Last week, Stephan Spencer talked about The Social Media Underground  over at Search Engine Land. While the broad brush strokes of the article were across social media, the technique of link baiting however was very much at the center. Of course there are endless ways to paint on the link bait canvas, but in many cases, there will be an element of social media involved, which may also mean time and/or money.
Link bait can be a powerful tool, especially when used in conjunction with a powerful social media network. Like many things however, it generally comes at a cost. Even if there aren’t any direct costs, such as engaging writers or paying for services directly, there will at least be direct time if you or your company creates the link bait yourself, and potentially in-kind costs, such as helping to return the favor or similar for someone else within your social media network.
So at the very minimum, without direct financial costs, the time carries some level of cost…be it $60 per hour, $600, or whatever monetary value you place on your time. With that in mind, it is critically important to at least attempt to estimate the costs involved and measure the impact achieved to arrive at some kind of estimation on the return of the link bait campaign.
Like any kind of off-site effort, it is important to realize that hard and fast numbers may be a measurement luxury. But something is most likely better than nothing, and choosing not to monitor and measure is akin to tossing money out the window while driving down the highway as fast as you can…exhilaration with potentially little or nothing to show for it.
Before engaging in a link bait campaign, it is important to understand the goal or goals of the campaign. Fortunately, goals and measurement often go together, so figuring out one puts you well on the path to figuring out the other.
While the specifics may vary, such as whether the link bait exists on the site or is linked to from where the link bait is launched, some variation of monitoring and metrics can be adapted. Here are three common goals and metrics you may want to consider:
- Traffic – such as direct traffic from people clicking links leading directly to the site, which might be measured based on traffic referrals, or indirect traffic based on brand or topic awareness that leads people to come directly to the site or via searches related to the topic, which might be monitored for increased direct traffic or related search referral traffic.
- Rankings – may be related to the link bait piece itself, an on-site destination based on anchor text signals within the link bait, or combination of both, which might be monitored based on rankings movement over time for the keyword phrases and/or the destination URLs.
- Links – building out the site’s link profile, which is especially important when the link bait resides on the site, and in many ways, probably relates back to traffic or rankings, which might be measured based on tracking overall or specific changes in the link profile.
These aren’t the only goals or metrics, but they are probably the simplest to begin measuring, and probably quite similar in theory to what you already measure. It’s important to understand that the monitoring and measuring of these metrics will need to happen over a period of time. While big bang social media driven link bait campaigns are often positioned to hit critical velocity in an extremely short period of time, even then, the most meaningful impact may well come after the initial spike.
This is of course why a clear set of goals at the outset, a plan for monitoring and measurement, and an ongoing measurement and analysis process is so critical to define. Without it, valuable resources of time, money and focus could be expended for weeks, and most likely months, before understanding the true value and cost.
Out of the gate, you may not have specific numbers to hit, aside from comparing to other tactics, but over time, you’ll begin to better understand what works and what doesn’t, which venues and efforts pay for themselves and which leave you with an empty feeling in your stomach…and possibly wallet.