Preface: Week before last I published a post titled “White hat SEO is a Joke”. The point of the post wasn’t to be accurate. The point was to be controversial. It was a test post for this post. Sorry folks, you’ve been had. While I do believe that SEOs should be experimenting with every facet of SEO, the only type of SEO I would label as ineffective would be that of the unskilled and unimaginative. The post was also meant to be ironic in that while it was talking about how content doesn’t work it was actually designed to prove the opposite. Some of you caught on and I thank you for playing along even though you knew what was up.

Special thanks to Alan Bleiweiss, Will Critchlow, Rand Fishkin & Martin Macdonald.

Alright here we go. When I was on the flight down to speak at the Distilled New Orleans Link Building Seminar I decided to scratch a book off my reading TDL. If you haven’t read “Rework” by the talented folks over at 37 signals I highly suggest you give it a look. I managed to get through the whole thing during the flight & enjoyed it immensely. One thing that really grabbed my attention in the book was the bit about “picking a fight” as a potential way to promote your company. They gave plenty of offline examples. I thought to myself “Hmm I bet this works online just as well”. Thus the concept for our little test was born.

Recently a company was blasted in the news for using poor customer service as a way to generate links. The thinking behind that tactic was people are far more likely to write reviews & create links when dealing with a negative experience rather than a positive one. I think the execution was really poor (treating your customers like crap to get a link is never ok) but the concept had a lot of truth about it. A quick browse at any of the top review sites (Yelp, Rip-off Report, Trip Advisor, Amazon – take your pick) supports this claim rather blatantly.

About a week after I released my negative post on Whitehat SEO, I wrote another post. This one was a positive lovey-dovey post on friendship. People found it far less palatable, re-tweetable, linkable and less worthy of discussion. I gave it roughly the same amount of marketing push as I gave the previous post, with the extra added benefit of a serious boost in traffic thanks to the previous post. The differences are pretty clear. People are far more engaged when you take a strong negative stance than when you take a strong positive stance.

So how effective was the negative link bait? Well let’s take a look at some pretty charts, stats and what not.

From the original link I tweeted out, we see that the post received approx 1600 clicks, from 48 countries around the globe and the link was re-tweeted an amazing 230 times (tweet stats from tweetmeme).

Additionally our analytics reported a ton of traffic from other sites that linked out to us, email traffic from people passing the post around to co-workers and friends, and a huge secondary spike of traffic when Rand posted his rebuttal. Overall the post has received around 8000 unique visits and a whooping 90+ comments.

Most importantly however… let’s talk about links. According to YSE the post to date has accumulated almost 300 links. MajesticSEO Reports similar numbers citing around 320 links from 94 unique root domains. Some of these are the result of scraper sites. Some are discussion sites or social bookmarks. Some of them are responses. Some of them are news links. We’ve got a little of everything.

Here are a few of the best sites that linked to the post:

Fun Facts:


  • I intentionally didn’t add any supporting data to my original claim. This was in the hopes of goading some data-rich counter responses. It worked.
  • I kept the opinion strong but the definitions vague. This was in the hopes that people would plug their own opinions in encouraging more discussion.
  • I touched on some hot button items (content farms) in hopes of trolling both sides of that coin for an extra boost. It worked.
  • I flat out told people in the original tweet that I was trolling however the bait was still effective!
  • That post is now ranked very highly in bing for “White Hat SEO” (Lol!)



Final Thoughts:

If you are looking for another tool for your link building toolbox I think we can definitely say picking a fight works. That said, be responsible with your positions and methods. Don’t paint yourself (or your client) into a corner that you can’t get out of. Remember to always evaluate the potential risks with any link building campaign. Don’t be afraid to tackle an issue that’s already been covered a few times. In our example here, the “hats” conversation has been beaten to death over the years but thanks to the emotion people attach to their opinions on the subject the campaign was still hugely successful. Lastly, don’t think in terms of hats, think in terms of risk vs reward, long term viability, and a well informed client. Always be testing… but not at the potential detriment of your clients.