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Build a Better Blogroll

May I be frank? Because I feel like we’re friends. I love a blogroll. Like many of you, I spend…

May I be frank? Because I feel like we’re friends.

I love a blogroll.

Like many of you, I spend a lot of time trying to find my blogular niche. I’m a Reader power user, but the ever-expanding vastness of the blogosphere can still be overwhelming. Enter: the blogroll. When I find a blog I like, I’m always excited to see a blogroll — it’s like getting recommendations from a friend rather than blindly falling down the rabbit hole of the internet. Throw in the community- and traffic-building benefits, and a blogroll becomes a win-win-win-win proposition.

Okay, that was perhaps one too many “wins,” but the point remains; blogrolls are a great way to burrow deeper into the blogging community, bring in new readers, and spread some bloggy love.

What is a blogroll?

A blogroll is a list of links to other sites you love; you can create one by:

  1. Adding your chosen sites in the “Links” tab in your dashboard.
  2. Heading to Appearance → Widgets and dragging the “Links” widget into your sidebar or footer.

The list can be as long or as short as you like, and you can have different categories for blogs on different topics. You can link to any websites you like — they don’t have to be other WordPress.com sites, or even blogs.

We also let you automate the process with the Posts I Like and Blogs I Follow widgets, which update themselves based on your activity on WordPress.com (though if you want to link to non-WordPress.com sites, you’ll need to use a standard blogroll).

Why should I have one? I want people to stay on my blog, not click away!

What is it that they say? “You get what you give”? “You have to spend money to make money”? Well, they’re on to something. Adding links you love has some great benefits:

  • Show your stuff. You can tell readers more about yourself, your personality, and your interests through what you choose to share.
  • More traffic. Sometimes, those you link to will link to you in return, helping introduce your site to new readers. At the very least, the blogger you link to may stop by for a visit when they realize you’ve linked to them.
  • Community building. The more people you introduce to subjects you love, the more that community grows. Good for the community, and good for you.
  • Mutual support. We’re all building the blogosphere together, so it behooves us to share the love and support one another. Show that you’re a caring member of the community, and the community will care about you.
  • Satisfy your readers. Giving them links you recommend is not only a low-impact way to give them more great content, it turns you into a trustworthy source of great stuff.

Do you have some tips for building a better blogroll?

Why yes, we do; thanks for asking!

DO . . .

. . . tell us why we should click. You can add hover-over text to the links, giving you an extra chance to plug your blogroll links with punchy descriptions. “The funniest blog about reptiles on the internet!” “Easy-to-follow tutorials for Renaissance Faire costumes.” You get the idea. You can also link directly to a post you love, rather than to the blogger’s home page.

. . . keep it concise. Avoid link overwhelm! If you’ve got dozens of sites you want to feature, consider either creating a separate “Links” page on your blog, or rotate your blogroll, highlighting 10-20 of your favorites every month or week.

. . . categorize. If you’re really into parenting blogs, home renovation blogs, and video game blogs, split your blogroll into categories to help readers get to the content that’s relevant to them.

DON’T . . .

. . . set it and forget it. This is our biggest blogroll peeve: if your blogroll is full of dead links or links to sites that haven’t been updated since 2009, it’s clearly not really a reflection of sites you read, throwing your credibility into doubt. Weed your blogroll monthly.

. . . feel like you have to link to everyone who links to you. This one might be a little controversial, but I’m sticking by it. Your blogroll is a reflection of what you read and love, not a quid pro quo. I don’t click on blogroll links because I want to find other people who think you’re great, I do it because I trust your judgment and want to see what you recommend. You can automatically reciprocate blogroll links if you’d like, but don’t feel compelled.

If you want to see what this looks like in practice, here are a few bloggers who are doing a great job sharing the love:

Edge of the Arctic keeps it short and sweet with a basic blogroll.

The Byronic Man gives readers a recommended blogger, rotating who is featured, along with a blogroll titled, “Bloggers Whose Wit and Prolificness I, Frankly, Resent.”

Thoughts of a Lunatic’s footer offers up both recommended posts and recommended blogs (using the “Posts I Like” and “Blogs I Follow” widgets), with hover-over text to help guide the reader.

The internet without links is like a road with no intersections. However, unlike with public infrastructure, we can build the connections ourselves without risking arrest. Make the blogging experience better for yourself, your readers, and your community with a blogroll.

87 Comments

  1. Great advice on an additional perk I could add to my blog. I’ve seen them, wondered about them, avoided them. Now I will research, click, learn, link and go forth and blogroll with abandon. Okay, maybe not abandon, but I’ll try it out.

  2. Yes! I’ve been looking to change my theme (which I love) to include a blogroll without it looking too busy. I love blog referrals from blogs I enjoy, and am good about including links in my posts too.

