Understanding links, their value and structure

Filed as Guides on July 25, 2005 1:50 am

by Duncan

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For many blogging has become about links, links in, link out, links from famous sites or links from other sites. Whilst we all know that blogging is more than links, links still play a vital role in building traffic and gaining exposure for your blog, because without links, chances are that your readership will never be more than a small number of people. Understanding how links work in relation to the blogosphere is important in understanding both where your blog sits, and in creating a vision for where you want it to go.

Types of links:
If we look at links in their most basic form, we can split links into two types: links from other sites, and links from search engines. I’m not going to look at search engine links in this post mainly because they’ve been covered before, and I’d suggest that good links from other sites will see you get good links from the search engines as a matter of course anyway.

Blogs vs Non-blogs
Links can also come from non-blogs as well as blogs. Non-blog links can be helpful, and certainly should be appreciated if gained, but in my experience, with the exception of a few outlets, they don’t provide a lot of value overall, firstly because they are not followed by main blog search engines, and they often don’t provide a lot of useful traffic. They are good, like all links however, for search engines.

Link Type
Links can come in various types
Primary: this is the best format for a link, where you are named in a post and directly linked to by the author. This can be in the form of a comment: “Fred Smith says XYZ here and I disagree”, or in a report “Fred Smith has done XYZ” for example, but the difference is that by being the subject of the post means that your likely to get more traffic out of this than links else where.

Secondary: also could be called source links, this is where you’ve received a source credit from a blog when they’ve run a post in which they’ve originally picked up the story from you. This can come in the form of within the post (As quoted on Fred Smiths Blogs, Jane Smith said…”) or as a straight reference at the end (via Fred Smith..). Naturally the first form is more valuable, but not as much as primary links because they do not focus on you. Depending on the site though they still help with traffic and with link ratings as well

Nav Links: these are the Blogroll type links that you commonly find on blogs in amongst the navigation portions of the site, be it normally in a narrow column on either side of the main content. These don’t drive as much traffic like the other two types of links, but they still expose your blog to others and help with blog ratings, and normally being on every page actually works in the longer term in giving your blog exposure, because although there may not be a surge of traffic, the combined affected over time of small numbers of visits can sometimes be more beneficial itself.

Links from within the blogosphre

This is where links get hard, and I tossed and turned on the terminology to use here, because the value of links from what is regarded by some as the A List, B List etc doesn’t equate into their actual value. So I’ve created the concept of Grades to best explain the value of various links.

Grade 1:
Uber blogs form the core of Grade 1 links. There are very few sites that fall into a Grade 1 category, but if you land a Grade 1 link you’ll know about it pretty soon, because you’ll usually see a massive increase in traffic no matter how much traffic you already have. In anything Tech, Slashdot is the god of Grade 1 links. Primary and secondary references on Slashdot may even knock your server offline! Boing Boing and Drudge are also Grade 1 links, although not quite at Slashdot’s level, but higher than Grade 2 sites.

Grade 2: Grade 2 sites get harder to define because the networks created in the blogosphere start to diverge and not cross by the time we get to Grade 2. Grade 2 sites will provide strong traffic but in specific topics and where relevant. Weblogs Inc., sites such as Engadget, political sites such as Kos and Instapundit, Gossip sites such as Gawker come to mind as worthy of a Grade 2 status: they are all leaders in their particular fields and if you’re blogging in a similar vain (on topic) then links from these sites are going to be great for you. But a link to say Darren Rowse’s UAV blog from Gawker isn’t going to drive a lot of traffic and interest.

Grade 3: Now I might get into trouble on this one, but look at most of the A & B List at Blogebrity and you’ve got your Grade 3 links. I’ve warmed more and more to the Blogebrity people (partially because they put me on the B List) because they’ve started to articulate a reasonably accurate list which is becoming a reasonable reference point for higher profile bloggers, however looking at the A & B lists in terms of links I dont see a lot of difference between the two. Grade 3 is harder to write about again because of the growing number of people at this level as the Blogosphere continues to grow, and because we are breaking into so many sub networks of people here different links have different values to different people…..and there is also the incest problem that I’ll talk about later in this post. Getting a Grade 3 link alone helps, as do all links, but you’ll only really see a huge amount of traffic from multiple grade 3 links. Grade 3 bloggers also help in particular for spreading the word, because their combined influence is actually greater amongst blog readers than Grade 1 and Grade 2 blogs, and they are together ranked more higher on blog search engines as well.

