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Made-For-Linkbait Sites: The New Scourge of the Blogosphere and Social Media?

Made-For-Linkbait Sites: The New Scourge of the Blogosphere and Social Media?

AhmedF recently wrote at techsoapbox about a new annoyance we’ve been seeing around the blogosphere today. Made-for-Linkbait blogs and sites–or MFL he calls it. Well, linkbaiting is not actually new, but it seems to be getting worse. People are already noticing how increasingly easy it is to take advantage of bloggers’ tendency to link to stuff they find interesting or useful.

I’ve covered shortcomings of user-generated content sites like Digg before. I’ve pointed out how people quickly jump on a bandwagon without checking facts. It seems one of the first things to go with user-generated content is fact-checking.

And so we have sites that spring up overnight with some sensational headline, grab a ton of links, and then a few months later either have ads thrown all over them or are redirected to another site for SEO-benefits (after gaining a few hundred diverse links).

Linkbaiting is one of the oldest tricks in the book, as SEOs would say. But the problem is getting big today because social bookmarkers and social news sites are being gamed for linklove’s sake. Take DIGG, for example. I’ve been noticing blogs that mostly publish made-for-DIGG headlines and articles.

Yes, there is a formula for increasing the likelihood of getting DUGG frontpage. This includes writing about top ten (or five, or 20) lists, tech rumors, and the like. Articles should also be matched with very catchy headlines and very timely submission to DIGG. Add the power of the DIGG army (and a prayer not to get buried because of gaming) and you’ve got yourself a front page DIGG.

I should know. I tried doing that a while back, quite successfully if I may say. My technique? I wrote about Apple stuff. And I didn’t exactly write baseless material. A good number of my posts were pretty useful, I think. But the fact that the articles were about Apple touched on the passions of the Apple-loving crowd, who probably thought the articles were news- or share-worthy. So they DUGG away, resulting to a ton of traffic and linkage in the process.

However, I wouldn’t say that everything on the DIGG homepage is borne from linkbait articles or blog posts. I still believe, to some extent, in the democratic aspect of DIGG. True, it can be easily gamed (something I’ve also tried to experiment with one time or another). And there’s the mob mentality. But ultimately, a good majority of content there is found to be useful by the DIGG crowd one way or another. Arguably, this is not a representative sample of the general Internet-using population (as most DIGGers are from the geek crowd), but still they fulfill one purpose of DIGG, which is to determine what’s important to the crowd that uses it.

Also, not all articles with catchy headlines are linkbait. And not all popularly linked-to articles are borne from linkbait. There are the truly useful articles that people get to publish. Some bloggers are even natural at getting linked to–these are usually the A-listers who have large followings. It gets to be question of circularity. Are you linked to because you’re popular? Or are you popular because a lot of people link to you?

So what is linkbait? What is not? This is probably more difficult to define than the made-for-adsense sites that everybody loves to hate. I would tend to agree with how The Sheriff at Jack of All Blogs sees it.

There’s nothing wrong with publishing something really useful and having people link to your work. You’re doing a service to the community, after all. But if all you’re doing is some sensationalizing, with having a lot of people linking to you as the primary intention and motivation, then hold up, dude. There’s something wrong with your reasoning. And this is one of the pitfalls of social media, and a drawback of social bookmarking and social news sites.

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If you’re writing material with the intention of sharing information, helping out other people, and you get a ton of links in the process, then good for you. But if your primary motivation is the linklove, then somehow your intentions are questionable.

Then again, it’s still difficult to know what is linkbait and what is not. But if you’re looking at blogs, you’ll probably see a pattern. If all that a blog publishes is sensationalized or baseless material, usually banking on the current popular topics, then that’s linkbait. More so if it’s mostly rumor-mongering, and if it capitalizes on human passions and emotions (love for Apple, hatred for Windows, or even organizational/political affiliations!).

Made-for-AdSense blogs and sites that pollute search engine reults pages are the problem of Google, Yahoo!, MSN, et al. Linkbait, though, is a problem bloggers have to face. It’s best to do research, check facts and think critically.

Just make sure you think twice before you link! For all you know, you might have bit the bait, and you’re in for it hook line and sinker.

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