Getting Linked by Big Bloggers

Doll laments her inability to get linked from big-name bloggers, who she believes only link one another. Harvey Olson believes the answer is to suck up to big-name bloggers with nice e-mails.

They are both wrong.

To begin with, it is simply untrue that the highest trafficked bloggers only link one another or are generally parsimonious with their links. Indeed, Glenn Reynolds is a one-man linking machine who sends out InstaLanches by the tens on a daily basis, mostly to blogging small fry. Similarly, Michelle Malkin and Markos Zuniga grace relative unknowns with linkage on a daily basis.

It is true that these sites and other popular blogs tend to link disproportionately to other popular blogs. That, however, is not a conspiracy but a tautology. Sites tend to be popular because they’re well written and provide interesting information. Those that do so on a regular basis tend to get noticed, linked by other bloggers, and then caught in a virtuous cycle whereby, if they continue to produce interesting content, they keep getting increasingly linked and read.

So, my quick advice for those seeking to get linked by the top bloggers is to write interesting things on a regular basis. Doing that will almost surely get you linked by several smaller bloggers, at least one of whom will be read by some somewhat bigger bloggers. Those people will notice your work and link to you. Those links will eventually be stumbled upon by bigger bloggers.

As for e-mailing bloggers, flattery is less useful than precise targetting. The more popular the blogger, the more e-mail they get and the quicker they are likely to be to add you to their spam filter if you send them junk. Here are a few quick tips:

    1. Write an interesting post. Hint: Not all of your posts are interesting.

    2. Select your target carefully. Rather than creating a mailto with every blog you have ever heard of, think of what the bloggers you read tend to write about. Send your pitch to no more than five of them; preferably, just one or two.

    3. Write a clear subject line. I get a lot of mail. My default position is to delete anything that has a high probability of being spam or uninteresting. “You might find this interesting” is generally not a good title, as “But I probably won’t” is the natural response.

    4. Make it easy. Give the blogger a two or three sentence–max–summary of the post if it’s long. Include a link to the post. Include the entire text of the post. Unless they are regular readers of your site and you have some sort of relationship, simply sending along a link to the post with the expectation that they will click through is not a great idea.

Sometimes, I will link to a post that I received from an e-mail that violates one or more of these rules. Far more often, though, I have failed to post on a good tip that got buried in my inbox because it had an uninteresting subject line or otherwise failed to grab my attention.

See OTB’s Blogging Tips archives for related pieces.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Uncategorized, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I agree with Harvey because my job at IMAO is to agree with Harvey.

    Well, my real job is to suck up to frankJ, but Harvey says that my job is to agree with hi-

    Wait a minute.

    Now I’m confused. How can I do my job of agreeing with Harvey if my… jo-

    It’s times like these that distract me from beating up Spacemonkey.

  2. Far be it for me to disagree, but it does seem to me that Instapundit doesn’t link to small bloggers nearly as much as he used to anymore, at least as a percentage of his total links. However, I agree with you that this is hardly a conspiracy, but rather a function of the nature of the blogosphere. It’s not just that he’s spending most of his time reading the big name bloggers. It’s also that there are so many small bloggers out there now. It’s physically impossible for Glenn to read them all and determine which are worthy of linkage.

    More to the point, if your “blogging success formula” relies on links from the big boys, you probably need to reevaluate it. Or if it’s just your self esteem that’s suffering, you need to get over it.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Russell: I doubt Glenn was ever reading the small blogs, at least not before he’d linked them a few times. He was likely following links from bigger sites that he was familiar with.

    And part of this is likely the changing definition and different perceptions on what constitutes “big” and “small” these days. Is a blog getting 5000 daily visits big? If so, there are a ton of them out there? When I first started blogging, that level of traffic put you in the top 20.

  4. craig henry says:

    Even if true, that would just show that the Instapundit is like a lot of bloggers. We start out linking a wide variety of blogs. Over time we end up relying on just a handful for most of our links.

    Plus, i wonder what the effect of Google News, Technorati, and Bloglines has been. I used to rely on a wide network of bloggers to find stuff i’m interested it (the blogosphere as a manual search engine/index). Now there are technical means of doing the same.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Craig: That’s almost certainly true. Memeorandum, too. I certainly read fewer blogs than I used to.

  6. craig henry says:

    Another point based on my experience. It seems that blog readers may be less “click-ready” than they were two years ago. In general, my recent links from big bloggers generated much less traffic than links from those same bloggers two years ago.

