Choosing the Best Link Generator for Your Carnival

Silver LinksBlog carnivals can be a great way to promote community and increase traffic not only to your site, but to your participants’ sites. But how do you do that? With a linky tool. A linky tool allows carnival participants to submit a title for their link and a link to their site. The linky tool then takes that info and creates a list. You can see linky tools in action at some popular carnivals like Works-for-Me Wednesday or Mantel Party Time. Works-for-Me Wednesday is using Linky Tools, while Nester’s Mantel Party Time is using inlinkz. I’m going to tell you a little about both of those tools today so you can decide which one is right for you. I’ll also give you some advice on how to be a good linky list participant.

Linky Tools (formerly Mcklinky) developed out of a need for a reliable link list generator. There was a time when there was only one game in town and, as that tool became more and more used, the owner couldn’t quite keep up with the demand and the service suffered. Linky Tools was quickly embraced and is used throughout the blogosphere.

inlinkz is a newer linky system that allows your participants to include a photo in their link. It makes the list more interesting and eye-catching. I can see how inlinkz would be a great tool for giveaway carnivals. Participants could include a picture of their giveaway and make it so much easier for others to find what they’re looking for without wading through irrelevant links.

Finding the Features Your Carnival Linky Needs

Linky Tools and inlinkz both have excellent features; some they share, some that set them apart from each other.

Shared features

You’ll find the following features in both inlinkz and Linky Tools:

  • Optional images. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to have images in your carnival or maybe you just don’t like to have the images take up so much page real estate. That’s OK. You can choose to have a text list only. Just pick that option when you’re creating your new collection.
  • Save your carnival. If you have a weekly carnival or meme that you share, you can save it so you don’t have to re-make it each week. You know how love efficiency.
  • Title constraints. Any titles participants add to their entry are limited so you don’t get really long titles that mess up the display of the list. Everything will be in nice, neat rows. My OCD thanks you greatly.
  • Cropping. When a participant chooses her image for the list, she has the option to crop it! This could be handy for showing specific detail of an item within the list.

inlinkz features

inlinkz offers some significant features that will help you administer your carnival and make it stand out from others.

  • Users can delete links. Sometimes mistakes are made and when that happened with some other linkies, the administrator had to go in and delete the link for the participant. Not with inlinkz! Nope. You can delete your own links if you make a mistake or change your mind. One less thing for the carnival administrator to worry about? Yes, please.
  • Real-time stats. Want to see how your carnival is progressing and how it’s being used? inlinkz has you covered. Figure out where you’re rockin’ and where you need to improve by tracking your collections with real-time stats.
  • Voting. You can see the voting in action at the Clips-n-Cuts Around the World Challenge where you can vote on your favorite submission. That’s pretty cool. This feature is currently in beta, from what I can gather, but will be available soon.

One thing to note about inlinkz.com if you’re using the image list option: participants have to either have the image already in their post or know the URL of the image they want to use. Participants do not have the option of uploading an image from their computer. This isn’t a big deal, but it’s worth noting.

Linky Tools features

Linky Tools has a few features not offered with other tools:

  • Different list options. You can create different lists depending on what your carnival is about including a basic text list (with text links only), thumbnail list (with images), and even a way to invite your readers to help create a story by leaving their contribution within the list (use the “create a story” list option when creating your new list).
  • Blog hops. This is an easy way to allow many blogs to host the same carnival link-up list on their blogs. Everyone uses the same code, places it in their own blog post, and they all host the same list.
  • Choose images from your computer or a post. Linky Tools doesn’t care where your image comes from as long as you hold the rights to it. You can choose a file from your computer or choose from the images in your post or on your site. You cannot provide a specific URL for your image.

Installing the Linky Code for Your Carnival

Both inlinkz and Linky Tools allow you to copy and paste the necessary code directly into your post (make sure you’re in the HTML view of your post) regardless of whether you’re using WordPress, TypePad, or Blogger. This makes it very easy to include a linky in your next carnival! I was impressed with the instructions on both inlinkz and Linky Tools; you’ll be able to be up and running in just a few minutes. The inlinkz instructions for setting up an inlinkz account and creating a new linky list have many screen shots and explanations to eliminate confusion. Linky Tools offers video tutorials on setting up your account creating new Linky Tools lists.

