How to Build Links with Viral Marketing and Link Bait

Posted in Case Studies By Sam Applegate

viral marketing - link building - link baiting

I'd just like to thank my mum, my dad, all my friends, God...? No, but seriously. Wow.

After just 3 days of launching my How to Rank #1 on Google parody on YouTube, it's been viewed 16,016 times and has been shared on major SEO websites like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Roundtable and WebProNews (Apologies if I missed anyone, leave a comment and I'll give you a mention!).

I honestly never thought the video would prove so popular. There's been great feedback across Twitter, Google+ and YouYube, and I'm really happy people are enjoying the parody. There is however, one person I'm still waiting to hear from. So if you're watching, please do get in touch (just don't slap me too hard, it was a joke, ok?).

So, What Happened?!

Well. As you can see, I've got an SEO blog here. I only just launched it 2 weeks ago! Anyway, I had been brainstorming ways to build awareness for my blog, in the form of building links, getting twitter followers, G+ contacts, Facebook friends... etc. As I mentioned in my post, I had seen a mash up video of Lord Sugar which sparked the inspiration to create the parody, but more on that later.

12th May - Upload to YouTube

Prior to uploading the video, I had spent a solid 3 days (maybe a bit longer on the research side of things) editing the video together. I really wasn't sure how it was going to be received, and I'd kind of become blind to the humour after spending so long working on the same 3 minutes of content. I showed it to a couple of friends, who loved it and finally got around to uploading the video before heading out for something to eat on Saturday night. I sent Matt a quick Tweet, expecting to be ignored :-).

Matt Cutts Twitter reply to video parody

When I got in around 1am UK time (yeh, the meal somehow turned into a few beers), I was shocked to see Matt had actually acknowledged my Tweet and replied. This was it! I thought. Job done. I've been mentioned on Twitter, by an authority figure in my niche. 3 days well spent.

13th/14th May - Gaining Some Attention

Getting up on Sunday morning feeling a bit groggy (factor 4/10 on the hangover scale), I checked to see the progress of my baby. To my delight, Harith had enjoyed the video and was the first person to repost the link (@me).

Harith Twitter reply to video parody

I also noticed the video getting posted on a couple of SEO forums including Wicked Fire. I was so excited, more and more people were loving the video!

15th May - Going Viral

The breakthrough day was yesterday, first Gareth Hoyle, then Barry Schwartz saw the video. I guess Barry (being the great marketer he is) saw some potential in the parody, and was the first to write a post on it here. This really got the ball rolling and before I knew it, my email notifications were pinging faster than a one legged man in an ass kicking contest.

Considering I only just bought the domain name on 19th April and launched the blog on 1st May, this is the affect the video has had on my traffic:

Viral marketing campaign affect on traffic

Now, 400 hits in a single day might not seem like a lot for some people, but I'm so happy about this!

How Did it Go Viral?

Viral marketing, link baiting or whatever you want to call it, is a great way to get yourself on the map (as you can see). But how can you make viral marketing work for your company? There are plenty of strategies and techniques which people talk about, but I'm going to share my own thoughts on the subject based on my (very limited) experience.

Good Link-Worthy Content

I learnt a lot from staring at those Matt Cutts Videos for 3 full days, huh? ;-) It's probably the biggest cliche in SEO history, but content is king! As this is the most important part of the whole viral marketing process, you should spend the most time on it. Many businesses like to see tangible results, fast. They perhaps don't fully understand the search world, and want x links by y o'clock. Forget this. Sit down and brainstorm. Think hard about what you can create which is original, funny and relevant to your niche. Imagine something which people will want to share with their friends and colleagues. You might be banging your head on a brick wall for days (I was), but it's all worth it when you have that great idea.

It's hard, because clients want to see you doing something, creativity and brainstorming might look like time wasting to them, but it's not! Try to get them onboard, and if it takes 2 weeks of research, let it be so, because if your link bait sucks, nobody is going to want to share it and the whole viral marketing campaign is flawed from the start.

