Link bait works because it takes advantage of psychological principles that make people want to link to it. These principles are called “share triggers” and were coined by marketing professor Jonah Berger in his book “Contagious.”
Social currency – People share things that make them look good to others.
Triggers – People share things that are top of mind.
Emotion – People need to feel something to share something.
Public – People tend to imitate others’ behavior if they can see or observe it.
Practical value – People like to pass along practical, useful information.
Stories – People don’t just share information—they share stories too.
Best practices for creating link bait
Here are some best practices for creating link bait that “takes advantage” of share triggers.
Try to incorporate at least one or two into your link bait so it stands the highest chance of success.
1. Make your link bait practical
Making your content practical means creating something that the reader can use right away. Examples include tools, calculators, templates, checklists, and cheat sheets. For example, at Ahrefs, we created a whole bunch of free tools.
List of free Ahrefs tools
Each of them has a significant number of backlinks:
Table showing each free tool's page has lots of referring domains and backlinks
2. Make your link bait opinionated
Another way to make your link bait valuable is to give the reader something new to think about. This can be done by tackling a topic from a unique angle and adding something unique to the conversation.
Here’s an example: A few years ago, our chief marketing officer, Tim Soulo, published a “rant” about bad email outreach.
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It was incredibly opinionated and born entirely out of his own experience. But people loved it.
This resulted in over 2,500 backlinks from 533 websites:
Site Explorer overview of Tim's post on bad email outreach
3. Make sure your link bait evokes emotion
If you’re as old as me, you may remember the glorious days of Upworthy. During its peak, it was as if every single one of the site’s articles went viral. (Although I’ve not seen anyone share Upworthy’s content in recent years.)
Upworthy is a website dedicated to positive stories. People kept sharing its articles because each one was engineered to make people feel awe, surprise, happiness, and a general sentiment that the world was not as bad as it seemed to be.
Of course, the content worked incredibly well as link bait too:
Site Explorer overview of a positive, inspirational Upworthy article
Positivity is just one aspect. There are tons of emotions you can try appealing to, such as anger, excitement, sadness, joy, etc. See if you can incorporate them in your link bait too.