Is it possible to agree with Dustin Luther, while taking Greg Swann’s advice? Would it be less two faced to dispute Mary McKnight’s theory on blog roles, and then decide to follow her advice? You could say I’m on every side of the blog roll debate, I’ll even argue that I helped establish the RE.net phenomenon of linkation in the first place.
In the beginning, there was Hugh Hewitt.
lenderama became a full fledged blog in January of 2005. Yep, three years ago. There weren’t many RE blogs to look for guidance from. So I took my queues from political blogs. It was the whole RatherGate/Pajamahadeen fiasco in the fall of 2004 that convinced me of power of blogging in the first place. I’m a libertarian who usually holds his nose to vote for Republicans. For me, it’s the least worst choice. I read political blogs on both sides, but the one I enjoy most is from Hugh Hewitt. Hugh wrote a book about blogs that influenced me heavily in forging my lenderama. I was not alone. Very quickly, a list of “Hugh Hewitt inspired Bloggers” sprouted up, and I joined the list. Most members put the list on their own blogs. It became a serious Google juicer, before I even understood what Google juice was. Just a week or so went by, and I started ranking better in the search engines. My first conclusion… Blog rolls are good.
Then along came Hanan.
So blogrolls are good, but I really didn’t think a bunch of political blogs belonged on an industry blog about mortgages. I decided to actively seek out real estate and mortgage blogs to trade links with. This was a problem because there were like three mortgage blogs, and the real estate blogs I found didn’t seem all that interested in linking to a site about mortgages. At the same time, I found grow-a-brain. Hanan was making a monthly post about the real estate blogs he found. this gave me the idea to make a blog about realty blogs. I billed it as a directory, but really it was just a blogroll. Every post was a description of a real estate blog I found. Most descriptions were cut & pastes of the blogs themselves. I linked to it from lenderama. Hanan liked the idea and linked to it from grow-a-brain. By the summer of 2005, it had a Google PR of 4, and that was just in time for all sorts of new bloggers who understood what page rank was to come along and beg to be listed. All I asked for in return was a link back. Now my opinion was, blogrolls are freaking awesome.
Google likes blogrolls, but what about my readers?
Before long, I had well over 150 real estate and mortgage blogs in my blogroll. I have an industry blog, so exposing my readers to these blogs seamed like a reasonable endeavor. The only problem was that my web statistics software was showing that nobody ever really clicked on those links. Further more, very few inbound links came form all of those blogrolls that were linking to me. Ok, so Google likes blogrolls, but I think blog readers are mostly ambivalent to them.
Behold, the “insanely great idea“
When the Google custom search engine came along, I knew it was a far better idea than a blog roll. At least from the perspective of a reader. If they can’t find what they were looking for on one RE blog, this was a widget that would let them search other trusted real estate blogs throughout RE.net. Kind of makes the idea of trudging through a blogroll seem entirely ridiculous. Despite whatever Google had in store for me, I decided to let my blogrolls die on the vine. I stopped adding to them, and cropped off names as those blogs went dark, or stopped linking to me.
I think Mary’s fundamentally wrong, but I took her advice anyway.
Mary McKnight and the staff at RSS Pieces wrote a some controversial posts about how blogrolls were the bane of their existence. I think at some level, they’re probably right. A brand new blog with 2000 links on it would make me wonder. I could see why Google might sandbox it. My own experience however, told me that a reasonable number of like minded links was a good thing in Google’s eyes. Still, I was off the blogroll bandwagon when I started this Blog Fiesta last summer. I decided to experiment with linking to other blogs in the posts themselves, just as Mary suggested. It’s not a coincidence that every blogger interviewed has been asked, “what are your favorite blogs?”. I also never once bothered to ask anyone to link back to me. Four months later, I had a PR 4. Mary’s way of doing things seemed to work just fine.
Fake Greg Swan threw me a curve.
If you missed out on The Secret Diary of Greg Swann (FGS), well I guess your holiday guests were more interesting than mine. My attempt at an anonymous blog failed, but the lesson I learned was a complete revelation to me. I already knew that all bloggers are at best, curious, and more likely, vain. With tools like Technorati, and Google blog search, it doesn’t take much to get a blogger’s attention. Just link to them. I learned it here on the Fiesta. When I built FGS, I decided that the best way to get a lot of attention early was to link to lot’s of blogs at once. Even though I didn’t think much of blogrolls, it was the most obvious way to do so. I launched FGS on the morning of Dec 24th. By new years day, I had generated 2000 page views. My top referrer was the WordPress Dashboard. If you don’t use WordPress, that my not make sense. But the dashboard is the back end home page for a wordpress blog. It’s also where bloggers can see who is linking to them, and click through to that site.
Blogrolls are viral. They aren’t primarily about SEO. They aren’t for the benefit or detriment of readers. Blogrolls are blogosphere equivalent of throwing sheep.
I think Greg Swann is wrong. Linking to Bloodhound or 4Realz has virtually zero downside because blogrolls are ignored by most blog readers. I think Dustin is wrong because Mary and I have proven that you certainly don’t need a big list of links taking up space on your sidebar to create favorable page rank. I think Mary is wrong, because that big “popularity contest” that her staff finds useless is disproved by my results on FGS. I’ve obviously proven myself wrong in this evolution. Of course they are all right as well. I don’t think there’s a completely proper answer.
Moving Forward – Linkation, location, libation
My latest endeavor is Denver Modern. I’m creating a hyper-focused, local blog. It has a blogroll. All the links are local. All have been chosen for a specific reason that has nothing to do with Google, my readers, or RE.net. My advice is Linkation, location, libation. Link to other local bloggers as though you were offering to buy them a drink. Link to anyone you want to be friends with. That probably means you should link to bloggers in your locality, but if you want to link to lenderama, hey, I’m not going to pursued you otherwise.