'd argue for.
Not linkworthy any more. In another year, they'll just be embarrassing
#3 - Linkbait gets a bad rap because it's somehow perceived as more "selfish" or "self-serving" than more staid, old-school forms of content. I think that's bogus, not because linkbait isn't self-serving, but because the mixture of the natural tendency for greed and the Internet's opportunity to showcase content makes for a great combination. To me, it's fantastic that there are all these people making great, interesting (even if it's short-term) content with the goal of attracting eyeballs and links - I'm happy to reward that behavior and think it should be rewarded. Plus, the idea that older, reference-style content isn't self-serving is naive at best.
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