Getting links with made-up content: clever marketing or unethical publishing?

A story on financial website of a teenager stealing his dad’s credit card to pay for prostitutes ticked all the right boxes to be a search engine success.

And for those of you who haven’t come across it yet, it is too good to be true.

It’s made up, fictitious and fabricated to generate what the man behind it – Lyndon Antcliff – calls linkbait.

According to a blog post by Antcliff, the piece, which carried no byline and wasn’t on the news wires, attracted 14,000 links, in addition to being picked up by various other news publishers.

As he says in the post he’s not himself debating the ethics of such practice, but will ‘leave that to others who have a lot more time on their hands’, which is where this post steps in.

Yes – sites should optimise headlines for search engines and try to ensure the story keeps up with what the headline promises. But making content up is dangerous for a publisher’s reputation and unethical.

As Antcliff points out, it’s alarming that other media did not check the facts of the article before republishing it and the spread of the story proves he knows what he’s doing when it comes to optimising content.

It’s just a shame the same trial couldn’t have been carried out on a real piece of content.

Despite Antcliff saying he ‘pushed the boundaries of the ridiculous to make it obvious that the story wasn’t true’ it is still available on the website and until recently carried no label of it being hoax.

It now includes the note: “This story is a parody and is not intended to be taken seriously”, which doesn’t help explain things much, just makes the reader wonder why they’re publishing it.

Other media aside, doesn’t running content purely for linkbaiting purposes undermine’s credibility to a worryingly low level?

3 thoughts on “Getting links with made-up content: clever marketing or unethical publishing?

  1. Lyndoman

    Interesting how you sidestepped the ethics of the journalists who republished it without check the most basic facts. I don’t know what they teach you guys at Journo school but you should really check your facts when trawling digg for stories.

    The tale was made as a satirical joke which people took seriously. Get off your high horse and get yourself a sense of humour.

    I’m sure you’ve never published untruths or puffed up a story. You’re a journalist after all 😉

  2. Bob Anan

    Get real Lyndoman. Of course the hacks who copied the story are just as culpable. Puff and untruths may get into print but most journalists don’t deliberately go out to make sure that happens. Yes, the story strains credibility near the end, but it’s weak satire that’s pretty much believable – the story is not Onion-type stuff.

  3. Laura Oliver

    Hi Lyndoman, Nice to hear from you.
    I don’t think I sidestepped the ethics of that point, it’s alarming. You were right to highlight it, and it’s another strand feeding into the churnalism/standards debate.

    The tips you gave for generating links were really interesting, and clearly work. But, as I said, I would like to have seen them applied to factual content to see what these optimisation techniques can do without changing the facts.

    While I know you weren’t advising other publishers to take this exact course of action, I wonder if’s decision to let the satire be carried out on their site is an example that other sites, trying to establish themselves online, might be tempted to follow – minus the follow-ups you’ve posted and discussion we’re having here.

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