9 Ways to think about linking in a blog post

There’s a blogger I like a lot, but she never links. I asked her why, and she said, “It takes too long.”

It’s true that linking does take a long time. But it’s one of my favorite parts of blogging. Sometimes I spend a couple of hours on the links – an hour reading the relevant conversations online and figuring out what to link to, and an hour arranging links in the post.

I think all the time about why I am linking, and where I should link, and what should be underneath the link. Here are the types of links that I think about:

1. The respect-gains-respect link
The Internet is very democratic about authority. Authority is up for grabs, and you get authority if you say something smart and interesting. To this end, whenever I am presenting a controversial opinion, I link to as many of my sources as possible. I want people to be able to look at the research that I am looking at and decide for themselves if my conclusion is right. Also, I have found that doing this makes conversation in the comments section more interesting.

2. Easter egg link
When my brother was guest blogging for me, every link he had was a joke. I have a background in user interface design, and at first I told him it was a bad way to link because people should know what they’re getting before they click. But then I realized that it is actually just a style of linking, and people came to expect his links to be fun. I started referring to these as Easter egg links, after the practice programmers have of adding secret messages behind the code. (For example you used to be able to type “zzzz” into a Microsoft Word document and spellchecker suggested “sex”.)

3. Here-are-my-friends links
Guy Kawasaki is the king of this. When Guy links, it is usually to one of his friends, or a friend of a friend. So Guy’s links serve to remind us of how well-connected he is. This is no small peanuts since he is, in fact, very well connected offline – especially for someone who is willing to commit to blogging regularly. Reading Guy’s blog is sometimes like the smart-man’s Page Six of Silicon Valley.

4. True-love link
Sometimes I’ll fall in love with a link and structure a whole post around it. Like this one. And sometimes I’ll save a link for a year before I use it. Usually my links are very serious – to back up some point I’m making. So I think of it as a treat for me and the reader when I throw one in just for fun. Like this one, about how to recharge and iPod using an onion and Gatorade.

5. Self-referential link
Most bloggers have pet topics they go back to time and again. So it’s helpful to a reader if the blogger links to a few of the other posts on that topic to give the current discussion context. I do this a lot, but I learned to do it from the team of writers at Techdirt. Those guys are great at linking to other stories they’ve written on the same topic. I don’t read Techdirt every day, so if I happen to be reading, I can get a history of a given topic by reading their links.

6. Hat-tip link
Sometimes, a blogger finds a very obscure piece of information, and links to it. Then, a blogger who regularly reads that blog also links to the obscure piece of information. It’s pretty clear that the second blogger got the information from the first blogger. And in this case, a nice little hat-tip is a courtesy – to say that actually, the stellar Internet research comes from someone else, not me. I do this often. For example, when I read this woman’s post because she blogged about me, and then I blogged about a link in her post. Here’s an example of someone railing against a blogger who did not follow the etiquette.

7. Link-bait link
When I first started blogging, people told me to link to bloggers who are bigger than I am. I didn’t really believe it would do anything for me, but that’s because I didn’t understand how much traffic a big blogger can send. So, I followed advice, even though I was skeptical. Here‘s the post – and it changed my life as a blogger. Literally. I linked to Lifehacker and they linked back, and for a year, that was the most popular post on my blog. Lifehacker’s audience is breathtakingly huge, and to get linked to from them is a big day for almost any blogger.

8. The friendly link
Blogging is a conversation, and it is much more fun if you are part of it, instead of just talking at people. One of the great pleasures of blogging is linking to someone who I don’t think knows that I read their blog. A link to someone is like saying, “I really like what you’re writing and in fact, I want to share it with everyone I know.” A blogger trades on ideas, so recognizing another blogger’s ideas with a link is a big deal. And it’s so easy to do, considering how nice it makes people feel. So do it.

9. The poetic link
If I write a list, and I have links to two out of three list items, I find a link to the third. I think the symmetry is important. Not like anyone will be upset if I don’t link, but I think that good rhythm to links is like good rhythm to sentences. It makes reading so much nicer. I do this in paragraphs as well – try to keep the linking structure rhythmic as the reader scrolls down the post. I don’t need to do that for meaning, I do it simply for pleasure.