    Anecdotal but i have found it interesting

  7. James Joyner says:

    Craig: That’s been essentially my experience, too. An InstaLink is still somewhere between 2000-5000 extra SiteMeter visits but not the near-automatic 5000 is once was. Interestingly, Wonkette and some lesser-known blogs like Daou Report produce comparable surges.

  8. Gawaine says:

    I thought UserFriendly (an online comic strip) already definitively addressed this topic, as well as the downside.

  9. Bithead says:

    BitsBlog has been the beneficiary of exactly one insta- lanch over the last two and a half years. Over a two day period, that garnered me some more on the order of 17,000 hits. For a blog that the time wasn’t doing hundred 50 a day this was huge. That was about a year ago.

    Like your correspondent, I have found myself quietly complaining that while I get regular and generous linkages in the various blog rolls on the big guys (including OTB, thank you) it’s not very often that I managed to nail a story link. The most recent was Captain Ed noticing a response to a post of his.

    I am finding through experience , now approaching three years, that it’s a long steady fight. At the moment, BitsBlog routinely ranks in the middle five hundreds in TTLB, with an average daily hit rate in the low two hundreds. Not too shabby.

    Perhaps the trick here, is not to be will quite so worried about whether or not you’re getting linkage from other sites, but whether not your building your own audience . And that, is something that’s only going to happen with time.

    All that said, it is useful to establish friends in relationships within the sphere. Usually, it’s been my observation that if you find one or two big ones that match your style fairly closely or at least your position on things if you’re attempting a political blog, you can do very well by providing feedback both in the comments sections and in your own blog , thereby generating traffic in getting your name seen. As an example, I’ve been freindly with Ed since he started. My infrequent blogging notes to him usually result in a blogged response. AS you point out, if I were to get more frequent with these, I doubt I’d get a response at all, much less a link.

    This tactic does sound rather parasitic, but it is not so. It is simply the nature of the sphere ; conversation, particularly good conversation, generates traffic in the long term. And sometimes, as I have found, that takes literally years.

    Besides… look at the freinds I’ve met.

  10. TangoMan says:

    You also need to consider the nature of your blog and where your traffic comes from. If you write primarily about current events then your voice on the Terri Schiavo affair, Plamegate, and other hot news de jour gets lost in the avalanche of similar voices. Certainly what you are writing may be very thought provoking and insightful but it really becomes a battle of finding the needle in the haystack.

    Alternatively you can write about issues that are out of the mainstream and then get ridiculusly high Google rankings and get lot’s of traffic that way. For instance my posts on “leftist creationist” are #1 & #2 on Google, while my posts on “Anti-Racist Math” are #5 & #6 and were used as source material for a Wikipedia entry. My co-blogger’s expose on “Jared Diamond” comes in at #8 on a Google search. We get loads of traffic this way.

    So, is it traffic that is the goal or is it a stable of committed readers and commenters? Different goals entail different strategies.

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    About a year and a half ago I did a complete breakdown of Glenn’s linking. Basically, he links to a small number of sites a lot and a very large number of sites a little. The tools I used to do the analysis are automated so I repeat my check every so often. He hasn’t changed his practices much.

    Over the two years of my blog’s existence I’ve been Instalanched roughly every third month. It’s been good for roughly 3,000 hits each time. There’s typically a very small residual in the form of added ongoing traffic—a tiny handful.

    As TangoMan above suggested, I, too, am more interested in a coterie of regular readers and commenters than I am in a huge flood of anonymous or undistinguished traffic.

    I’m fairly satisfied with my traffic at this point (although I’m sure James would be appalled if he got my miniscule traffic). The tip that I’m looking for is how to attract more regular readers. Perhaps I should rattle James’s cage more often. 😉

  12. Elmo says:

    Don’t even get me started on Pajamas people hanging out with other flannel attired folks (not you Larry). And intentionally ignoring others not engaged in such sartorial elegance. I don’t much care anymore anyway, besides as JiffGee said: “you made your bed.”

    But, I will offer one word of advice: boobies! (safe for work).

    Though half of my daily traffic comes from this one single throw away post (via Yahoo search). [not safe for work (just keeding!)]

  13. Harvey says:

    Sorry I was late to notice this post, but I have it included in the follow-up summary now.

    I was keeping track of who linked by checking my sitemeter stats. A well-thought out post like this tends to send less traffic than a “go look” link (like I got from a couple of other high-traffic sites), so your refers got drowned out in the flood.

    However, I’m MUCH more thankful to you for adding your own views on the topic. It feels more like a conversation, and less like a dollar bill flipped into my hat while I’m doing street-mime.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with dollar bills 🙂