This is an off-topic post based on a reader question.
Links posts are a common staple of internet content, and a well-constructed collection of links can be a great way to provide extra value to your readers.
At the same time, however, it's disrespectful to your readers to post a me-too linkfest that shares substandard content or draws from the same sites and blogs they already follow. If you want to provide a real service to your readers, you've got to do better.
Here's a list of thirteen rules that I try to live by when I produce my own links posts:
1) Follow a minimum of 100 blogs in your niche.
You can't add value by mining the same content universe as your readers. You'll need to read more widely than your readers--much more widely. I draw from more nearly 300 food blogs to find material for my weekly links posts at Casual Kitchen, and I'm constantly adding more blogs and sites to my RSS reader. The more blogs you follow, the more interesting and thought-provoking material you'll find.
2) Follow another 100 blogs (minimum) outside of your niche.
Choose a wide and eclectic mix of blogs outside your niche and you'll bring your readers thoughts and ideas from well beyond their typical sphere of information. The 150 or so non-food blogs I follow include subjects like anthropology, banking and credit analysis, economics, fiction, feminism, photography, psychiatry, psychic phenomena, running, stock market investing, tennis, travel, writing and wine.
3) Pay attention to where niches intersect.
Vegetarianism and environmentalism. Gender roles and cooking. Food branding and anthropology. Economic history and the Green Revolution. The best and most original articles tend to appear where niches intersect, and it's on these "frontiers" where you find material your readers won't know, but will want to know. That's the definition of how to add substantial value to your readers' lives, and it's yet another reason to read widely, both in and out of your niche.
[A brief side note: At this point, if you're horrified by the reading required for making up good links posts, don't be discouraged! After just a week or two of wider-than-normal reading, you'll quickly become adept at deciding which content is worth a close read and which content you can skim or skip over. Furthermore, increasing the width and depth of your reading provides the enormous secondary benefit of helping you generate truly original and insightful blog posts of your own. Give it a sincere try for a few weeks and you'll see what I mean.]
4) Know what's obvious and already over-linked to.
A post filled with me-too links to articles everyone has already read is an utter waste of pixels. How can you know what's already widely read? Just follow the five to ten most widely-read blogs in your niche, paying particular attention to their links posts. Any articles you see there are highly likely to be a part of the collective obviousness.
5) Use Google Alerts to find off-the-beaten-path content.
If there are specific keywords that represent important content on your blog, select four or five terms and input them into Google Alerts. Use this technique to find new blogs in your niche, or to keep current on specific memes or concepts. I used a Google alert for "hummus" over a four month period to build a roundup of the internet's easiest hummus recipes, and it quickly became one of my most popular posts.
6) Don't be afraid to go back in time.
If you run a weekly links post like I do here at Casual Kitchen, don't feel compelled to use only current material. Only 0.00001% of the content on the internet was published in the past week--why select from such a tiny sample of what's out there? Choose the best articles without regard to how recent they are.
7) Don't bother linking to ultra high traffic blogs.
I see little point to linking to articles from sites like Dooce and Zen Habits which are already on the radar screens of most of your readers. Bring your readers original and different content, not content they've already seen.
8) Ignore mass circulation magazine and newspaper sites.
Links to these sources are pointless on two levels. First, just as with the top high-traffic blogs, you run the risk of bringing your readers content they've seen already. Second, any incremental traffic you might bring to these sites is unlikely to be noticed, appreciated or reciprocated.
9) Link to blogs that will notice and care.
When you link to great content at a new or undiscovered blog, you accomplish two things: You help your readers find a new source of useful information, and you help that blogger interact with a new audience. And believe me--that new blogger will remember. Early in Casual Kitchen's life, two well-established blogs, Cheap Healthy Good and The Simple Dollar, linked to me and helped put me in front of thousands of new readers. With that simple gesture, those two bloggers earned my undying gratitude. You can make a huge difference in the future of a new, high-quality blog by doing the same.
10) Keep your links to 10-15 max.
Run too many links and your post will seem so daunting that nobody will read it. Run too few and you don't make sufficient use of your readers' attention.
11) Kill the worst 20% of your links.
Once you've finished your links roundup, go over it one last time and ruthlessly cut out the least interesting 20% of the links. Do this even if you find that you are deleting truly good links. This step will dramatically improve the overall quality of your post. (For more on the 120% solution, see my writing tips blog.)
12) Don't ramble on about each link.
Links posts are about the links, not about you. Keep your descriptions short, compelling, and never repeat content that the reader will see again in the article. If you can't come up with a snappy and enticing one- or two-sentence summary, consider scrapping that link.
13) Give credit.
If you learned about an exceptional article from another blog, include a separate link citing your source. It's good karma, and it spreads even more link love. Thanks to XYZ blog for the link, via XYZ blog and H/T to XYZ blog are common notations.
Readers, which of these rules do you disagree with? What would you add to the discussion? And when are you starting up your killer links posts?
On Writing for Casual Kitchen
On Writing for Casual Kitchen, Part 2: Keeping Track
Recommended Reading for A Good Wine Education
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