Linkbait content: How to create content that naturally attracts backlinks

Everyone knows backlinks are important. 

Being mentioned in other publications, aka getting a constant flux of high quality backlinks, helps you build trust, gain awareness, and eventually improve your SEO performance.

Despite this well-known fact, many bloggers and content marketers see “building an editorial calendar” and “building backlinks” as two activities that have little to do with one another. They either don’t think about earning backlinks at all (“that’s the SEO department’s problem”) or they think about it after they published an article (“ok, now let’s see how we can get some links to this piece”).

Both strategies often fail and, as a result, many articles get zero mentions. Just look at how many articles related to content marketing were published over the last year and got 1 or fewer referring domains:

Content Marketing articles with less than 1 referring domains

This often happens because the content wasn’t purposefully designed for earning backlinks. It wasn’t linkbait content.

That’s why every content marketer should have linkable-assets, also known as link bait content, in their editorial calendar.

What is linkbait content?

Linkbait content or “Linkable content” is a piece of content that’s created with the intention of attracting mentions and backlinks from other blogs and news articles.

Types of linkbait content

These are just a few types of content that, designed well, tend to attract more backlinks naturally:

  • Original research
  • Charts & infographics
  • Ultimate guides
  • Thought leadership
  • Curated lists
  • Free tools
  • Ego-baiting content

Qualities of linkbait content

Back in the day (that’s like 10 years ago) creating link baiting content was the easiest and surest way to get backlinks: There was less competition and information wasn’t as accessible as it is today. So even though it required a bit of work up front, getting backlinks and press mentions was pretty much a breeze.

That’s not the case anymore. In fact, it’s tough to get mentions even when you have a well researched, well-designed piece.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to make sure your content is top notch and has the right qualities to get featured by other publications. From my experience, a successful linkbait content has to be:

  • relevant: you have to create that content with your audience in mind. Ask yourself who would link to it and why? How will your content help your audience (journalists, bloggers) reach their goals?
  • credible: HubSpot is an authoritative marketing source, but no one would cite the company if we’d publish a medical study. So make sure you pick a topic where you have expertise.  
  • backed by data (original research): your data will be supporting a point of view, and that’s the clearest path to getting a mention.
  • engaging: there has to be an element of surprise in your story, something that gets the attention of the reader.
  • beautifully designed: A beautifully presented research, with relevant, clean charts, will help the reader follow the story. There’s no data to prove this, from what I know, but beautiful charts just do better from my experience.
  • visible: people have to know about it. So the content has to be SEO optimized and your team needs to invest in promotion: outreach, social shares, paid promo.

The process of crafting great linkbait content assets

Before we dive into a few of my favorite strategies to crafting linkable content, I want to talk about the process for a second.

Recently, I’ve been reading Seth Godin’s new book, called The Practice, which talks about the importance of the process when you deliver creative work. He says that instead of relying on a moment of inspiration, create a process and stick to it. .

He puts it very nicely when he says “Creativity is a choice, it’s not a bolt of lightning from somewhere else”.

This applies very well to creating linkable content. In order to succeed, you need a step-by-step repeatable process that you follow even when you don’t feel “inspired”.

Here are the 4 steps of the process:

  • Planning
  • Research
  • Creation
  • Outreach/Promotion

Each one is equally important and could be an article on its own.

For this article, I’ll focus on the Research step, which’s the heart of creating a unique, linkable piece of content.

That’s all about the theory behind successful linkable content. Now let’s look at some simple, yet effective strategies to find linkable content ideas.

Analyze your competitors’ backlinks profile

What is it: As the name suggests, this strategy focuses on analyzing your competitors’ best work and, most of all, understanding what worked for them and why. You can then take these learnings and: a) create a better piece (Skyscraper style) on a similar topic, b) create a more up to date, relevant one, c) update your outreach targets to reach a large audience and so much more.  

How it works: You can use many tools to “spy” on your competitors. I personally prefer Ahrefs’ Top Content tool. This shows which of my competitor’s pages do well in terms of referring domains and social shares. Then, I can dig into each page and see which type of content performs best, who links to it and why.  

Example: Canva is a great example to analyze for this strategy.  If you’re using Ahrefs as well, drop in their domain and click on the Top Content tool.

