SES Interviews: SEOmoz’ Matt Inman on Linkbaiting

12 comments

Joe Whyte got a chance to interview Matt Inman (aka oatmeal) at the recent SES conference in San Jose. Matt is a chief technology office at SEOmoz and is the guy behind the SEOmoz tools. He is also well-known for coming up with very creative linkbaiting campaigns (using quizzes) for his own dating site, Mingle2. Here is the full transcript of the interview.

SMS: This is Joe Whyte with Matt, better known as Oatmeal, from SEOmoz. How’s it going, Matt?

Matt: It’s going pretty well.

SMS: Cool. So I’ve been looking at Mingle2 quite a bit recently and it’s starting to pick up some real tension – some real traffic. Something I’m a big fan of is all those quizzes that you give. So tell me a little bit about the reason why you build those quizzes, where you come up with these great ideas, and the results side.

Matt: Sure. When I started marketing the site, I was doing it the way I’ve always done it – which is, I was mostly going for digg bait, Top 10 articles, sensational piece articles, things like that. And I had some success with it. It was good for building my domain authority, getting it out of whatever age filter there was, because Mingle2 is a 2007 domain.

Unfortunately, linkbait in that regard doesn’t get you very well targeted in your text. You can get close – if you’re trying to target fishing, you could write an article called “the funniest fishing videos” or something. But it’s not the exact anchor text you want.

So I built a quiz called “how geek are you?” that I knew would appeal to bloggers and geek enthusiasts – people who have the ability to make links. And I just kind of built it as a test and it got huge. It got tens of thousands of takers and so I instantly saw an opportunity where I could essentially rank for any term I wanted with viral badges, quizzes, and things like that. So from there I started building a bunch of others.

I built one – the next one I built was how many HTML elements can you name in 5 minutes. And that one fell flat on its face because that’s really hard to do and no one can do that. So I started getting pretty creative with it. I tried to appeal to people’s vanity with “how x are you?” “how this are you?”

One of the ones that was hugely successful – and was great because I built it in about an hour and a half – was a widget called “what’s my blog rating?” You entered your blog URL and it comes back with MPAA rating such as R or PG-13. It’s really simple. All it does is it goes to your blog and it finds out how many words there are like cusswords, words like “murder” or “explosion,” words that would be indicative of an R-rated film. People can then post “my blog is rated PG-13” or “my blog is rated R.” With this thing – people took this quiz, like, tens of thousands of people. All with the anchor text all pointing right at my home page.

So, three months out of the gate I was ranking for “free online dating.” That was the target I targeted first because “online dating” – I actually didn’t think I could do that. I thought it was a little too overwhelming. So I thought, well, I’ll start with “free online dating” which is less competitive.

SMS: To be able to rank for such a keyword that’s so competitive is amazing. “Online dating” – you’d only think an authority site that’s been around for a long time could do something like that. So it’s a really interesting technique that you’ve been able to master.

Matt: Yeah. It’s cool to show people too, because I see so many SEOs complaining about “oh, my domain is not holding up” or “I’m in the sandbox” or whatever you want to call it. And I go, I have a domain that I registered six months ago that’s ranking for very, very competitive terms.

It just goes to show that Google has all these signals it uses to rank pages – age is one of them, relevance – but of all those signals there is one you can control and one you can overpower every other signal with, and that’s links – the sheer volume of links. And so after accruing 80,000 links to the site, that’s how I was able to make that.

SMS: And that was in 3 months time that you did that?

Matt: I did. I think for “free online dating” it was after three months. And then “online dating” was about a month later. In the past six weeks, my schedule has been crazy so I haven’t been able to do as much viral link bait. But I’ve started to rank for every city in America plus the word “singles” – so, “Los Angeles singles” I think I’m number two. Houston, Chicago.

SMS: So obviously you’re creating different pages to support these different keywords, right?

Matt: Yes. They’re not going to the home page. I set up specific geo-targeted pages. So basically any time a user signs up and they enter their city name, actually they get filed into a specific page for that name. So if they have a very specific town – small and in the middle of nowhere – and I search for that town and the word “singles,” typically I show up in the top 10.

SMS: Wow. Pretty amazing.

Matt: Yeah. So there’s a linkbait strategy there – a link strategy – that is also an internal site architecture strategy that allows the site to be indexed and well-received by the engines.

SMS: And it’s really important to be able to – as an SEO – to be able to constantly think outside the box because with the different filters and the different – like, for instance, Matt Cutts says, “don’t do reciprocal linking now. We’re going to start having people report page links” etc., and it’s just becoming increasingly more difficult to utilize these old-rule tactics. You know, going out and getting a bunch of forum links or doing article syndication is not as effective as what can be done these days.

Matt: Yeah. And I don’t understand. I get those reciprocal link emails all the time.

SMS: Yeah, me too and it’s horrible.

Matt: Me, I just don’t understand the strategy there. It just seems so one at a time. There’s not a lot of – it just seems a really simple …

SMS: Who’s going to respond to that? And if they do, what kind of site is that going to be anyway that’s going to respond to something like that?

Matt: Yeah. I mean, leveraging social media is definitely the way to go right now. And the important thing to remember, too, is that in a year or two, that may not even be the case. We have to continually keep being creative.

SMS: Right. So, what else do you do? After you build this quiz, how are you going to leverage it? Do you kind of just let it be or do you – what are the target sites that you go after?