Posted in How to blog, No image
43 comments on “9 Ways to think about linking in a blog post
  1. +DJ FunkyGrrL+ says:

    Most times, I’m on myspace and will admit have been guilty of not linking the news story, as I tend to paste the entire article in the blog.

  2. Shefaly says:

    Linking takes too long? I am sure a better excuse can be invented for not linking… If one is using a tabbed browser – no matter what browser – and knows some keyboard shortcuts on the blogging platform – no matter what platform – and has intent to link, linking takes less time than editing one’s own piece of work.

    In academic contexts many of these will fall under ‘non-attribution’ and is generally called plagiarism.

    Good reasons all, I may just link to it as a good read from P’s blog!

  3. Caitlin says:

    A good read. You make some valid points, although it does seem a little off topic. I am interested in blogging and I’m sure many of your readers are too but it’s not really why I read Brazen Careerist.

  4. Shefaly says:

    Caitlin:

    Here is why I think this post belongs on Brazen Careerist:

    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2007/06/24/blogging-supercharges-your-career-by-making-you-more-connected/

    If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Isn’t it? :-)

    Thanks.

  5. thom singer says:

    Penelope-

    Good post. Most bloggers I have found do link, but worse than those who dont are the bloggers who take content or content ideas from others and do not even sight the blog that inspired them.

    I know one business blogger who never links, or mentions other bloggers. It is as if he is just brilliant on all topics.

    When I read a blog that inspires me to write I usually say “While reading the Brazen Careerist …..” or something like that.

    Keep up the good work, your blog is one of my daily reads.

    thom

  6. Nita says:

    Hi Penelope. I agree with everything you said! I believe in links, links and links!
    I came here from Shefaly’s blog but I know of your blog as I had linked to one of your articles some time back…just came across a very good article you had written. I had never heard of you then.
    I take hours to write my posts at times and it’s the linking that takes time. But I cannot think of blogging without linking.

  7. Jon Morrow says:

    Hey, Penelope! I’m flattered.

    You’re right. Getting a link does feel good. :-)

    And this is great linkbait. Very clever. :-)

  8. PunditMom says:

    Good advice, all of them!

  9. the individual voice says:

    Actually, I just happened on this through Technorati and having started blogging in July and loving it, I constantly obsess about the whole linking issue, always give credit, but am not very good about “saving” cool links for later and then regretting that I can’t find them when I need them, nor have I figured out how to link smoothly in the post itself, as opposed to referring readers to my link list. This piece made me realize I’d better learn, because it’s such a central part of blogging, which I do daily now because I love to write. Also loved your piece on your name. I think a lot about the whole anonymity issue and blogging vs wanting to be known as “me.”

  10. Paula Gregorowicz says:

    Great post Penelope. I think the best part of linking is making new connections. I know I have linked to other blogs and then got to connect with the authors. In fact my association with Queercents came from both my own blogging and my contribution to comments there.

    I don’t over-link though. I try to keep it relevant and attribution integrity without linking to everything I “could” or that would turn me into blogging paralysis (too much linking, thus I can’t write at all!).

    Thanks again for all you do…

  11. Anonymous says:

    P – One thing I don’t like about your blog is how many links you use in each post. There are just way too many in my opinion. Linking to yourself doesn’t make sense to me. If you properly tag/categorize your posts the reader can do their own research.

    But maybe it’s just me.

    * * * * * *

    Oh, this is good input. Thanks. Jason Warner (who blogged here under the name “Google Guy” but I will not link to him :) said that I link too much, too. He said it was annoying to him. I brushed his comment off. But I wonder if most people feel the way you and Jason do? Maybe more people will weigh in on this…