Being the Best Carnival Guest You Can Be

A great carnival will not only be useful to the host, but to the participants. The host is shining a light on other blogs to help showcase them. Remember that, although carnivals are generally open to the public, you’re still a guest at the host’s site. Good manners go a long way to helping the carnival’s overall success. If you follow the carnival’s posted guidelines and these few tips, you’ll find your experience may go more smoothly.

  • Be brief. It’s tempting to promote yourself with your name, your blogs, name and your URL in your link title. Please don’t, though. The longer your title, the more it affects the columns of the list. In fact, this became such a problem, most linky generators now have character constraints the carnival owner can implement.
  • Be useful. Consider what the carnival is about and whether there are guidelines about what to include in your title. Use keywords that tell others what they’ll find if they click over to your site. For instance, when I was doing the Bloggy Giveaway Carnival, I asked participants to include what they were giving away and where they’d ship. For exmple, Jane Eyre DVD (US/Canada). The title is short and it tells you what to expect. It’s not promoting my actual blog name, but once you click over, you’ll know where you are. And your blog is still getting the link love from the carnival via the permalink you use.
  • Use permalinks. A peramlink is the link to a specific blog post, not the main page of your blog. Most carnivals require you to use a permalink instead of your blog’s main URL and your entry may be deleted if you don’t.
  • Don’t double post. You only need one entry for each carnival (unless the guidelines state otherwise). If you make a mistake on your link, contact the carnival owner and ask her to delete your entry (unless she’s using inlinkz, which allows you to delete your own entries).

What do you think? Have you used either Linky Tools or inlinkz before? What was your experience? Do you have any tips or advice to add to the etiquette list?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Jimby K

Blog Roll Etiquette and Advice

suessian megaphoneI recently received a great question about blog rolls. The question was whether or not you should contact the people you put on your blog roll to let them know that you’re linking to them. Then I started thinking about all the issues related to blog rolls, the etiquette behind them, the usefulness of them, and whether they’re worth the trouble. I’m going to explain the basics of blog rolls, then I’m going to tell you my opinion of them (and you might be surprised).

Blog Roll Basics

  • What is a blog roll? A blog roll is a list of blogs you like and want to share with your readers. Usually you list the name of the blog and link to the site. If you’re really ambitious, you may give an overview of the blog or link to some of your favorite posts from that blog.
  • How do I make a blog roll? Making a blog roll is fairly simple. You probably don’t want to make it into a blog post that will get buried on your site. Instead, make a static page and list the blogs and links there. Then you can link to it directly from your navigation on your blog’s front page.

Care and Feeding of Blog Rolls

The problem with most blog rolls is that they can overwhelm you quickly. You have decide what kind of blog roll you want to share (more on that in a minute), how often you’ll update the list, who you’ll include on the list, etc.

  • What kind of blog roll do you want to create? Just like your blog, your blog roll can be many things. You can have a blog roll of your personal favorites or a list of blogs that are relevant to your blogging niche. Maybe you’re writing a hyper-local blog and you want to list the blogs in your city — why not sort them by area so your readers have an idea of where everyone is? The possibilities are endless.
  • How often will you update your blog roll? Many bloggers think a blog roll is a “set it and forget it” affair, but it isn’t. If you’re not updating blog roll regularly, your readers aren’t checking it regularly and it’s not useful to anyone. Keep your blog roll current and changing to keep it interesting to your readers. If they know you update the list regularly or on a specific day, readers are more likely to check that page regularly.
  • Who will you include in your blog roll? Regardless of the type of blog roll you create, be prepared for some hurt feelings. I’m of the mind that your blog is your domain and you choose the content and links, but any time you start making lists, someone is going to get left out and, subsequently, have their feelings hurt. Lists always have a bias to them, and your blog roll is no exception. You have two choices here: make an all-inclusive list (impossibly huge and hard to manage, let alone update) or make a carefully culled list (more manageable, but feelings may be hurt). If you make an all-inclusive list, what exactly is your point? You’re listing everyone you read? Or links to you? Blog directories already do that. And if your list is all-inclusive, how will you curate it? How can you update it or change it if everyone is already listed? If it’s a long alphabetized list, what happens to the blogs that start with M when the reader got tired of sifting through the titles at F? If you make a carefully culled list, you have more opportunities to change the list as your tastes change or to highlight specific blogs on a rotating basis. Even so, be prepared to receive an e-mail or two from bloggers who want to know when you’re going to include them in your list.