Tip - Go look on YouTube at the most viewed videos of all time. It's humour, animals and children. People love laughing and making others laugh. People like watching cute animals (do funny things), plus animals can't be staged or faked. Children are similar to animals (let me finish), in that what they do is innocent and genuine.

Go take a look on Digg for the most dugg content. It's usually interesting, factual and topical.

Pinterest is fast becoming THE place to find viral marketing ideas. Infographics are great (although perhaps slightly old now?) to share.

Above all, when searching for inspiration and coming up with ideas, the bottom line you should be asking yourself is - Would I share this with MY friends and colleagues?.

Your Niche

Ok, I think this is usually overlooked. But some niches are more suited to viral marketing than others. i.e, I can't think of a better market than the online SEO crowd to release some great content to. They are all obviously Internet savvy, up to date with the latest social media sites. They actively look for content to share, tweet and like. It almost feels like cheating a bit, going viral in the SEO niche. One example of this is the number of YouTube likes. At the time of writing this, the parody video has had 16,016 views, 289 likes (thanks guys), and 16 dislikes (booo!). This means that 1.9% of viewers are rating the video. Believe me, that is a lot. Compare this to a video I did for another blog (ok, time to embarrass myself here) which is NOT in the SEO niche.

It has 8181 views to date, with 21 likes and 19 dislikes (ok, my dancing is terrible). That means just 0.5% of viewers are rating the video.

This is irrelevant of how good or bad the video is, it's just the fact that different markets have different enthusiasm when it comes to sharing, liking (disliking) and tweeting.

So, if you're unfortunate enough to be in one of those boring (old fashioned) niches (like plumbing or life insurance) then what can you do in terms of viral marketing? Well, you're certainly going to have to work a little harder. You can do one of two things - target a slightly off-topic (more marketable) niche, or link to porn sites, use a 77% keyword density, and integrate Adsense on your website.

Ok, so just for this example, let's roll with the first option. You're a plumber and nobody in your niche knows how to share stuff, they're all too busy doing plumbing-stuff. There is nothing funny about plumbing. Wrong! One idea is to look for celebrities (with loads of twitter followers), which have had a plumbing disaster. Try and create some funny content based around them, if you can get a mention, the viral ball may start rolling. So remember, if your niche is unsuitable, target a slightly different one for your viral marketing campaign (celebrities).

Timing and Luck

It's no coincidence that SMX London started on 15th May. A huge Search Marketing Expo with plenty of my niche crowd attending. I figured if they are all in one place, perhaps there's even more chance my parody video would go viral. People love to break the ice at these events with mundane discussions on SEO trends. Go on, talk about the video! :-)

Sure, I needed some luck too. But I'm a firm believer that you can make your own luck (I play professional poker, and know it's not gambling, rather choosing when to gamble when the odds are in your favour). By getting (most importantly) the content right for the market, you give yourself a good chance of going viral.

Click Through Rate

Another important factor with anything viral, is getting clicks to your content. Especially on Twitter you can obviously only give a snippet of the content. Increasing Twitter click-through-rates (CTR) is a massive topic in itself. But basically, you need to write a compelling, interesting title to make people want to click. I decided that "How to Rank #1 on Google - By Matt Cutts" was about as compelling and intriguing as you could get in the Search Marketing niche. So yeh, think about the title of your content very carefully as it can make the difference.


Oh, this post is getting quite long now. I just wanted to give a brief overview of viral marketing strategies and link baiting, but feel I've waffled on a bit too much.

Hope you found this interesting, and thanks again for everybody who shared the parody video! I'm sure Matt Cutts will love it. On a serious note, I've actually had quite a few people contact me, saying that they never even knew about the Google webmaster help videos. So all publicity is good publicity I guess! (please don't slap me, please don't slap me).

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Sam Applegate

About the Author

is a UK based SEO consultant. He is also a keen blogger, poker player, world traveller and fitness enthusiast. Read more on his about page.

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