Grade 4: lower profile but established bloggers fall into Grade 4, and that’s just about everyone who’s been blogging for 6 months or longer, and most people will fall into this category. This is not to undervalue Grade 4 links at all, its just means that you’ll need more of them to drive traffic and to get a result, but having said that its actually easier, and often more pleasant working at this level. Firstly you get to meet a lot of really nice people with similar interests, make friends and associates, and actually enjoy blogging at this level. And the wonderful thing about the blogosphere is that Grade 4 links can actually become as influential as the other grades as well because it takes just one blogger to link to your post for the possibility of bigger things to happen. That link can lead to another link, to another link, to a Grade 3 link, to a Grade 2 link, and even a Grade 1 link. What’s the saying: from little things big thing grow!

Grade 5: links from new blogs count, but don’t have as much value as any of the other grades. It’s a reality that’s unfortunate to some extent, but we’ve all got to start some where. Like all links though they count, even in a small way, and today I’m grateful for every link I’ve ever gotten, because they all count and have put me where I am today, so you’ll never here me bad mouth a link.

Networks
For all of the Grading I’ve given here, its important to understand that the blogosphere is one big intertwined network of people and blogs. Understanding link grades is useful in understanding the the results derived from a link, but there are many ways to blogging stardom, and nearly an infinite number of paths and routes that can be taken.

The incest problem
This has popped up elsewhere recently (I don’t remember where though, if you know the post let me know). Some Grade 3 bloggers (A-list to some) have a tendency to link to each other in a cycle that some have alleged assures that they remain high in the blogosphere. The examples given were Dave Winer, Robert Scoble, Chris Pirillo and Steve Rubel. Firstly, its important to recognise that within networks bloggers tend to read the same blogs. I read 3 out of the 4 in this list for example. Becaues those bloggers have similar or shared interests they’ll tend to link to each other, and they’ll do so because they see each other as more credible on the particular issue than other bloggers, however I don’t subscribe to the theory that this is intentional, its more habitual than intentional and I don’t think any of the bloggers given in the example intentionally choose to exclude others so as to assure their own position in the blogosphere (although Scoble’s no-part feed policy stinks and it could be argued that this is about snubbing others) but if you are an outsider from these networks, its a reality that you’ll be lucky if you ever get a regular look in.

Inner and outer networks
It should be noted that that with all the various networks there are also outsiders who sometimes get picked up within an inner network amongst the Level 3/ A List bloggers. I’d count myself as an outsider who occasionally gets a look in amongst some in the Rubel/ Winer/ Pirillo/ Scoble network of friends, but in other networks I’m part of an inner network, and to some extent, yes, I tend to link to certain people I like to read, people who share similar or shared interests to myself. We all do this, although many wouldn’t articulate it this way or have thought about it to this depth before. If you’ve been around in the blogosphere a while you’ll have your own network of friends and associates as well, because networks aren’t exclusive to the top of the blogosphere, but regular throughout its varied levels. You’ll also be on the outside of some networks and on the inside, and in thousands of other networks you’ll be totally unknown. A good example is Darren Rowse again (and no, I’m not competiting to see how many times I can put his name in a post :-) ) and his Slashdot fame. See, Darren and I share a lot of readers. I’ve picked up new readers from Problogger, and I know there have been long term Blog Herald readers who have become Problogger readers. Now Darren gets Slashdotted due to Scoble (who ran the story mysteriously and without credit) picking up on the recent post about Darren’s recent good fortune with Adsense. Most regular readers here would know that Darren is telling the truth on the revenue side, and appreciate his openess in sharing blog tips and info with his readers. Darrens outside the Slashdot network, so all of a sudden an outsider is mentioned, briefly on Slashdot and is accused of all sorts of nasty things (which I wont dignify in repeating). The point of this again is to demostrate networks. I know Darren is on a good wicket (sorry…translation into US English: good baseball diamond??) with his blogs and revenue. Others from outside the inner and outer networks don’t. Good examples again are political blogs, who have their own little networks that even go as far as names as well: Homespun Bloggers come to mind. Political bloggers like to provide labels to their networks and promote their friends that way, but the reality is, whether formally or informally articulated, these networks are all around us.

