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

20 Responses

  1. Dawn Farias April 5, 2010 / 7:15 pm

    I enjoyed this post and was hoping you might have something similar on best practices for blog authors to reply to comments. Direct email (but then your other readers may think you don’t respond at all to comments) or reply in the comment thread (and risk assuming the commenter subscribed to following comments and if they didn’t how would they know you replied unless they come back to check?!) And when, as a blog author, you hit reply to the comment on a wordpress or other platform that allows for threaded comments, does that reply automatically get sent to the author’s email that they were required to enter?

    My goodness… can you tell I’ve been over thinking this? Any posts on this? Where can I subscribe to the comments for this post? Ah! It’s starting again… 😉

  2. Catie April 5, 2010 / 7:43 pm

    Thanks! This post was extremely helpful!!!!! Really liking this blog!

  3. Melanie Nelson April 5, 2010 / 7:52 pm

    Dawn,

    These are good questions. I’d like to use my answer as a post. My short answer (so I don’t leave you hanging): it’s easiest for both you and the commenter if you can respond via e-mail and have it show up in their e-mail box *and* in your comments as a response to their question. You can do that with both WordPress (install the Comment E-mail Responder plug-in from http://www.u-g-h.com/wordpress-plugins/wordpress-plugin-comment-email-responder/) and TypePad (enable TypePad Connect for your comments). I’ll have to do a quick search to see if you can do an add-in for Blogger for that same functionality. Look for a post on this topic next week. Thanks!

    Melanie

  4. Dawn Farias April 5, 2010 / 8:05 pm

    I’ll be looking for that post! Yay! I’ve been thinking about doing a post on it myself but apparently, I have no answers to offer. LOL. Looking forward to yours.

  5. mollyc April 5, 2010 / 10:43 pm

    I have a blogroll. But just as I think I am on the “cutting edge” of the blog world, I discover something else that is better. And then Twitter, and finally, I am starting to conclude that really, just sending a email to every person in the world, one by one, would be just as easy and time consuming as harnessing technology to promote my blog.
    By the way, I blog in my underwear in my pantry, unwashed and uncombed. I have had some small measure of success http:www.wclibrary.info/erma/winners_current.asp but I would LOVE your advice on where to go from here. I want to go big or go home, but I am 60, with bad knees, five cats, my husband plays the accordion, and thus I may be doomed. If you would help me out with some words of wisdom, I would be thrilled. molly

    • Melanie Nelson April 6, 2010 / 10:51 am

      Molly,

      My advice in the “go big or go home” realm is to immerse yourself into your blogging community–and not just online. Go to blog conferences, writing conferences, Twitter meet-ups in your area, etc. The key to getting yourself out there is getting out there. If you’re commenting on blogs in your niche or even just on those that you love regardless of niche, that’s a start. Maybe do a guest post at a blog you have a rapport with (that article will be a good showcase of your humor and writing style and link back to your blog). Write something for your local paper (either their online version or their paper version) and include your blog’s URL. Brainstorm your ideas, then put together a calendar with To Do items and then *do* them. If you’re accountable, you’re more likely to follow through (she says from experience).

      I wish you best of luck! Blogging is a great hobby/career/community/whatever you want it to be, but you definitely have to put the effort in to get the reward out. You can do this!
      Melanie

  6. Musings of a Housewife April 7, 2010 / 6:21 am

    Interesting. I still have a traditional blog roll. It is always one of my top 3 or 4 viewed posts/pages according to Google Analytics so I assume a lot of people use it. I TRY to keep it just to people I read regularly, but it’s hard b/c I hate to delete people, although I have been known to do so. I definitely think blogrolls are most effective when they are kept pared down.

    While I see that people are using mine, I rarely look at anyone else’s. Love the idea of a Tumblr site. I need to consider that.

    • Melanie Nelson April 7, 2010 / 9:15 am

      Jo-Lynn, how interesting! Can you tell if the readers checking out your blogroll are new or loyal readers? How often do you update it?

  7. Becca - Our Crazy Boys April 7, 2010 / 9:11 am

    Wow… everything I needed to hear!

