Way back in 1999, Seth Godin wrote a terrific book, ‘Unleashing The Idea Virus’. What was unusual about the book was that Godin gave it away for free by download – the only thing he asked in return was that readers should spread the word and let others know how to get the book for free. The book was a huge success and of course, once established, Godin sold the book in bookshops, Amazon and so on.

I was one of the early adopters and thought it was a fantastic idea. Then I ‘stole’ the idea and adapted it to my own situation – to great effect.

Back in 2003, 15 years ago, the practice of strategic link building was only just emerging and I was a beginner like everybody else. Inspired by The Idea Virus, I wrote a guide to link building called ‘The Linking Matters Report ‘. Like Godin, I gave the report away for free and the only way I promoted the report was through link building.

I contacted SearchEngineWatch.com and asked editor Chris Sherman to write about and link to the publication.

He was sceptical at first and asked me for proof – after all, I was just a newbie – but when I showed him how many links I’d earned after 6 weeks (over 1000) he gave me my first piece of solid coverage and that all-important link! The article published in 2003, is still live and if you want a bit of nostalgia, check it out at Aggressive Linking – The Only Search Engine Optimization Strategy You Need?

Since then I’ve made link building my career, and Chris still regularly invites me to run workshops on link building and digital PR.

So where does stealing come in?

I did something that lots of creative people do – I stole a successful idea from one industry and applied it to another. Here was the essence of the idea:

  • create something valuable
  • give it away for free
  • turn the attention you get into something profitable.

It’s that simple formula I copied – or stole if you like. Getting inspiration in such a way is common in the creative industries.

Earlier this year, I published a post on the Majestic blog, PR Stunt earns media coverage – but no editorial links?

The post told the story of how one of the U.K.’s most popular bakers ran a creative event to change the perception of their brand among the ‘foodie ‘community.

Here’s the essence of the idea:

  • Greggs identified an important business objective – to show they sold healthy food
  • they created a mock company and appeared at a major event where scepticism was shown to be high
  • they engaged the audience in an entertaining and meaningful way
  • they gathered a great deal of attention and media coverage as a result.

A lot of the comments I received about the post were along the lines of “that’s okay for a large company like Greggs, we can’t do that”.

That really misses the point – it wasn’t the size of the company that was important, it was the creativity and the execution of the idea that made it work.

Anyone, even a one-man band like I was back in 2003, can do something similar.

If you want to create successful, creative link building initiatives, you got to be aware of what’s grabbing attention in marketing initiatives across many industries and absorb it. Then pick out the key elements and adapt to your own environment.

That word ‘adapt ‘is important – just copying an idea doesn’t work – you’ve got to add your own take and transform it into something new – something that can be called original.

Good Theft vs. Bad Theft

I opened this post with a quote from Austin Kleon. He’s written a wonderful book, Steal Like an Artist – 10 things nobody told you about being creative.

It’s a short and inspiring read and if you want to improve your creativity in link building and digital PR, I’d highly recommend it.

He’s an advocate of stealing ideas but makes a strong point that there’s a difference between good theft and bad theft in this graphic:

Over to you…

So, what your thoughts on stealing other people’s ideas?

Have you adapted someone’s work to great effect?

Or perhaps you’ve created something unique?

Please share in the comments below or drop me a line if you have something you’d like me to share with our readers – ken [at] Majestic.com.

Other posts around creativity by Ken McGaffin:

Does your link building need A Whack On The Side Of The Head?

Finding inspiration for a non-profit campaign with Majestic

Link building inspiration from a cookie dough store in NYC

Government websites earn editorial links with creative campaigns


  • John Lord

    Our site, which is an info/reference site of 4000+ pages, has been translated into other languages almost in its entirety, and without contacting or citing us!

    July 31, 2018 at 9:01 pm
    • Dixon Jones

      I guess that counts as "Bad Theft", John! Sorry to hear that. It seems to happen more and more (especially with the help of Google translate and Bing Translate) and is one of the reasons that links can help to create authority, defining which version is the authentic one.

      August 30, 2018 at 9:15 am
  • Frederik Nørgaard

    No you don´t copy peoples work they just really inspire you.

    August 24, 2018 at 12:39 pm

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