  3. So, Michelle, I have a blogroll as well as a page that lists those blogs along with a zinger statement for each of them. I linked to the folks’ homepages, so they didn’t get a pingback notice. I’ve not actively told any of them they’re on my blogroll, as I figured to do so would be the same as asking for them to do the same with my blog. What’s your suggestion for letting bloggers know (or not)?

    1. Hi, Sid! They may realize it when they see your blog listed as a referring site in their stats. Other than that, I actually think it’s fine to drop them a line and be totally clear – “Hey, I’m not doing this for a link, just wanted to let you know that I think you’ve got a great site going.”

  4. a great post, Michelle, thanks for that!

    I’ve recently built up my blogroll again ..I used to have none for a while (I had a favorite list on my computer), but now I’ve “gathered” all of my favorite blogs there and I visit them regularly from the blogroll.

    I don’t use readers or subscriptions because that’s “too much input” for me I couldn’t cope with. I like to visit blogs directly.

    The only blog I’m following is this one ;)

  5. i wondered what the link “descriptions” were used for! and i LOVE the idea of having a “featured blog” ~ every year i do a series of “featured poets” for National Poetry Month and i was looking for a way to change it up.

    btw, is there a reason you don’t have your embedded links open into a new tab or window? it’s rather frustrating to want to check them out but having them open in your tab. thanks!

    1. Hmm, I just doubled-checked them, and there was only one link inadvertently left to open in the same tab. Could you try refreshing and clicking again, and let me know if it’s still happening? They should all launch a new tab.

  6. I’d love to see a version of the blogroll that shows an ever-changing random selection of the blogs I follow (much like the “community” widget does). Blogrolls were the topic of Monday’s post on The Write Transition, and it sparked a major discussion of ways to improve them. A randomized rotation (not simply the most recently followed) was a popular idea.

  7. Yes to all of this! I started my blog roll before I even wrote my first post. The idea of creating a network of shared interests is what got me interested in blogging in the first place. Now that my blog has shifted focus a bit ( from ” think local” to ” sense of place”) I need to revamp my blog roll. Perhaps add categories, as you suggested. Thanks for clarifying this.
    Melanie
    PS bonus points for using ” behoove” in a sentence!!!

  8. I have been reluctant to create a blogroll since I follow 200 bloggers and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I have to admit that my own feelings have been hurt by exclusion. A few of my best commenters probably wouldn’t make the cut. I would have to make a lot of lists!

    In lieu of one, I host a blog party once a month where I ask my followers to leave a link to their blog in my comment section. I call it Use Me and Abuse Me Day. They have gotten a lot of subscribers by participating

    By the way, I noticed that a couple of Recommended Bloggers are inactive.

    I would love to know your thoughts about how I would make a list and not offend anyone.

    1. That’s a great idea! And I absolutely get what you mean about exclusion. I couldn’t possibly add everyone I follow onto a blogroll, with or without categories. My solution is to make a post, pretty frequently, highlighing blogs I’ve enjoyed and linking directly to their post. I call them “The best __…(says me)” I have enjoyed it and so have my readers.

    2. I think the rotating blogroll is a great way to deal with this. I’ve seen blogs that have a separate page where they list all their links – sometimes hundreds – in alpha order, and then feature 10 or 15 on the blogroll at any given time. In that case, you’d want to edit the blogroll widget to call it something that indicates the rotation, like “This Month’s Recommended Reads.” You could also add a text widget just below pointing readers to the page with the full list.

      Love your “Use Me” day – great idea!

  9. I had not explored this due to the fact that i have just concentrated so muchon blogging. Also, in what I had see on blogs of others seemed like a labor intenisve process, which means more time. After reading this and considering your points, i intend to try it out. Perhaps i can inspire some of my friends to do this as well.

  10. I love my Blogroll too. I have found, over time that people can vanish from the Blogosphere as mysteriously as they enter it. After a time you realise that all is silence from their end and they are no longer blogging. Therefore I love my Blogroll but I always look on it as a work in progress.

  11. You are right – I have not looked at this in a long time. I took your advice Michelle, and updated and cleaned up mine. And I gave my blog a bright shiny new theme too – all ready for 2013 now!

  12. I always feel terrible when I assume someone is on my blogroll because I really, really like their site, then realize that I actually have to add them, not just think it.

  13. If I only understood the ‘language!’ Don’t laugh at my being an anachronism…I’m still trying to figure out how to drag or do whatever it is I’m to do to a widget. In short, I’m missing out on a lot because my brain just doesn’t register too well the new, well, relatively new. language of cyberspace. In fact, I’m getting to the the point where I hate the geeks that do – understand it so well, I mean. :-) Just an attempt at amusement – I’m too sweet a guy to hate anyone. I’m muddling along, and maybe there’s a miracle or two out there for me…What I do know is that I managed to somehow create some sites (which could, of course, be better if I knew about widget-handling, etc..) My website blog spots are: http://thefinalcurtain1.wordpress.comhttp://billyraychitwood.weebly.comhttp://goodreads.com/author/dashboard

    I’m hoping people like them well enough to include them in one or more blogrolls…

  14. I’m so glad you made the point about your blogroll reflecting what you actually read, and not just a tit-for-tat type thing. I think all of us bloggers really struggle with wanting to support everyone / not ever offend. I’ve contemplated deleting mine altogether because of that very reason!

