Linkbait may be good for online publishers’ traffic levels, but what does it do for their bottom lines? According to research conducted by Perfect Market, not much.

The company, which aims to help online publishers, including newspapers, better monetize their properties, analyzed more than 15m articles across 21 newspaper websites this summer to determine which types of articles bring home the bacon.

At the top of the list: financial issues, like unemployment and mortgage rates, and important news events like an egg recall. At the bottom of the list: linkbait subjects such as celebrity gossip.

While Perfect Market states that its data “runs counter to a lot of the conventional wisdom in the industry,” I’m not sure that anyone expects “articles about Lindsay Lohan’s repeat trips to rehabilitation and Brett Favre’s purported sexual peccadilloes” to directly produce loads of ad revenue. As Perfect Markets’ Robertson Barrett points out, “There are not a lot of contextual ads on Lindsay Lohan stories.” That, of course, is probably a good thing.

Certainly, linkbait content can in some cases outperform less sordid content revenue-wise in absolute terms even if CTRs and eCPMs are much, much lower. After all, an article with a $2.50 CPM that receives a million pageviews will generate more revenue than an article with a $5 CPM that receives 100,000 pageviews.

But the relative underperformance of linkbait traffic isn’t really the issue I believe Perfect Market makes it out to be. The purpose of linkbait content should never be to directly generate revenue; it should be to directly generate links. Hence the term linkbait, not revenuebait.

Those links, of course, can have a beneficial SEO impact which helps an entire site. That linkbait content often servers as doorway content. In other words, the person who clicks through to a newspaper website to read a story about Lindsay Lohan might very well go on to read a story about, say, unemployment.

The big question for publishers is not whether linkbait can be a valuable tool, but rather how much of it should be produced. This, of course, will vary from publisher to publisher, property to property. And this is where analytics come in. Publishers have all the ability in the world to track how search and referral traffic generated by linkbait interacts with content that delivers higher advertising value. Publishers who want to succeed would be wise to look at this.

Photo credit: wka via Flickr.