My 10 Favourite Viral/Linkbait Content of All Time

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Linkbaiting is the process of creating  content designed to attract loads of natural links from all around the web.

Most linkbait ideas are simple.  The good ones were not even intended to be linkbait as you’ll see from this list.

The reason they become linkbait is because they’re sharable,

To learn more about what makes content go viral, read “Social Transmission, Emotion, and the Virality of Online Content” by Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman of the Wharton Business School

The research, carried out in 2010 involved studying every article in The New York Times over a 3-month period – a total of 7000 articles.

In a nutshell, Berger and Milkman’s finding about viral content were as follows:

  • Positive content is more viral than negative content (but it is a lot more complex than just this).
  • The key to social sharing is the level of arousal of the viewer/reader – the more highly aroused they are (positively or negatively), the more active they are in sharing content; even content that is unrelated to the cause of their mood.
  • Positive content that inspires surprise, amusement and awe is shared more.
  • Negative content that inspires anger and anxiety is shared more.
  • Content that inspires low emotional arousal (sadness) is less viral.
  • People share content in the hope that it will raise their social standing, generate reciprocity (i.e. to get something tangible or not in return) and simply to help others.

Without further ado,  my list of the top 10 linkbaits…

1- Zillow House Price Estimator Tool
Zillo.com created a tool that allows you to “Zestimate”, an approximation of your home’s market value. It appears in a little pop-up superimposed on a photographic map of your neighborhood. According to a CNN article about the tool “The number might make you smile; it could make you angry”.  Either way, you will link to it!

Result: over 800 links including the one from CNN.com!

2- Top 10 watched videos on YouTube

A simple list of the top 10 most watched videos on YouTube.  Simple huh? Well as I said before, most linkbait ideas are, you just need to be the first to think them up!

Result: Over 1999 links from 416 root domains.

3- The Guardian Chalkboard

The idea behind this linkbait is simple.   The Guardian newspaper created a football widget designed to allow users to “analyse player performance the way top managers do for free”.  In a nutshell, it allows you to create your own chalk boards and send them to your mates or post online.

Result: Over 7,600 links from 274 domains

4- Keyword Discovery Tool

Keyword discovery is one of the premiere keyword research tools in the SEM industry.  The owners of the product decided to offer a free version of the tool for anyone to use and as a result, managed to garner thousands of highly relevant links back to their site as a result of this.

Result: Over 7,400 links from 1,579 domains.

5- Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Not sure if this was intended as a linkbait technique but it is a classic example of a website (great one btw) that specialises in a niche (SEO) and has written many best practice documents including this one that other websites want to link to.
Result: Over 9,000 links from 1,095 domains.

6- Lonelygirl15
This piece of linkbait is probably what brought on the phrase “Hoax marketing”. lonelygirl15 was an interactive web-based video series on YouTube which began in June 2006, and ended on August 1, 2008. The show focused on the life of a fictional teenage girl named Bree with the YouTube username “lonelygirl15″, the show did not reveal its fictitious nature and people linked to it because they thought it was real. Read more about this linkbait phenomena

Result: Over 9,600 links from 363 domains.

7- One Red Paper Clip

The owner of this site traded his way up from “one red paperclip” all the way to a house.  While the linkbait idea is genius, not sure many could replicate it!

Result: Approximately 25,000 links.

8- The Million Dollar Page

The owner of this website not only created a linkbait masterpiece but also managed to make a million dollars along the way.  The idea was simple (most linkbaits are).  Create a page with one million pixels and sell each pixel to advertisers for $1.  Genius!

Result: Over 36,700 links from 93,64 domains.

9) Elf Yourself (by OfficeMax)

Office max created a gadget that lets you, well, “Elf yourself”.  Very simple idea but it was a smashhit!  Every Christmas season, you can log onto the site and using a very simple tool, upload a picture of yourself that is superimposed over an animation of a dancing elf!  Fantastic!

Result: Over 26,600 links from 6,658 domains.

10) Adobe Acrobat Reader

And, my favourite one of all, and one that inspired generations of SEO to be creative with link building, the Adobe Acrobat Reader.  Now this was not intended to be as a linkbait technique but I’ve placed it in this list because I needed to make a point.  The Adobe website is one of the most linked to sites on the web because they’ve created a product that requires a link back from any site that installs their product telling users to install Adobe flash if they do not have it.  Unfortunately for them, they’ve used the words “click here” in the anchor text hence why the Adobe site ranks #1 for the keywords “click here”

Result: Over 415,000 links from 21,028 domains (6.8 .edu and 69.8k .gov)

Now over to you…

The above linkbait examples are the ones that inspired me.  I’m sure there are many other ones out there that deserve praise and more will be created in the future, hopefully yours will be one of them!  If you know of any other great linkbait ideas please share…

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Omar is MD & Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.

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  1. My 10 Favourite Viral/Linkbait Content of All Time - Sandstorm Digital | Content Strategy: Inbound Marketing & SEO | Scoop.it - October 2, 2012

    [...] Linkbaiting is the process of creating  content designed to attract loads of natural links from all around the web.   Most linkbait ideas are simple.  The good ones were not even intended to be linkbait as you’ll see from this list.   The reason they become linkbait is because they’re sharable,  [...]

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