Now for the bad news
Understanding how links work really makes little difference in actually being able to chase links. Sometimes its luck, sometimes its being linked by the right person, who is read by someone else, who then provides a link that is picked up by a Grade 1, 2 or 3 site. The thing to remember is, is that all bloggers are human like you and can’t possibly read every blog out there to find the best of everything. I have about 100 sites in my Bloglines account, including subscriptions to sites such a Yahoo! News, MSN, Google and Topix on my areas of interest. I know others who have a lot more than this, but struggle to get through them all. At the end of the day writing quality, original material, or seeking out information that may not be known elsewhere are the best ways to build up your links, because in many cases eventually someone will notice, even if its a fellow relatively unknown blogger, because they might be read by….. well, you get the idea. If I had the ability to draw pictures I would be drawing circles with lots of connecting lines interconnecting with one and other.

There is good news however
You can improve your chances of getting found.
- Ask to swap links or provide the option on your site for reciprocal links, you’ll find that people will take you up on your offer, not all of the time but some of the time.
- Comment on other blogs, but only where you have something interesting to say on the topic. I’m not the best example because I don’t always get the chance to read all my comments here at The Blog Herald, but I do try to when I get the chance. People like Darren Rowse at Problogger.net for example has every comment emailed to him, as do others. And you know what, if I find an interesting comment, sometimes I’ll email the person, other times I’ll check their site out, and I might start reading their blog or even provide a link if I like it. Most other bloggers are the same, at any level.
- Email people: this isn’t always the best idea, but if you feel really strongly about something, or want to share something, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to email a blogger. You won’t always get a response, but sometimes you will. Like anything though don’t over do it. I’ve had occasions to add people to my Spam List because they’ve decided to add me on their list that emails me every time they post.
- And the best of all: Link to others. Lead by example and link to sites and provide credit where credit is due. You’ll find that sometimes you get a link back! There is nothing worse than a blog or blogger that doesn’t give credit on posts where the idea is taken from elsewhere.

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  1. By John (SYNTAGMA) posted on July 25, 2005 at 5:47 am
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    Excellent article, Duncan, mainly because it provides some original thinking on a much talked about subject. I like the grading scheme and the way you’ve nuanced the multiple connectivity between them. It’s a complex subject and needs a lot of experience to paint the right picture.

  2. By Nick Douglas posted on July 25, 2005 at 9:09 am
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    Most excellent article. I need some time to digest it, but I’ll respond on Blogebrity today.

  3. Understanding Links » Solution WatchJuly 25, 2005 at 9:20 am
  4. By Nick Douglas posted on July 26, 2005 at 12:11 am
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  5. By Mac posted on July 26, 2005 at 5:51 am
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    I understand the analisys and I do agree with the taxonomy of link-types you made. Yet, I disagree from what I perceived as a basic “monetisation” of the links (get as many links as you can as they have an implicit value) as opposed to the idea of watching at them as a “reward” for some good content (watch to how many links you get and you will understand how good you are in writing).

    However I’m blogging since a few months and I do it for fun… I can imagine that a business-blogger might have a different approach.

    If I will write of links on my blog be sure… you’ll be however linked! ;)

  6. By jozef imrich posted on July 26, 2005 at 6:20 am
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    This is rather cool as everyone who blogs is a winner ;-) Some are cooler than others, but at the end of the day we all tend to be infomaniacs!

  7. By Duncan posted on July 26, 2005 at 7:16 am
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    Mac
    I accept that the moneterization may not always be applicable, but take the money out of the equation and they still hold the same value in relation to driving traffic, and I’ve never met a blogger yet who wouldn’t like more traffic. Lets face it, its the ultimate buzz, but as I’ve noted knowing how links work doesn’t really make a huge difference in driving traffic because its the content that counts at the end of the day.

  8. By Yzabel posted on July 26, 2005 at 7:55 am
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    A very interesting, clear and enlightening read. The way you classified links in “grades” corresponds so well to the way things are, in my opinion. After reading this, there’s no way one won’t understand how links work anymore.

  9. Mindtracks » Duncan Riley’s understanding of links and their value.July 26, 2005 at 10:52 pm
  10. By Lyndon posted on July 28, 2005 at 6:40 pm
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    Thought provoking piece. It’s nice to read a verbose entry rather than the usual easy to swallow capsule posts. Thanks for taking time to write it.

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