Lots of great ideas and discussion ensued in the comments section of last week’s post, “The Beginners Guide To Promoting Your Blog.” As with most of my lists or ideas, there are always different perspectives or ideas that can add to my suggestions. In that way, Social Media Explorer becomes sort of an instigator to crowdsource good advice. Thank you all for your additions and input.
One of the comments on that post, however, found here and from Michael Bertoldi, a social media evangelist and copywriter at The Barco Firm, actually asked for some more thinking on linking. Since linking certainly is an instrumental strategy in promoting your blog and building an audience, I thought it might be good to visit the topic. While linking is at the core of social media behavior — you’re simply sharing good content — there are some strategies behind smart linking to not only provide your readers with a better experience on your blog, but also to promote it to others and expand your reach.
What Content Is Linkable?
In general, anything relevant to your blog topic is worthy of link consideration. Think of your linking as providing context and supplemental information on the topic to your readers and try not to think much beyond that. Following that principle will keep your links purposed and useful.
The way linking actually promotes and attracts visitors to your blog is that when you link to someone’s blog or website, your blogging software (I don’t know of one that doesn’t do this) sends a pingback, or electronic notification, to the owner of that blog or website saying their content has been linked to. If they see the notification (some people don’t care who links to them) they’re likely to click through and see the context of how you linked to them. Many blogs are also set up to list the pingbacks to a given post in or beneath the comments section of the post, giving you an inbound link, though likely discounted by search engines, that can attract readers of the post you’ve linked to.
That said, while you’ll get more blog exposure and promotion by linking to other blogs, you’d be foolish not to link to traditional websites or news outlets that also contain good content. Some bloggers are unnecessarily self-righteous when it comes to traditional news outlets and think there’s better content to be had in the blogosphere. Frankly, they’re short-sighted. Some blogs offer great insight and context. Most traditional media outlets do.
It’s also fair to say when you mention a tool or a service, like Twitter or Blog Catalog or Evernote, take the opportunity to link to it. (Just on first mention. Additional links are redundant.) Keep in mind, large services aren’t going to suddenly start linking to you or reading your blog — they likely don’t notice inbound links due to sheer scale — but it’s helpful to your readers to be able to click through and discover more about those services without having to take the extra step of typing it in a search box or keying in the URL. It’s also a good idea to set your links to open in a new window. Not only is it self-serving — it keeps visitors on your site longer — but it serves your audience, too. They may want to go find out what Evernote is, but want to keep reading your post. Opening Evernote.com in a new window allows them to browse to that tab or window when they’re finished reading.
How Do I Find It?
Finding the right contextually appropriate posts and content elements is as easy as you might think — just search for it — but there are some useful tools and tricks I use to ensure I’m finding both the most relevant content and also promoting my blog to the most useful influencers in the subject matter. Certainly, good, relevant content trumps promotional value, but if that pingback I mentioned earlier goes to, say, Chris Brogan, as opposed to a new blogger, my blog is noticed by someone who might later write about it or link to me in front of a much larger audience.
In fact, the growth strategy I implemented for Social Media Explorer starting about a year ago was just that – link to the most influential bloggers in the social media, public relations and advertising space consistently so they not only see my blog, but see it often. The more top of mind I am with them the more likely they are to read me, link to me and even perhaps recommend my blog to others. This strategy worked, first because my content was good. Second, because people like Brogan, Valeria Maltoni, Jeremiah Owyang, Brian Solis, Todd Defren, Jeremy Pepper and Geoff Livingston — all established A-listers in the social media and public relations space a year ago — started reading SME, linking to it and occasionally even recommending it to others.
But is search the only way to find posts of relevant relation? No and yes. No, not just a Google Search. But yes, a smart search using some useful tools. Here’s how I find my relevant links:
- Zemanta – I met BoÅ¡tjan Å petiÄ (Boss) at South by Southwest in March. He showed me Zemanta and I realized I was looking at one of the first useful semantic search engines on the web. This free blog plug-in, available for a number of blogging platforms, offers a menu of relevant links (as well as images, tags and one-click link insertions for your post) within your blogging tool. So as you’re writing your post, or copy-pasting it in the field, the tool searches your post, then looks through other content online that has semantic similarities. While the links it offers aren’t always spot-on (it’s a machine, remember) many of them are and with a simple click, you have a “Related Posts” menu like you see at the bottom of this entry. I supplement Zemanta with my own finds and simply add, “and Jason Falls,” to the, “by Zemanta,” indication.
- Personal RSS Reader Search – Searching for posts relevant to the topic in my Google (or any other) Reader does something very simple, yet powerful. It provides search results of relevant posts from blogs I read. These are the blogs I am more apt to share, and want to share, with others because they are ones I find useful enough to read regularly. Many of them are also blogs of the influencers I want to continue linking to.
- Blog Catalog 360 Search Widget – A new addition to my link-finding arsenal is the Blog Catalog Search widget nested over there in the sidebar just above the “SME Community” widgets. This allows me to search not just Social Media Explorer (it’s okay to link to relevant content on your own blog, too) but also the blogs I’ve identified as part of my Blog Catalog communities on their site. I wrote more fully about it here. It serves a similar function to the Personal RSS Reader search, but can cast a wider net as some of the blogs I’m connected to on Blog Catalog aren’t necessarily in my feed reader.
- Google Blog & News Search – If I haven’t found three or four relevant links by now, then I’m about to win a search result with my post since no one else has written about it. (Very cool.) However, I will broaden the search even farther just to ensure I don’t miss something good out there on a blog or a news site. Instead of doing a basic Google search, however, I go to the Google News and Google Blog pages to search. This eliminates the cacophony of crap that often populates the general search result and gives me more timely and content-centric posts to link to. I might use the general Google search as a last resort, but haven’t done so in months because all the previous steps produce a good number of relevant content to highlight.
How Much And How Often?
As you can see from this post, plenty of links is certainly not a problem. If it adds context, supplements the content in a relevant way or points people to useful sites or tools you mention, link away. I’ve heard some people say that linking every word in a sentence to a different post just to add a bunch of links to other blogs, even if each is relevant to the topic, is self-serving and annoying. For example: “The ROI of Social Media is a very popular topic on great blogs everywhere.” I disagree. It’s giving the audience more resources and perspectives first. The additional promotional value is nice, but less important.
In terms of a list of relevant links roundup at the bottom of your posts, again, I say the more the merrier. But I also realize my readers don’t have scads of time to bust out a blog-reading tangent every time they read SME. So I keep the list to about five or so. This forces me to review the ones I find and make sure I’m really linking to the best stuff.
That said, I don’t always offer a list of relevant links. When the topic is particularly thick or personal, I have a passionate stance or I want to immediately engage the reader with a question at the end of the post to spark comments, I’ll often leave out the links list to keep readers focused on their reaction. This results in more immediate, passionate responses in the comments, which leads to vibrant conversations. And those, ironically, lead to lots of people linking back to me.
What are some link habits and tricks you’ve learned? Are there other tools that you find useful in finding relevant articles? Tell us in the comments and we’ll all learn a little something.
IMAGE: “Icy Chain Link Fence” by existentist on Flickr.