    I have been playing with the idea of a blogroll, but have been putting it off because I don’t want to offend anyone. I have a lot of wonderful readers who have small blogs that I don’t “love”, and would feel awful if I offended them by not linking to them… but don’t feel that their content is link-worthy.

    I really like your idea of linking within a post – I have been doing that, but never considered it an alternative to a blogroll.

    Thanks for the permission to not make a formal one 🙂

  8. Stephanie April 8, 2010 / 12:18 am

    You are a wealth of information, Melanie! Thanks for publishing such useful posts. 🙂

    RE: blog rolls. I don’t have a traditional one. Instead, I have a “Favorites” page: http://metropolitanmama.net/favorites/ (You’re on it!). I try to keep it updated and regularly add/delete blogs as my interests change.

  9. Melanie Nelson April 8, 2010 / 6:45 am

    Stephanie, thanks for including me in your list and for your kind words. 🙂 I think your policy of trying to update the page regularly is a good way to encourage readers to keep checking it out.

    Here are a few questions for those of you who do keep a list/blogroll:
    1. Do you tell your readers (either in a post or in your sidebar, maybe) how often you update or when you have updated the list?
    2. Do you include a synopsis of the site and tell the reader what she can expect when she clicks over? Or, even cooler, do you include the RSS feed so it’s constantly updated with new content? I could see that as really useful.
    3. How often do you actually update your list?

  10. Deb April 14, 2010 / 5:56 am

    Thank you! I sometimes feel guilty for not posting a reciprocal blogroll, but I have too much respect for my readers to lead them to blogs I don’t actually love. On a related topic, I also feel a little bad I don’t spend (or have) more time to spend reading and commenting on other blogs. My blog roll truly is the list of blogs I MAKE the time for, and I don’t mind encouraging my readers to do the same.

    I feel the same way about the “follow me and I’ll follow you” requests I get, very often from seasoned bloggers (who’ve likely had success racking up newbie followers with this tactic). I’ve been blogging for a year and have under 100 followers, but I’ve earned every last one of them, and like to think that the majority of them actually read the feed on a semi-regular basis.

    I think these issues are another wrinkle in the “blog with integrity” mantra so popular w/regard to product reviews. Even if it compromises the numbers I can display, I think that we should also use integrity with the way we promote other bloggers. It’s a favor, not a requirement.

    Did I mention thank you for this post? You’ve just EARNED a new reader (via recommendation by a fellow blogger I trust)!

    • Melanie Nelson April 14, 2010 / 7:06 am

      Dawn, thank you for those gracious words. I appreciate them and am so glad you’re a new reader! Welcome!

    • Amy Marden May 24, 2012 / 4:05 pm

      Dawn I totally agree with your comments. I am not a seasoned blogger. Would I love to have a huge following? Sure. Would I do it by spamming my blog in the faces of people who probably would delete the notifications if they knew which button to click? No. I’m taking your approach; I’ll earn them with good content and good communication 🙂

    • Amy Marden May 24, 2012 / 4:06 pm

      Ack! Deb. Deb, Deb, Deb. Not Dawn. Proofread, Amy! Sorry!

  11. susy June 8, 2011 / 12:51 am

    Thank you so much for this concise and genuine opinion! I can sleep a little easier knowing that my blogroll is good enough as it is… at least for now 🙂

  12. James - Talk Boilers March 8, 2012 / 11:47 am

    Add me add me add me.

    Just kidding.

    If you’re after a blogroll link, the best bet is to carefully target those blogs you love and which you want the link from., Find out who runs them and then target them using social media, such as Twitter or Google+.. Comment on a few of their posts, and then ask to write a guest blog entry for them. If they say yes, great you’ll get a link. Maybe then suggest a blogroll link in return for a few more contributions.

  13. Amy Marden May 24, 2012 / 4:01 pm

    This is the epitome of a timeless post. Great content! I’m a writer and working on building my social media platform. Unfortunately I have a tendency to “do” first and “think” second. I’ve got the blog going pretty well now and today decided to make the leap and add a blog roll. Two hours later while I’m mowing the lawn: “Hmmm, should I have asked those people first?” Cue your post. Thank you for this post in particular and the site in general. I’m glad I found you!

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