SEO Linkbait v. Online WoM Campaign: The Difference is Positioning?

When is Linkbait, Word-of-Mouth?

Recently my co-worker, Kevin Reyes, and I had discussions on the differences between SEO Linkbaiting and Online Word-of-Mouth Campaigns. Credit goes to Kevin Reyes for bringing this up as a blog post.

So what is the difference between SEO Linkbait and an Online WoM Campaign? True, they are not mutually exclusive to each other. But, how do we explain the differences that define WoM and Linkbait to a client?

Let’s start with definition and examples with SEOMoz’s “Web 2.0 Awards” versus  Microsoft’s Clearification campaign.

  • Linkbait: SEOMoz’s Web 2.0 Awards

Definition of Link Bait
Online activities, usually placed on a single website, used to “bait” its viewers to generate buzz and links from other websites. The main goal is generate a large number of links to the website to increase organic rankings.

Example: SEOMoz’s Web 2.0 Awards
Starting last year, SEOMoz has conducted a best of web 2.0 awards, judging a dozens (100s?) of web 2.0 sites in various categories from web 2.0 bookmarks to games.

SEOMoz’s “Web 2.0 Awards” has helped propel SEOMoz to the top #5 ranking for “Web 2.0” in Google. It has over 1,300 links to it at

  • Online Word of Mouth: Microsoft’s

Definition of Online Word of Mouth
Activities used to generate personal online recommendations and/or referrals regarding a company’s brand, products and/or services.

Example: Micorsoft’s Clearficiation
Leading up to the launch of Microsoft Vista, Microsoft’s ad agency, McCann Erickson, along with Mekanism worked with the comedian Demetri Martin to create Clearification, a website that offers a series of webisodes featuring Demetri Martin.

Clearification is interesting in that there is no direct pitch or branding of Microsoft on the website and it entirely focused on Demetri Martin’s hipster (for the lack of a better term) sense of humor. News of Clearification filtered through blogs

So what’s the difference between Web 2.0 Awards and

  • Difference on the Strategic Level:
    Linkbait’s main goal is to use buzz to generate links to a website that one wants to rank well, where as, online Word of Mouth is more about generally generating online buzz about the company and its products and/or services. Linkbait finds success when it lands on Digg’s frontpage, but word-of-mouth needs more than that. 

    Sure both strategies, done properly, generate links. But there is an important difference of degree: linkbaiting can be as simple as offering a free tool, informative article etc whereas “Word of Mouth campaign” usually implies a far larger production, involving mini-sites, savvy creative…the works.

  • Difference on the Tactical Level:
    Website Location:
    Microsoft’s Clearification is located on, not So any links generated due to buzz will mostly point to Clearification, not Microsoft.   

    Does this mean if Clearification could be linkbait if it was hosted at, not

    Relevancy of the Link Building:
    Propelled by links to its “Web 2.0 Awards” webpage, SEOMoz’s “Web 2.0 Awards” campaign has helped search engines associate “Web 2.0” with Indeed, the term “Web 2.0” places SEOMoz in the #5 in Google. What benefit would Microsoft be if showed up as #5 for a search for Clearification?

    Microsoft is happy with any buzz and links to Clearification. They are probably more interested in traffic numbers than what ranks how well for what.

All in all, the differences seem subtle, especially at the strategic level. At the strategic level there is a large difference in perception (right or wrong) on what it takes to get a word-of-mouth campaign going versus linkbaiting. Additionally, these strategic differences are more visibly shapened when followed through on to the tactical level.

However, this is not to say that Linkbaiting and Word-of-Mouth campaign are mutually exclusive. Indeed, a properly executed and well-positioned WoM campaign can easily fulfill the requirements of a linkbait campaign.



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