Just by looking at the report above, it’s easy to spot that the pages that earn the most backlinks are fee tools designed for jobs to be done: infographic maker, logo maker, poster maker, book cover maker, and so on. 

Depending on what website you analyze, what you’ll probably get is a long list of pages, with various topics and goals. You’ll see product pages, as well as articles. The data at this point is quite messy.

So what you want to do to make more sense of it is to export the data, eliminate irrelevant pages (like shop pages or product pages) and sort the relevant content by format (type), link bait potential, and difficulty to create it (costs, time, etc.).

Look for popular “statistics” opportunities

What is it: This strategy is very useful if you’re looking to create original research or data-driven thought leadership pieces. It involves doing keyword research and looking for highly searched topics or looking for the studies most cited by news websites. 

How it works: You can use an SEO tool like Ahrefs for this or simply search operators in Google. If you’re using Ahrefs, go to the Keywords Explorer tab and simply type in a generic keyword related to research. You can try:

  • “statistics”
  • “research”
  • “stats”
  • “2021 data”
Keyword ideas for "statistics"

Ahrefs will show you a lot of keyword ideas that are related to “statistics” and you can dig into a segment of that, say related to “social”.

That’s how you learn that “social media statistics” gets 6400 searches/month or that “social media addiction statistics” gets about 500 searches/month.

Keyword research for "statistics"

Another way in which you can find ideas for a linkbait research would be to look for what publications cite the most. There’s a lot of demand from big publications even for data-driven stories. You just need to learn what they’re looking for now.

To find out what journalists link to, simply pick a publication and look for expressions like “a study by” or “recent study”.

Example: [topic] “a study by”

This Google search shows the recent studies cited by FastCompany about the topic of remote work.

Create ultimate lists

What is it: This strategy is all about creating curated lists of the “best” products, services, tools, ideas etc. that your target audience is interested in. Lists like “best CRM” or “best cheap espresso machine” are fairly easy to create and get a decent amount of organic backlinks, especially if they rank well for the target keyword.

How it works: These lists work because people are bombarded with options and they want help in choosing the best one for them.

In fact, the word “best” has increased in popularity, leaving legacy keywords like “cheap” well behind.

Google Best vs Cheap

They need peer-reviewed, relevant information to be able to decide what’s the best option for them.

To find ideas for popular “best” queries, I usually go back to Ahrefs Keyword Explorer.

Example: Start with a query you know it’s popular like “best management books”. Then see what other suggestions Ahrefs gives you that are related to this query. 

Again, you can use Ahrefs or similar tools to look for “best” or “alternatives” lists in your competitor’s blog.

See what worked best for them and how you can create even better lists.

I personally love ultimate lists. I think they are a great way to not only gain more backlinks but also promote your products and get more organic traffic.

I write extensively about how we use this tactic at HubSpot through the Surround Sound program.

Some of my favorite examples of link bait content

It’s time to reimagine where and how work will get done by PwC

Link to campaign | Results: 1,100 referring domains | 2,300 backlinks

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Business by HubSpot

Total sales emails sent and response rate

Link to campaign | Results: 75 referring domains | 155 backlinks

Wedding Stats by a card company

Wedding Stats by a card company

Link to campaign | Results: 120 referring domains | 350 backlinks

Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics by HubSpot

The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics for 2020 (Source:

Link to campaign | Results: 12,700 referring domains | 43,100 backlinks

Tools to help you create and promote your linkbait content

  • Ahrefs
  • Google Survey
  • Venngage
  • Canva
  • Respona


Creating linkbait content isn’t easy but it sure pays off. If this article motivated you to give linkbait a try, keep in mind to:

  • Include linkable-content assets in your editorial calendar
  • Prioritize topics that can be tied to your lead generation or product pages
  • Historically optimize great content to keep it up to date
  • Don’t be afraid to jump early on new trends/breaking news
  • Involve internal experts – SEO, CRO, outreach – to help you build and promote your linkable content

Good luck and thanks for reading this far.

It would be great if you could share your thoughts about this article. Your feedback matters a lot to me.

Want more playbooks like this?

Every now and then, I send a note with my latest posts, interesting projects I’ve been working on or simply stumbled upon that I think you’ll find useful and entertaining. 

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