Blog Roll Etiquette

Now that you’ve created your blog roll, what’s the next step? What are the ins and outs of blog roll expectations? The reason for your blog roll shouldn’t be to list other blogs in the hopes they’ll list you in return. Create your blog roll because it’s a useful tool either for yourself or for your readers.

  • Should I contact the blog owners to tell them I’m linking to them? Even if you haven’t had contact with a particular blog owner, but you’d like to include them in your blog roll, you can definitely drop them a quick e-mail letting them know you’re linking to them.
  • Should I ask for a reciprocal link? No. Asking any blogger for a reciprocal link is bad blog etiquette. Invariably it’s a newer blogger or a blogger with less traffic asking a seasoned blogger with more traffic for a link. From the new blogger’s point of view, they just want some traffic and recognition. From the seasoned blogger’s point of view, though, you’re asking them to vouch for you and your content (even if they do not read you), and you’re putting them in the awkward position of telling you no.
  • Do I have to link back to someone if they include me on their blog roll? Nope. And if they imply that it’s the polite thing to do, they are misinformed. You are under no obligation to include them on your blog roll (though they may remove you from theirs — and that’s OK too). You might send them a short e-mail to thank them, though.

My Personal Thoughts on Blog Rolls

In my opinion the traditional blog roll is outdated thinking. The original blog roll was a list of sites you liked and was extremely popular about five years ago. New bloggers would make them as a way to keep track of what they liked and to share those interests with their readers. After a few months, the novelty wore off and those bloggers ditched the blog roll and just linked to other bloggers within their regular posts (which was actually a more effective way of introducing your audience to a new blogger because it didn’t involve a click to another page; the link was obvious, not buried somewhere else). In fact, it turns out that most people don’t check your blog roll regularly whether you’re updating it or not. A reader may check it once or twice a year (and that’s being generous).

Now that most people use RSS feeds, e-mail feeds, Twitter, and Facebook as their link sources, blog rolls as they were five years ago just aren’t necessary. Instead, the blog roll has evolved and, if created well, is a helpful list of resources for your new readers. For instance, if you’re writing a blog about home decorating, it could be extremely useful to have a list of the other top blogs or resources for your niche so you audience can find even more information. A list like this helps your audience find relevant sites, establishes your authority (since you know where are the good blogs are in your niche), and is just plain old good will toward others.

Another evolution of the blog roll is the microblog. Instead of creating a static blog roll I need to update regularly, I use Tumblr to share links from the blogs I read. If you’re subscribed to the BB101 Tumblr RSS or my Twitter feed you’ll see my links throughout the day. That takes pressure off me to to update something and pressure off you to check a static page to see if it’s changed. Win-win.

Creative Commons License photo credit: theparadigmshifter

4 Blogging Etiquette Tips for Beginning Bloggers

Blogging etiquette is something that seasoned bloggers sometimes take for granted, but that many beginners are just discovering. When you first start blogging there is a trial and error period where you are just trying to figure out what’s accepted and what isn’t in the blogosphere community. Those bloggers who’ve been at this a while tend to evolve seamlessly without thinking about how things change daily–they go with the flow. So what I’d like to do is discuss five etiquette rules (if there really are any rules in blogging) that beginners can use.

1. Use permalinks whenever you can. A permalink is the link to an individual blog post. These are important because if you ever need to link to an exact blog entry, you use the permalink as your link. It’s poor blog etiquette not to use the permalink.