    -Penelope

  12. Amit says:

    I’m not a huge fan of too many links in a post, more so if I am required to click on them and read them to understand fully what the post is all about. While in some cases this may be necessary (and there are exceptions), I prefer a post where the links are minimal and optional, and a way for a reader to find out more if s/he so desires. That’s why if a post has too many “read this, this and this” linked to other websites and/or previous posts, it’s not worth my time. A single post ideally should provide all the information within itself – it can summarize points (quote, excerpt) from other websites and provide a link, but a reader shouldn’t have to click on 10 other links to “get the post.” This is given the short-attention span most people have, and also people will lose interest if they need to read more posts (which themselves will have more links) and the comments on those posts – it’s easy to get lost in the web of Internet, and more difficult to maintain the chain of thought and come back to the starting point to finish reading the post one started with. Unless one’s an Einstein. :)

    This is where newspaper/magazine articles still have an edge over blog posts, and I think we bloggers should be aware of this when writing posts. Anyway, this is my perspective and YMMV.

  13. Shefaly says:

    Penelope:

    I believe there is no such thing as too many links. It is like saying there are too many references. The key however is to capture their essence in the main body copy of the article, and the links then serve as detailed reading. This is a bit like must-read and suggested/ additional reading lists often given to graduate students; the former is compulsory and the student can pick from the latter based on his/ her preferences for delving deeper.

    I also think it is not wrong to self-link. It helps new readers get a sense of your earlier writings. However same caveat as above applies.

    The link-love for this post on my blog does not have the essence but it does make enough effort to make people click through to read this whole post.

    Thanks.

  14. Tom O'Brien says:

    Hi Penelope – another great post. Interesting to see you recently joined forces with Ryan Healey – good luck to both of you.

    TO’B

  15. Eric Pennington says:

    Great post…confirmation of choices I made some time ago. Life is truly like Hebrew!

  16. Nita says:

    I think it’s taken for granted that a post should make sense just the way it is! I mean if one has to link to ‘get it’ it’s badly written. The links are there for those who are more finicky, want detailed reading and also for sceptics who demand references. Without links – according to me – a post doesn’t carry authority and it remains an opinion.

    * * * * * * *
    Thanks for this comment, Nita. This is how I think of the links, too.

    -Penelope

  17. JB says:

    My favorite blogs are those that link to many different people/sources. It lends credibility and gives me many options on what to read next!

  18. Lane says:

    I personally like having a lot of links in a blogpost. I always feels that blog posts that link to multiple sources about the same topic allow me the greatest ability to research the topic and get immersed.

    What I don’t usually like in the blogs I read (which you occasionally do) is when multiple words in a row are linked to various places. I tried it once in my posts, and it is just jarring.

    Here is an example post – the second sentence has three links in a row over three different words.

    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2007/11/14/dont-get-too-comfortable-after-work/

    I always find myself completely derailed from the blog post when this happens. I like phrases or single words that link to one place because they can give a reader an instant idea of what you are talking about without them having to completely stop reading the post.

  19. Wendy says:

    I agree that a blog post has to be readable without clicking on the links. Most of us who read blogs have limited time and won’t bother returning to a blogger who uses this style too often. If I’m really interested in the topic, then I’ll click the links.

    On the subject of whether this post is relevant to the Brazen Careerist — it certainly is. Not only because blogging can be a good career move. But also because many of the concepts behind blogging also apply to life:

    If you use someone else’s idea, say so – give them credit — whether in a board meeting, at a power lunch, etc.

    When you raise an opinion in a business meeting, it can help to cite authorities. (“As Tapscott says in Wikinomics…so this approach might work for us.”)

    etc.

  20. Joshua says:

    Penelope, I think it’s certainly possible to put too many links into a blog post, but I rarely feel like you do that.

    It’s nice when the link text is meaningful. Rather than “[link]Like this one[/link], about how to recharge and iPod using an onion and Gatorade,” you could write “For example, [link]here’s how to recharge an iPod using an onion and Gatorade[/link].”

    More than one or two links per paragraph feels like too many to me. Hope this helps!

  21. kristi says:

    Penelope,
    I enjoy hovering over the links you provide just to see what it is, but rarely if ever do I follow through by clicking on them. The reason?
    Busy woman… I read your blog on the go because I enjoy your writing voice, but I don’t have time to go wandering down rabbit trails.
    Still, it’s nice to see where your ideas and opinions come from, so in a way, I guess I treat your links more like a bibliography than as additional reading. I know the info is there if I ever needed to follow up on something.

