I am a columnist for the Boston Globe, so when I first started blogging, I was in the enviable position of being able to get advice from any top blogger I wanted. I called them up, interviewed them about some topic or another, and at the end, I asked them for advice about blogging.
The universal advice was to write posts that big bloggers would link to.
Before I could even figure out how to do that, something happened. I posted one of those Boston Globe columns on my blog, and one of the bloggers I interviewed, Gina Trapani, linked to it. The result was absolutely breathtaking: 10,000 page views in one day. And 40 bloggers linked to it.
At this point in my blogging career, I need more than 10,000 page views just to get a normal day of traffic. But as new blogger, this level of traffic was astounding. I was still in the mode where I answered every single email, and after that day, it took me a week to catch up.
Then I thought, I’m gonna write another post that Lifehacker will link to.
Of course, I couldn’t. They didn’t pick up any of my specially tailored-to-Lifehacker posts. So I gave up. I went back to just posting.
Then I was at the South by Southwest Conference and I was exhausted. I didn’t post for two days and felt like I absolutely had to post. No matter what. I wouldn’t let myself go back to the conference until I posted.
So I banged out a post on how to do a phone interview. I’ve done a million of them—on both sides of the conversation—so I just wrote it off the top of my head. I hit the Post button and went to the conference, and then I worried the whole time that the quality of my blog was going downhill and that I need to do more research and that the post sucked.
Lifehacker linked to it. To this day, it’s the third most popular post on my blog. It was a great lesson: I’ll never know what people will link to.
In general, I have found that it’s easy to know when something will be sensationalist— big scoops, hot sex—and very hard to know what will be popular just because the content is good. Also, while Nick Denton is rewarding his bloggers for traffic based on numbers, which encourages linkbait, I have found that not all traffic is equal, and linkbait doesn’t garner the best traffic.
When Reddit was sold, and I had a scoop on an earlier offer Google made to buy Reddit, I posted it. Of course, the post shot to the top of Reddit’s most popular list. But most of those readers didn’t stay long term on my blog. In contrast, many posts on my blog that did not get as much traffic ended up attracting more people who returned to the blog over and over again.
So here’s something I do know about links. The posts I spend weeks and weeks writing, and I put my heart right on the page, and I give advice that I really know is true, those posts do well. They get lots of links and lots of traffic. Which means the real linkbait is an interesting, useful, well-written posts.
And one more thing. I have found that if I am nervous to post something—if I think I might look bad or reveal too much or give advice that people will hate—these are the posts that people care about, because they further my connection with people and further the conversation we’re having, and connection and conversation are the crux of linking.
There’s one thing about linkbait that I do think works, though. Turning posts into lists. People like to scan posts and find one thing they like, and then they call it out on their own blog. And it’s a gift to the reader anyway, to parse a post into lists of bullets for an easier read.
So I thought of turning this post into a list so that more people would link to it. But how embarrassing to create linkbait in a post about why I don’t like it.