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In this week’s link building technique column I’d like to write about bragging. Yes, bragging, as in telling people you’re the best. I don’t just mean success stories and case studies. I’m talking about bragging like hip hop stars do. Also I want to explain how to make people link to you by bragging.

Just watch the typical mainstream video with the “hot chicks”, big cars and gold chains. These may be cliches but they are still working even after thirty years of hip hop.

While you most probably think that these videos are stupid, sexist and even fake (after all everybody can rent an expensive car for a video shoot) think about it for a minute: Why do these bragging videos work so well?

People want to get inspired. Modesty does not inspire. Bragging does.

People want to see people similar to them who made it. They want to see why and how as well but at first the braggart has to catch their attention.

I don’t even own a car, I’m a cyclist but even I notice a sportscar when I see one. Also I know the difference when driving with someone else who owns one. People, especially women, really look at you. I think this is a remainder of our ancient past as animals but nonetheless it works.

On the Web nobody can see you and nobody knows that you rock. Unless of course you tell them and behave like a rock star. The early John Chow is an example of this art. Many people followed this path and some mastered the self fulfilling prophecy method as well. My favorite rockstar of this sort is Glen of Viperchill.

Glen made it by showing off what he already accomplished. He was bragging and inspiring at the same time. On the Web you don’t just brag to impress people. You brag to inspire others to follow your path. I have tried it myself and was quite successful for a while. I didn’t take it as far as Glen and thus my success was limited but I don’t say I was right to do so. I was just too busy to keep going like that.

People love successful individuals. They want to be like them.

That’s a natural reaction. Who wants to be a loser? In most cases we fail often enough to need inspiration by somebody who succeeds. You don’t have to be a superstar from day one. Glen was a teenager when he started on his path to online success.

Of course people subscribed and linked to his blogs (as he already had two of them, one he was able to sell). They shared his success stories and inspirational pieces of advice on social media. I did myself and I still do from time to time even though I’m less active on social media these days than once.

You don’t have to be a rapper though and wear gold chains thick enough to get used for ship anchors. On the Web sometimes a few stats are enough. You have to show them off and explain what you did.

You have to use strong language and impressive numbers to stress their importance. Something like “How I Got a Conversion Rate of 4%” won’t help but “How My Conversion Rate Skyrocketed 300% in Three Days” can. In fact your conversion rate could have grown from 1% to 4% so that time period so that both post headlines would be true.

In recent years I’ve tried to be more modest when I wrote blog posts. I tried to be more business like and less emotional. I wanted to be more objective and less inspirational. I only became boring. People do not want to read mediocre stuff. Life is short so why waste time and effort on small steps when you can make big ones?

In reality you need the small steps as well. You need lots of small steps. There are a few huge leaps but there are the small steps along the way, all the time. People want to read about the huge leaps not the small steps though. Just watch the popular videos on YouTube, When it comes to sports like skateboarding, BMX or parkour the bigger and more spectacular the jumps the higher the number of views.

Also in reality not always the awesome looking stunts are the hardest. Sometimes the less obvious things are harder to accomplish. Nonetheless on the Web we’re dealing not only with hypertext but also hyperreality.

Some of the most awe-inspiring images having the most people spread them are simply Photoshop manipulations.

You don’t have to fake to make it like some suggest. Just focus on the success you have and don’t be afraid to show it off to inspire other people. In such a way many of the sports videos I have mentioned above are filmed from the bottom so that it looks as if the skater is jumping sky high while instead he’s just a few meters above ground.

So provide the best possible perspective to make people want to spread your message on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr. Don’t be modest on the Web where attention is crucial. You can succeed without bragging but if you want to truly inspire people you have to show off. One of the most successful bloggers, Darren Rowse has been doing it for years and it still works.

What you don’t want is to look ridiculous though. The bragging can’t be over the top.

You can’t show off much more than you have so you need to focus on your true strengths. One of the most successful rappers today is Jay Z. I remember his early work. He was rapping about how he was rich and famous even before he really was but it wasn’t vulgar or obnoxious. His biggest successes followed later with sound business strategy. Nonetheless he was already inspiring even to me in my youth.

When even a black guy from the poor inner city can make it and become a millionaire why can’t I?

This is the question that is most inspiring in such a case. You don’t have to make millions, sometimes a successful blog is enough to inspire other bloggers to link to you. Be as open as possible as possible to be living proof. Once you’re the superstar you professed to be you don’t have to brag as much any more. That’s one of the reasons I stopped bragging.

So let me summarize. What do you need to make people link to you by bragging?

  1. Succeed at something and unearth this success
  2. Collect statistics showing this success or make images depicting it
  3. Be enthusiastic about your successful actions
  4. Cover the few huge leaps, don’t focus on the many small steps in-between too much
  5. Do not appear ludicrous by showing off more than you have
  6. Limit your bragging once everybody knows about your success

* CC image by Kim Erlandsen.