Much of the content we consume on a daily basis is text-based. As an SEO specialist, you're likely accustomed to associating link bait with the written word -- if you come up with a spectacular article, chances are that you'll earn a few backlinks to those posts.
The post includes two sections: the media element itself and the code for the visitor to embed the media on their own page. The key is that the code to embed the media includes one or more backlinks back to the site in question.
With such direct control over the link text being used, it's easy to see how a site has a chance to manipulate their rankings with even a modestly successful viral campaign.
Grey Hat or Not?
Interestingly, this is not a new premise, nor is the question of how this may make Google raise an eyebrow. In 2008 Matthew Inman, formally of SEOMoz, began creating widgets for his online dating site JustSayHi.com. After taking a short quiz, visitors were encouraged to copy code and place badges on their sites. As you can imagine, embedded within that code were backlinks.
Eventually those backlinks started pointing to off-topic and spammy sites, and Google took notice, dropping them from the SERPs completely.
Now, however -- two years later -- the site has been rebranded as Mingle2.com, and is doing just fine with a Pagerank of 5. More to the point, the same team started a second site at OnePlusYou.com, complete with a new set of widgets, and they're also doing just fine with a Pagerank of 5.
How Important is Relevancy?
In the explanation of his side of the story Matthew mentions conversations with Google about the importance of keeping the links and widgets relevant to the site being linked to. If I run a site that sells monkey chow, that widget had better be about monkey chow, and any links back to my site should be monkey chow related.
That no longer seems to be the requirement.
Now my monkey chow site can create a widget about anything, as long as the links back to my site are still monkey chow related. Here are three sites with great Pagerank offering media for you to repost that has nothing to do with the topic of the site:
As long as you don't link to other domains, and make sure you use relevant keywords in the backlinks, the current rules seem to indicate that Google doesn't have a problem with this technique -- regardless of the topic of the media you use.
How to Implement it Yourself
You've heard enough of the moral ambiguity, you'd like to try it yourself. The biggest step is actually creating the media element you want to spread. Actually applying the embedding code is not difficult.
Coming up with the concept should be your biggest priority. Ideally it will have enough interesting content or humor that people will actively want to spread it. In a perfect world the topic of the media will conform to your site topic, as that will increase the likelihood of the backlinks you receive being relevant to your topic.
Humor topics seem to have more popularity -- and will therefore have greater potential to go viral -- but there's nothing wrong with a list of "Did you know?" style facts, with pictures to associate with it.
Creativity for the Uncreative
If you do not have the ability to create an image or video, consider hiring a creative person to produce your idea. There are several options, depending on they type of media you're interested in creating. For animation or an infographic type of video, I recommend posting the job offer at Toon Boom. Toon Boom is animation software, ideally suited for short animated videos.
You can also post a job requirement at AnimationForum.net.
For a static image, consider hiring a freelancer from a site like Guru.com. I recommend searching on the keyword "cartoon", as those will be the freelancers with the ability to create original artwork for your idea.
Applying the Embed Code
The key to implementing the embedding code is to develop the HTML you want your visitors to be pasting on your behalf, and then run that code through a free HTML encode utility. Here's an example of the embedding code without the encoded HTML.
Here's the HTML that we want our visitors to copy/paste:
So after we push that code through the HTML encoding filter and place it in the input field, we have the following:
That all reads like nonsense, but your web developer shouldn't have a problem implementing the concept.
Wrapping it Up
It's unclear if Google will continue to turn a blind eye to this approach to backlink building, or if they're disregarding it just for the time being. It's clear that many well-ranking and respected sites are using this idea though, and that should be good enough for most of us.
There are many creative ways to implement this premise, and the sites that come up with the most unique ideas will likely be the ones to profit from it the most.
To read the full story about Matthew Inman story and his widget adventures with JustSayHi.com, head here.