  22. Andrea Harris says:

    Good advice. I immediately forwarded the post to two of my clients who have business blogs and don’t link nearly enough.

  23. Jennifer says:

    It is called respect! Thank you for sharing for I can to your page via Guy Kawaski’s blog!

    Kudos! =)

  24. Kate says:

    A thank you for linking to me too :)

  25. Dave Younskevicius says:

    This post was great, Penelope. I’m already trying to use your tips on my blog. :) (Though doing the joke links is particularly hard for me.)

  26. Jamie R Lentzner says:

    What a simple and easy way to follow the whole linking thing. I am almost two years into blogging and only maybe 6 mons into trying to understand linking. I have been told by many similar things but the way you wrote it explains it much better. I will have to try some of these out.

    Great blog, great advice, first time reader!

  27. Patricia Harrelson says:

    Great post. I’m a fan of links as a form of subtext and as a courteous and respectful reference. I’m wondering (like punditmom’s comment earlier) if you can disclose your method for keeping track of potential links.

    ph

    * * * * * * *

    I keep track of my links in Outlook. In the To Do list. I organize them by topic in the headline and then i add single words that will help me search them when I am trying to recall something I’ve read. I have used Excel for this task, which does not work as well. I think probably a combination of del.icio.us and google would work best. I should probably change my system…

    Penelope

  28. Kevin says:

    Does leaving a comment count as a link? I have link on my blog to other sites but I don’t think anyone has links to me unless you count the comments.

  29. What Is Smooch Dating says:

    Wow! I am so glad I have found your blog. I am now learning how much linking is important. This whole internet marketing thing is so hard. However I am still learning and I am learning something new everyday. I will take advantage and I will be using your tips here. Thanks:)

  30. David Grabstald says:

    Very good to know! Nice to have all the details one needs to ensure you link correctly!

  31. Charlotte Rossmann says:

    Learning about blogging and found your blog informational. Thank you! I put a link to your blog in mine: http://charlerossmann.blogspot.com/

  32. Flagpole Sitta says:

    I use these :)

  33. Henriette Wessel Wymar says:

    Hi Penelope. I caught you on CNN this morning with Sanchez acting prudish and sentimental about the facts of life. Found your blog & loved it but wasn’t sure where to put my comment. I’m a retired Dutch import–old, but not dead–and you make me want to start a blog; you’re a very good writer. The CNN attitude really got me p’d off but this is not the place for my moral support; where should it go? Thanks.

  34. Beth says:

    This is an outstanding post!!!! The problem Penelope covers isn’t new, albeit a more draining problem today. However, I feel Penelope has given advise that is fresh. Even the most professional business traveler could benefit from Penelope’s tips.

    Thank you Penelope!!!

  35. training media review says:

    so useful for newbie like me… thanks so much… you are my new teacher :D

  36. Jonha says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Linking is showing some love and helping your readers know more about what you’re talking about. I appreciate you visiting my blog and leaving some trail, it means so much to me. I didn’t expect you to drop by as you are always busy but then you sure are unpredictable yet stick to what you say, you sure never pull off a thrown punch and I sure love that. I guess linking just comes naturally.

    Jonha

  37. Heather says:

    Hi, I really enjoy reading your stories!

    Does anyone else recall about 10 years ago it was a horrible thing to link to another person’s web site, don’t want to “loose your traffic” and of course the “reciprocal links” … so glad those days are gone.

    I really do like to link to other people, I too like to think about how I am going to link to other sites in my posts.

  38. Anonymous says:

     very nice

  39. Anonymous says:

     very nice

  40. Nina says:

    I suck at linking, don’t know how to do it! New to blogging so that’s my excuse. When I link I paste the entire link and it looks so amateur! Where can I learn how to link with words like I see you guys do?

  41. jocelyn says:

    I haven’t seen links being classified this way :). I had a fun reading and learned a lot too. Thank you so much Penelope for such great post.

  42. Grig says:

    I like the way you manage to see things! I have readed a lot of posts about SEO and links, yhat one it is different!

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