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