If you don’t use the permalink, you’ll just be linking to your main blog page. The problem with that is that, as you post new blog entries, the newest entry appears at the top of your main blog page and the other entries are pushed down on the page. The entry your readers are looking for may be down at the bottom of the page or already in the archives; your reader has no idea where to find the entry! If they click over to your site expecting to see a specific post related to a carnival and they see a different post, they may not take the time to find the “real” post they’re looking for.

2. Ask permission. Familiarize yourself with copyright and Creative Commons. While you don’t have to ask permission to link to someone, you do have to ask permission to use their photographs and their content (if it’s more than Fair Use would allow).

3. Don’t sell yourself in comments. Bloggers have differing opinions about whether it’s OK to link to your own blog in the comments at another blog. Some think it’s a bit like poaching traffic or promoting yourself in an inappropriate place (after all, this is someone’s personal blog space). Others think it’s OK to leave a permalink if you’ve written something extremely relevant. Just linking to yourself for the sake of having your link out there is a definite no-no.

Most platforms ask you to enter your name, e-mail, and URL before you leave a comment and then, when your comment is posted, readers can click on your name and be taken to your blog. Putting your URL in the comment itself is redundant.

If you’re reading a post and you’ve written something similar you can go two ways:

  • Give an overview of your thoughts/post, then let readers know you’ve said much more on the subject and invite them to read your post by listing a permalink to that article.
  • Give an overview of your thoughts and leave it at that.

More advice on blog etiquette:

A version of this article was posted at BlogHer.

Should I ask permission to link to a blog I find interesting, or should I just link to it without bothering the blogowner?

I don’t think you need to ask people if you want to link to them. For the most part, when you link to another blog or web site, you are helping generate traffic for that blog or site. In most cases, you are sharing the link because you think it’s worthwhile and you want others to be aware of the content. It’s win-win-win: You share the info with reader, readers learn something new, the linked-to blog/site receives a traffic boost.

There have been instances where one site links to another to flame or make fun of it. These are unfortunate, but there is no rule that says one site has to ask the other permission to link. Once you put something out on the internet, it’s going to be fair game as far as linking goes.

I do not usually ask for permission from any site I link to. I link to things because they are relevant (e.g., Helpful Blogging Links) and they will be useful to my readers. Sometimes I receive a thank you from the person I’m linking to, but it’s because they’ve figured out via their stat counter that I’m sending readers their way. It’s nice to hear from them, but I don’t expect anything in return. I’m sure that if they deem anything I write or offer as helpful, then they’ll link to me. If not, that’s OK too.

If you do decide to give the other blog/site owner a heads up about your link, you shouldn’t necessarily expect anything in return. They may or may not respond with a polite “Thank you”; certainly you cannot expect a reciprocal link just because you link to them.

The great thing about blogging and the communities it inspires is that everything is shareable.

When entering an online giveaway, is giving an e-mail necessary when you’ve left your blog link?

Many online giveaways require that you provide a valid e-mail address so they can easily contact you if you win. I would say you need to leave your e-mail address even if you also leave a link to your blog. My reasoning is that if the host has to track you down, they may just choose another winner so it’s not as much work for them. Whether that’s right or wrong, it’s a possibility.

On the other hand, leaving your e-mail in a comment opens the door for spammers to collect your e-mail address. One way to deter spambots (the little code robots spammers send out to collect data, similar to how search engines look for key words) is to type your e-mail without using the @ or . in the address. For example: bloggingbasics101 AT gmail DOT com. Just about everyone knows to change the AT to @ and the DOT to the .

If you do choose to leave a link to your blog instead of leaving your e-mail address, make sure your e-mail or contact information is clearly marked on your blog. It won’t do any good if the host actually clicks to your blog and still can’t find and easy way of contacting you.

I use Typepad for my blogs. When I receive a comment, I can automatically respond to specific commentators because they have had to type in their e-mail addresses in order to leave a comment. They don’t have to re-type their address in the body of the message because my host already includes it in the message.

So what do you think? How do you handle this with your own online giveaways and such?