‘Linkbait’ is the New Bullshit

I’m a country boy, and the first thing I think of when someone mentions ‘bait’ is ‘trap’. That’s exactly what linkbait has become. The lure for a trap. Sensationalist headlines crafted for the sole purpose of luring readers into a story that is either devoid of truth or a story that contains a mere hint of truth.

Headlines like this: Google Funding Al Qaeda and Hezbollah Terrorist Groups

Note the question mark at the end of that headline. That question mark serves two purposes. It forces the reader to ask, ‘hmm, are they’? And it alleviates any journalistic responsibility on the part of the author. Now the author is free to simply question the plausibility of the headline rather than present citations and factual evidence. Mind-boggling leaps of imagination are now possible.

Matt Cutts Devours Babies?

Graywolf Embroiled in Bitter Controversy With Ted Leonsis?

Cubs Win The World Series?

There’s a price to be paid for baiting your readers. While the short-term goal of obtaining more links may be met, the long-term goal of gaining your readers’ trust is damaged.

I’ve noticed that the SEJ headline has been changed. At 1:53 PM CST TechMeme still carries the orginal headline.


  1. Phantombookman

    It’s been pushed too far, I now tend to just ignore a lot of what I see on the presumption it’s just link bait.

    I can understand people who want to get noticed and have low traffic trying it, but seasoned and known sites/commentators doing it just devalues them and their standing.

    I was link baiting long before I ever heard the term. Though my idea was build pages and write things that would be of natural interest and that people would cite and refer to. That way I get good quality organic links but keep my credibility.

  2. DG

    >>I now tend to just ignore a lot of what I see

    That’s the real danger. All that bait ends up leaving a bad smell in the air.

  3. Jasonkump

    There’s bait with content that either gets you fed up or to feed you for weeks. I like this thread

  4. jim hedger

    There is truth in the story DG. I have never gone to print, or in this case, on radio, with stories that were fabricated.

    As I posted at threadwatch and at SEJ, a small part of the story is about organized crime groups (including known terrorist groups) using botnets and adsense to profit.

    I did NOT write SEJ’s headline and do not take responsibility for what other bloggers or reporters say about my work. I do take strong issue with the suggestion that a story I have developed might be, “… either devoid of truth or a story that contains a mere hint of truth.”

    Again, the facts as I have reported them are true and during our news conference, we (WebmasterRadio) purposefully did not push the terrorism angle above what I consider the real meat in the story, botnet operations.


  5. DG

    Thanks for that link, lots of interesting thought on the subject of linkbait. And I know that it’s driving more than one person a little nuts. ; )

  6. DG

    Hello Jim, my issue is with the original headline at SEJ. The headline should represent the ‘meat of the story’.

    “Google Funding Al Qaeda and Hezbollah Terrorist Groups” suggest that Google took an active role in funding terrorists and that simply isn’t so.

    Notice that I didn’t write, ‘Jim is making things up”. I commented on a headline that appears to have been crafted solely for the sensationalistic value it presented.

    There was a ‘hint of truth’ in that headline. If the headline had been, “Terrorists Use Botnets To Cash In With Adsense” we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  7. Well said indeed. You also successfully convey my own feelings.

    On the subject of the question mark, this excerpt from The Daily Show is almost obligatory:

    Daily Show Clip

  8. >> If the headline had been, “Terrorists Use Botnets To Cash In With Adsense” we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    …. and that’s the point : we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I see what you’re saying DG, but I believe it to be a self-correcting thing. Places that let themselves get carried away with sensationalist headlines for sensationalisms sakes are ultimately damaging themselves.

    You’ve noticed a trend in headlines that mislead, have commented on it, and another chip has been made in SEJ’s credibilty. If they persist, people will stop reading them.

    I’m certainly not against writing a headline to grab the attention, but I certainly prefer it if the headline bears a fairly direct relationship to the main content – getting my attention is one thing, but bear in mind that when you have it, I’m actually thinking about what you’ve written. If you consistently disappoint me (or screw up badly enough the first time even), I’m not coming back. No SpamSense jollies form me then…

  9. Edge

    Linkbait = Sensationalized Headlines

    So, what’s new here? Print, radio, Six pm news have been doing this for as long as I have been alive.

    I guess linkbait is on the eyes of the beholder – This blog maybe?

  10. DG

    What’s new is the prevalence of linkbait headlines in a medium in which people are quick to voice displeasure with bullshit. Which in part, is the reason for the title of this post.

    Bullshit is bad. But call it linkbait and it’s supposed to be okay.

  11. Well, “‘Linkbait’ is the New Bullshit” is pretty good linkbait… but I digress.

    I agree with the basic sentiment here. I’ve been getting pretty fed up too w/ all the BS. But I think to single out linkbait as the problem in itself is a mistake. “Linkbait” is just “marketing” in this day and age of information overload and saturation.

  12. DG

    >>“Linkbait” is just “marketing”

    You can tell me that a new weed whacker will make my life better, you can tell me that Tag will make women attack me, you can give away free socks to get me in the store to sell me a pair of boots, and that’s marketing.

    But if you tell me you sell steaks, and I arrive and find that all you have to sell is tofu, that is not marketing. That’s just dumb.

  13. jim hedger

    Sorry DG. I might have jumped on the statement in haste. Things have been somewhat tense in these here parts lately. Please accept my apology if you felt offended in any way.


  14. DG

    None taken, and I certainly didn’t mean to offend you, if I did, I certainly apologize. I feel that your work was slighted by the title SEJ chose to run the story with.

  15. Edd

    Hey, someone finally said it… making big … really big lies is the secret for linkbait.

  16. DG

    Yep, it’s true. The bigger the lie, the more links the lie attracts. Wonder why that tactic pisses people off? ; )

  17. I’ve been just examining your site it is very well written! Just discovered this blog thru Bing, such a way to brighten up my day! This really solved my problem, thanks!

  1. 1 What’s in a name? That which we call LINKBAIT; By any other name would read as sweet

    […] discussion that’s been going as of late. The main facets being discussed are: A. Is linkbait badly named? B. Is linkbait bad? and C. Does linkbait drive bad […]

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