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Behind LinkBait: Word Play and Creative Semantic Constructions in Hot Titles


I for one am too tired of “linkbaiting” titles (ala “XX lists”, rants or how-tos). In an effort to find examples of some creative titles I’ve been browsing hot Digg posts and the most viral celebrity blog I am aware of – Perez Hilton – to spot some linguistic and semantic tactics behind linkbait:

1. Abbreviations – using popular abbreviation reflecting either slang or professional jargon vocabulary:



slang abbreviations

2. Playing with antonyms (words with opposite semantic meanings), e.g. substituting a word in a well known (or set) phrases with its antonym:


3. Playing with well-known quotes:


“Ain’t it the Truth?” is actually a quote – The Cowardly Lion from “The Wizard of Oz”

4. Using oxymoron – combining what normally cannot be combined (e.g. poor and rich):


5. Playing with homophones (words with a different origin and meaning but having the same pronunciation) or using “pun” – deliberately mixing two similar-sounding words:



6. Incomplete sentence (i.e. “you guess what should follow“):

Incomplete sentence

7. Lexical “distortion” – often used in slang – creating new words by intentionally incorrect word spelling:

Lexical Distortion

8. Semantic “distortion” (somewhat related to #2) – substituting one word in a set phrase with any other word for comic / unexpected meaning:


9. Playing with neologisms (i.e. creating new words):



10. Creating words that have two meanings and can be interpreted in two (often opposing) ways:

two meanings

11. Question-answer play: asking and instantly answering a question:

question answer

12. Repetition: intentional usage of one and the same word twice:



Post image: fish cartoon

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  1. 23 Responses to “Behind LinkBait: Word Play and Creative Semantic Constructions in Hot Titles”

  2. This is a great list to use for brainstorming titles even if you content wasn’t intended as linkbait. Thanks Ann!

    By SEMaven on Sep 8, 2008

  3. Good analysis. Titles are hard. “Ain’t it the Truth?” is actually a quote – The Cowardly Lion from “The Wizard of Oz”

    By David LaFerney on Sep 8, 2008

  4. Thanks for some great ideas. I Stumble you :)

    By SEO Training on Sep 8, 2008

  5. Very nice article, I love it!

    By Navin Poeran on Sep 8, 2008

  6. LinkBait Acronym …

    RTFM …


    By Florida SEO on Sep 8, 2008

  7. @David, thank you! I didn’t know that! Citing is another good linkbaiting tactic by the way…

    By Ann Smarty on Sep 9, 2008

  8. Good take on other link title strategies. Thanks for putting together and sharing :)

    By Arnold - Mr.Gadget on Sep 10, 2008

  9. This is a rather exhaustive list. Very well done and well researched.

    Of course, now that you’ve done it you’re going to see a lot more people starting to use these kinds of title tactics for future link baiting articles.

    By Vinny on Sep 10, 2008

  10. Wow, some of the vocab brought me back to college. Nice list to keep handy when clients ask for suggestions on building titles.

    By Adam on Sep 10, 2008

  11. Nice post Ann.. Very fun.. Neologisms are my favorite!

    By beau vignes on Sep 10, 2008

  12. Like everyone’s been saying – what a great set of title ideas. If you hate this stuff you should take a look at one of your local newspapers: the Boston Herald. The headlines will make you crazy.

    By Isaac D. Van Wesep on Sep 10, 2008

  13. Smart girl excellent observation
    Great post see you around

    By POTPOLITICSâ„¢@DO FOLLOW on Sep 17, 2008

  14. Great post Ann. I’ll add one to your list – BREVITY.

    A tactic used by the NY Post, whose best headlines are often one or two words that capture an event.

    By Sean Maguire on Oct 15, 2008

  15. Really nice article…The points made by and the photos are really excellent…
    Thanks for sharing with us..

    By jennifer on Nov 29, 2008

  16. cool, I’ve never seen a linguistic analysis of linkbaits, but it’s really interesting. I especially like neologisms, but never seem to come up with good ones myself 😉

    By Flug Australien on Feb 18, 2009

  17. What do you call linkbait about linkbait? Is it meta-linkbait? Thanks for the post. I’m thinking about writing a post titled: The Best 10 lists of linkbait on the internet.

    By Web design Brisbane on Feb 18, 2009

  18. I like the incomplete sentence hook. And now for something completely different we have …

    By Cheap flights on Feb 18, 2009

  19. really cool tips … very creative
    playing with titles is very important to get the attention
    sometimes I leave blanks in my titles or wrong sequence
    very effective way to grab the attention


    By GhadaLancer on Mar 8, 2009

  20. We tried a question answer play – aimed at our predominantly female audience we’re targetting – “need a new pair of shoes? Get a new HR system to save you time to shop”. It worked much better than the ususal deal sentence we had used prior. Even our male viewers found it caught their attention as their response rate hit higher,

    By HR Software on Jul 21, 2009

  21. My favourite is the incomplete sentence. I was saying the other day to my girlfriend, why do you wear that? It makes you look

    By lusty trailers on Dec 9, 2009

  22. Thanks for all the great ideas, i kind like the Question-answer play and will use it on my social media post,


    By Brisbane SEO on Mar 10, 2010

  23. Almost exhaustive list. Which one do you think works best?

    By SEO firm on Jun 5, 2010

  24. @SEO firm to be honest I think each works just as well as each other pretty much, as long as they are creative enough.

    By Groovy Tube on Aug 31, 2010

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