Create Linkbait like you are Channeling Elmore Leonard, adding Hookers and Xbox along the way

This week one of my favourite writers, Elmore Leonard died.

His work makes for a great read. His stories flowed like an electric eel going down the Alton Towers log flume. Along with James Ellroy and other American writers he really helped me nail my writing and ultimately my linkbait.

What these guys do is reach down deep into the brain and bring it to the open and do it with wit and intelligence.

I wrote a story back in 2008, some of you will remember it, some of you may not have heard about it.

It got a lot of attention.


Some people did not like what I did and even went to the extreme of saying I should go to prison for it.
Matt Cutts even made me the subject of a Keynote talk about such marketing tactics.
All for few hundred words of pure fiction.

What I learned from that time is the power of the written (OK typed, but written sounds better) word and how it can be used to get people to react.

I don’t know if it was the biggest linkbait ever, it got 10K links and mentions in every mainstream media I can think of. But it’s certainly one that people don’t forget.

One of the puritanical nutters who at the time were saying that such work is the spawn of Satan just reminded me of it.

The story is quite simple.I had a short story knocking around my head that I had not used when I was in my creative writing, poverty induced period. I had a client that wanted some linkbait so I wrote it as spoof news and posted it. With zero indication that it wasn’t actual news, it was blatant and beautiful hoax.

As the piece was written in a ” too good to be true, this is nuts mode”, I expected people to quickly figure out it was not proper news and just a bit of fun. This did not happen, you see the article what designed to engage with the primal brain, it was littered with psychological hooks that would keep people reading and keep people thinking long after.

And it worked.

Back in the day, getting a front page digg was all you needed to do to launch a bit of linkbait, nowadays it’s a bit more fractured, but still doable.

A mainstream journalist picked it up and of course did not check the story, rewrote it and put it in their newspaper. With of course no accreditation to where it came from.

And then it kind of went mental.

It was picked up by as many people as I could even think of and I had people contacting me from places like Greece, saying they heard it on the radio.

The results were huge.

And then, just as that was dying down, Matt Cutts hinted that Google was not going to allow websites to benefit from stories that are not true. And of course things went mental again, with a good write up about this from Lisa Barone.

Which was bigger news than the original story.

The debate over if this kind of marketing was ethical or not raged for weeks, with a number of people foaming at the mouth doing their “burn the witch” routine.

Planting an untrue story in the media is, I agree unethical. But when it’s crafted as a funny story that hurts no one, does not sell a product and includes Texan’s of restricted growth trying to get laid, Hookers and pizza delivery, less so. It’s completely missing the point to start thinking along the ethical/unethical argument.

What is far more interesting is how the human brain craves a good story and how newspapers create not-exactly-true stories. And Google loves this, it gives these newspapers huge authority, to the point where SEO agencies have to buy links in the online version of the newspaper, planting a story that promotes their client.

Here is Fox news doing a piece on the story.

And Simon Mayo did a bit on Radio 1

I don’t talk about this stuff publicly anymore, not because I am ashamed and think it unethical, I am extremely proud of the work, and as for it being unethical, well that’s just silly.

I don’t talk about this because it’s a technique that most cannot do well. Some can and a lot of people have contacted me privately to tell me of how they created a completely faked story that got traction in the news media.

Something like this is extremely sophisticated and hard to pull off, although it happens more than you realise it and yes, I have done a few of these since.

Now I mostly consult with companies how to utilise content marketing for their websites and create content that gets publicity. You note I did not say links, because its people you need to target, not links. The links come after you attract the people, not the other way round.

I do sometimes talk about this marketing event on as I am able to teach the technique in a more detailed way. A number of people I have coached have gone on to create thousands of links using it.

In conclusion, if you are going to create linkbait. You may as well write it about a 13 year old boy coming back from a World of Warcraft tournament who wants to score chicks and play Xbox.

And if you want to know more about this, Google it, go read all about it, good and bad and then join to learn how to implement such techniques into your content.

5 thoughts on “Create Linkbait like you are Channeling Elmore Leonard, adding Hookers and Xbox along the way”

  1. I admit that you got me at the time! I remember the head slapping at being hooked more clearly than I do the fuss that went on after though. My recollection of that was more that it was being stirred up by mainstream media embarrassed at being caught being too lazy to fact-check (again).

  2. I hope you saw the funny side of being hooked. I love a good hoax and it’s a good reminder to people out there that they should not take everything at face value.

    Although the main point was to get a few links, it’s important to spread a bit of laughter along the way.

    The mainstream media are still like this and so are online media, I made the mistake recently of thinking a guy was associated with a killer campaign when he wasn’t, but it was my fault for skimming.

  3. I read Lisa Barone’s article and couldn’t help but laugh at Google’s thoughts about it. Not that I would side with you. I mean, this isn’t a war, right? But I like your cleverness, and I hope others can cultivate that too, but in a way that’s appropriate. 🙂

    Good to know about your ways. Just read about you and your work today. This has been shared on the IM social networking site,, Lyndon.

  4. I agree it’s not a war and stuff like this needs to be discussed. However people say one thing in public and do another thing in private. I know of a few people who say they wouldn’t do stuff like this and then go on to do something completely unethical.

    It’s also useful to point out that this technique is unavailable to most people as they do not have the skill to implement it. It’s very easy to say you wont do it when you can’t it’s a lot different when the opportunity is placed before you and you have to decide. We only have to look at the dodgy stuff that Google gets up to to understand the temptation of ability.

    But then I don’t rate the campaign as unethical in the same way that I don’t think eating a grape from a supermarket makes you a criminal. I think it needs to be placed in the context of what actually goes on in marketing, and if you do that you can easily see that this rates as the fluff off a gnats bum.

    There are hypocrites in most industries and this one has more than it’s fair share. But I am not one of them.

  5. Wow, this is amazing!

    I think people just have to chill out sometimes, and do more to go after the real bad guys.
    And if anyone is to blame for this, it should have been the journalist who first took the story to the mainstream media.
    I mean, let’s face it! No one takes the internet so seriously. At least not yet!

    Now, being a trained journalist myself, I can understand why a fabricated story could be a big deal (but this is quite different than what the ethics of journalism is trying to protect). And still, journalists fabricate Hard News lies every now and then, all over the world.

    Anyway, I guess everyone who has a Ralph Hardy as a cousin would have called his parents to be sure, so defamation is out of it.

    But most importantly, if people were “misled”, the question is, to where???
    Think about it! Today, we have musicians who deliberately get into some kind of trouble, so they can get some jail time and therefore some street cred. What about that? That’s much more serious, because they have kids who look up to them, and yet they’re lying about being villains.

    Yet no one cares about that!

    (except me ofcourse) 😉

    So is it completely out-of-this world for 13 yr old boys to play video games with hookers? I don’t think so!
    Or to steal their parents credit cards? I doubt it!

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