Matt: Right now, the quiz page itself that has all my quizzes and gadgets and viral stuff has a huge audience of people that have already linked to it. LiveJournal is actually a huge source of traffic for me, because it gets spread across hundred of thousands of these live journals. So if I launch a quiz right now, it almost has a pre-built audience, so that’s an advantage.

Initially though, what really helps with it was – I tried marketing quizzes to digg. Unfortunately, they got buried. Digg will bury anything from Mingle2 at this point.

SMS: They have a tendency to do stuff like that, especially with corporate sites and sites that are more commercial.

Matt: They do. Yeah. So that’s why I’ve kind of toned down my digg marketing, just because it’s not as effective. It’s so night and day, unlike something like StumbleUpon where everybody loves that site. Everybody is traffic, and it’s great. It’s so unpredictable too. One day you’ll submit something to StumbleUpon. You’ll get a little trickle of traffic and then it’ll go away. And you’ll be very sad. And then a month will go by and it’ll be BOOM! And you’ll get a huge surge out of nowhere. I don’t get what makes things rise and fall, but StumbleUpon is a huge part of the traffic as well.

SMS: Cool. And to just kind of wrap it up, something that I really like that you’ve done is after you take the quizzes – you did the how much is your body worth?

Matt: The cadaver calculator.

SMS: Good advertising.

Matt: Yeah. That was awesome. That was on USA Today’s blog. That was on MSNBC.

SMS: That was amazing. I loved that thing. And then you did – what was the other one? It was on zombies?

Matt: What are your chances of surviving a zombie attack?

SMS: Yeah. The zombie attack.

Matt: Yeah. The best advice I can give someone is just to be creative with it and try it. I was thinking about myself and what am I into? What would be a quiz or a viral widget that I would want to take that would be fun?

SMS: It seemed like that when you did that, there were a lot of zombie movies coming out at the same time.

Matt: Yeah. 28 Weeks Later.

SMS: 28 Weeks Later came out. And then I’m just thinking that this guy’s really smart because he’s kind of feeding off of the buzz that’s already been created by the movie. So at the end you get this badge and the people – how successful is that campaign? How many people actually put that badge on their site?

Matt: The zombie badge?

SMS: Well, any badges that come off of the quizzes.

Matt: Usually between 4 and 6 thousand.

SMS: Wow.

Matt: It’s a hard metric to gauge because I use the site numbers and I use technorati to see what fresh ones are coming in. But typically each badge gets between 4 and 6 thousand backlinks.

SMS: And is that all in one push or does it continue to grow.

Matt: It continues to grow. And that’s what’s great about the strategy too is I’m not actively link building. Right now, as I’m sitting here talking to you, people are taking my quiz and building links for me. It’s just self-perpetuating.

SMS: Aaron Wall has quoted this term I think as self-reinforcing authority. That’s what you’ve done for yourself, and you’ve done a great job.

Matt: Thank you.

SMS: Well, thanks a lot, Matt. I really appreciate you stopping by.

About the Author

Joe Whyte has been developing, managing and implementing successful, innovative, bleeding edge digital marketing strategies for Fortune 500 companies for over 7 years.

Add Your Comments

  • (will not be published)

12 Comments

  1. Hey Joe - thanks for putting up this interview, I really appreciate it. Just one minor note: Jeff Pollard was responsible for the SEO quiz, not me.

  2. Thanks! This was great and good luck to Matt!

  3. Oops. Our mistake, Matt. All fixed. Heard you're leaving SEOmoz. Care to share your plans for the future?

  4. I want to point out that this was originally a podcast and the interview went a lot smoother then the transcriber has notated ;-) I swear!!!

  5. Don't look at me :) We just cleaned it up a little bit. I guess that background noise was an integral part of the interview after all ;)

  6. I have always regarded seomoz being one of the best seo websites to use link baiting to its full potential - nice interview!

  7. Awesome article! I had a quick question, how can you create these quizzes? Do you need programming knowledge?

  8. Karen Asher

    "SMS: And its really important to be able to " as an SEO " to be able to constantly think outside the box because with the different filters and the different " like, for instance, Matt Cutts says, dont do reciprocal linking now. Were going to start having people report page links etc., and its just becoming increasingly more difficult to utilize these old-rule tactics. You know, going out and getting a bunch of forum links or doing article syndication is not as effective as what can be done these days. " Why are you spreading misinformation??? Matt Cutts has NEVER stated not to conduct reciprocal linking. He has only stated to avoid excessive link exchange. Link exchange is alive and well on the Internet .. google wants webmasters to avoid fully automated link exchange where links are obtainined in high volume with little manual control. But they have NEVER stated "don't reciprocal link" including Cutts who knows better.

  9. Karen, You are taking Joe's comment out of context. Google is spreading misinformation. Look at what's going on in the industry. People are afraid to work on getting a lot of quality backlinks so that not to trigger any filters. Nofollow tags are employed everywhere because people are afraid to disperse their page value. A few vague comments by Matt Cutts are effectively killing link exchange, at least for those that don't know better. So don't tell me that Google has nothing to do with it. Just because you had a drink with Matt and took a photo together doesn't mean his job is not to keep you, as a marketer, guessing.

  10. I find that making tools that you on your website free for other people is a good form of link building… it involves trust but people really wanted them they could nick them anyway

  11. You are taking Joe’s comment out of context. Google is spreading misinformation.

  12. at least for those that don’t know better. So don’t tell me that Google has nothing to do with it. Just because you had a drink with Matt and took a photo together doesn’t mean his job is not to keep you, as a marketer, guessing.