  15. I feel like you do about the blogroll, but sometimes it disappears from the ‘page’ because (it seems to me) the theme I am trying out won’t take it. I particularly like the columnisat (love it, if you must know) and keep coming back to it, but it has that problem. On the other hand I am such a ditz when it comes to arranging things on my blog (I’m improving) that I could be getting it wrong.

  16. Thanks for the post, but I had hoped to find out how I can customize my blogroll. I might follow a blog for personal reasons, but it might not be one I recommend to everyone. Yet it seems the only way I can have a blogroll is with all the blogs I follow, without exception. Is there a way around that?

    1. There are two options – you can use the Blogs I Follow widget, which it sounds like you’re doing, or you can create your own custom blogroll.

      To create you own, go to the Links tab in your dashboard and add the links you want to include, then head to Appearance –> Widgets and drag the Links widget to your dashboard.

      The links above will take you to support documents with more detailed instructions with screen shots.

      1. Yes, I know. What I meant was that I can’t customize the Blogs I follow widget. I like it because it’s more visual than a list of titles in the links section, but I can’t be selective and I can’t create hover texts for them. It would be great if I could.

      2. Ah, understood. If you wanted to spend a little time on this, you could achieve something similar with image widgets — put in the blogger’s image or logo, link to their site, and add hover-over text. It would be a little time-intensive, and wouldn’t look quite as neat, though.

  17. I think I have seen some sort of widget of a list of people that you are following (using wordpress.com). I kinda like that because it is an honest reflection of who you actually have in your feed.

  18. Thank you for the instructions. I tried creating one last year but without success. Maybe I’ll start with the automated version and work from there.

  19. As a modified carryover from when I was self-hosted, I use a variety of link categories and display them all with a number of Link widgets:

    Places I Love, Places I Like, What I Use, Friends, and Lego.

    The categorization is simple, but effective. Grouping links together helps create some sort of order, and with the visual division these groups create, I can actually add MORE links without it being overwhelming.

  20. Ah ha! So that is the secret.
    Now getting the hovercards to work will jinx me for sure.
    If it ever works…oh the tales I will tell!

    It may be a small thing but this had me in hover wonder for months. I love youguys for facilitating my gradual submision to the laws of the blogesphere.

  21. Thanks for this post. I hadn’t done much with my blogroll because I didn’t understand its significance or any of the (often unwritten) etiquette that goes with this function.

  22. Very helpful! I’m always looking for ways to connect with other writers out there and see what they are doing. This is the perfect way to share my favorites! Thanks for sharing. Do you have any advice on how to get traffic from one blog to another? I have two: One is a place to share my writing journey and the other showcases my work. I want people who are interested in my daily journey to stop by and see what all my hard work goes into.

    Hoping you can help,
    ~ O

  23. This was so timely for me! About a week ago I eliminated my blogroll because, while I did like the blogs, I thought the list was pretty stale and I was thinking about how to have a blogroll that I can manage that offered something more varied. Love your idea of rotating items on the blogroll! (No one likes stale rolls.) So I’ve put my blogroll back into play, rotating three at a time and we’ll see how that goes!

    1. You’re welcome! Which option you choose is purely personal, and will depend on how many blogs you read, how much time you want to spend maintaining your blogroll, and whether you want to categorize the links for your readers.

  24. I love the blogroll/blog community widget which I already have on my blog. It’s a rotating reflection of some of the blogs I follow that do check in. I love the fact that it updates and changes in real-time and it’s more accurate than having a laundry list of blogs that are inactive or have no interaction with my blog. I used to have a blogroll page but had to keep updating it… I like the widget best and it works nicely… I’ll think of something more in the coming weeks. Thanks Michelle! :-)
    Eliz

  25. It would be great to be able to integrate all of these blogroll types onto a page. When placed in the footer or sidebar they often take up a large amount of space. Having a blogroll page with the widgets on it would be great. Then you could have your pages I like, pages I visit, favorites, and other categorized blogs showing in one resource center.

  26. I’m a big believer in blogrolls that explain what the linked blog/site is primarily about. I’d guess that most of us have very varied interests, so it’s nice to know if the link I’ll be clicking on will take me to blog about baseball and beer (good) or one about root canals and racism (bad).

    For this reason, I think a separate page works best. On my blog (Feit Can Write) I named my blogroll with a similar name (Feit Can Read) so I’m keeping an overall theme together.

    But I do need to make sure all the links are good…

    1. A racist root canal blog might be the worst of all possible blogs. But yes, it’s always good if you can let readers know what they’re in for before they click.

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