Link Policy

I woke up this morning to an e-mail threatening to reveal to “the entire blogosphere” that, when mailed a request to be added to my blogroll at 17:44, I might not comply by 23:21. I hereby confess to this transgression outright.

Apparently, Steven Taylor also received the same messages, proving that we’re both “immature.” I must say I find this very odd, particularly since I had previously corresponded several times with the individual in question trying to assist him in improving his fledgling site. Not to mention that it’s quite possible I would have actually added him to the blogroll had the second message not arrived before I could read the first.

Nonetheless, to avoid hurt feelings in the future, I hereby provide the Official OTB Blogroll PolicyTM. There’s no felicific calculus of blogrolling a’la Steven Den Beste. My view on blogrolling is very similar to Don Sensing’s: I blogroll the sites that I think I’ll likely want to revisit regularly because I find them interesting, amusing, or otherwise worthwhile. Rather simple, really.

To answer questions that some of my e-mailers have asked, here is my Blogroll Policy FAQ:

Will you trade links with me? Sort of. If you blogroll me and I find out about it, I’ll add you to the reciproll.*

I love your site! Will you blogroll me? Yes, if I love your site, too. But if you’re not already on the blogroll, chances are. . .

Why haven’t you blogrolled me? Maybe I’ve never read your site. Or, maybe I have and I thought it sucked. Or maybe your site’s pretty new and isn’t quite ready for prime time yet. Or maybe I actually like your site and thought I’d blogrolled you already but actually didn’t.

If I give you a $100, will you blogroll me? Well, actually, no one has asked that. But, yes, I will. I probably won’t even delete you once I’ve spent the $100.

The bottom line is that, over time, your site will build a readership and links if it’s of interest to enough people. You have to write about something that interests a large number of people, write reasonably well, and otherwise distinguish yourself from the crowd. There are 10-15 “big time” bloggers who have done that extremely well, getting tens of thousands of visits daily. There are another 150-200 who are widely read and/or linked but who need linkage from the big timers to get mega traffic.

There’s a lot of competition out there, as dozens of new blogs start out daily. But sites break through all the time–several of the highest traffic and/or most linked sites around have started in the last year or so. Wonkette surpassed my first year’s traffic her first three weeks. But there are sites that have been around for years and can’t seem to get more than a couple hundred daily visits. The sites that don’t catch on fall into several categories: 1) Damned well written blogs that either appeal to a niche audience or are updated too infrequently to become a daily stop; 2) sites that are nothing but link dumps; 3) sites written on a third grade level; or 4) sites that are essentially personal journals that really aren’t intended for a larger audience.** There are a couple of types 1 and 4 on my blogroll but no 2’s and 3’s. Indeed, if you’re a 2 or 3, it’s unlikely getting on InstaPundit’s blogroll is going to help much, let alone mine.

*I started the Reciproll very early in OTB’s history to express appreciation to people for noticing me and, frankly, as a link whoring gimmick to help gain exposure. It long ago stopped having much use in the latter sense, in that the rungs on the Ecosytem ladder are now 40-50 links apart and it’s almost always very small sites linking me at this stage. Scanning daily to see who had added me and making a big deal about it in a post is something I stopped doing months ago. Still, it’s an easy way for smaller sites to get a couple extra hits a day and get some exposure. I also check the reciproll semi-randomly when compiling the Traffic Jam, as I like putting in a link or two from more obscure sites to both give them publicity and provide a value-added service to the readers since they’re, by definition, unlikely to have seen the linked entry. [Update: I finally deleted the reciproll, as the chore of updating it–and keeping track of who linked me for the purposes of inclusion and then promptly deleted me–got to be more trouble than it was worth.]

**The list isn’t exhaustive. For example, there are infrequently updated niche link dump sites written on the level of a third grade personal journal. But you get the idea.

FILED UNDER: Best of OTB, Blogosphere, OTB History, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    Indeed, if you’re a 2 or 3, it’s unlikely getting on InstaPundit’s blogroll is going to help much, let alone mine.

    No joke. InstaPundit was one of my first blogroll conquests (this was back when he had comments, so it was a while ago), and despite being neither a 2 nor a 3 I have yet to get past the lower 200s on NZ Bear’s Blogosphere Ecosystem.

  2. James Joyner says:

    You’re a 1b): You’ve got a good site but only post a few short posts daily. Obviously, the more things you write, the more there is to link to. Almost all of the major sites at least start out cranking out tons of stuff–whether it’s Lileks or Den Beste doing one long essay a day or it’s Glenn doing 40-50 short shots. I think you can taper off once you get started, but it’s hard to truly take off otherwise.

    Which explains why so many of the top bloggers are professors: those with more conventional jobs just don’t have the damned time to crank out that much volume.

  3. jen says:

    It still amazes me that people get so petty about links.

    I’m a 4! Woot!*

    *I’m being a little sarcastic here.

  4. CGHill says:

    I think of my site as a modified 2: it’s a dump, but it’s not a link dump.

  5. James Joyner says:

    I think the Ecosystem and some other gimmicks have turned it into something of a competitive enterprise.

    Probably most of the blogs out there are 4’s. They’re what got blogging started and, indeed, gave it its name. The problem is with sites that are 4’s but don’t understand that it means, almost by definition, that their audience will be fairly small. The only semi-exception that comes to mind is Lileks–and even Dave Barry to some extent–but they’re in a different zone.

  6. Teresa says:

    While most think it would be nice to be noticed, if you don’t write for yourself and enjoy doing it. Blogging will become a monster. I’ll never have a readership because I only post when I have something to say and it’s pretty irregular and normally not what everyone is talking about. But that’s o.k because the point is, I enjoy it. (Although some would contest the quality or subject matter as being questionable! ^.~)

    I’ve always liked OTB blog and it’s one I hit on a pretty regular basis for a read. There’s always something of interest.

  7. Jess says:

    From personal experience, I can go on record stating that life’s not that bad around #3300 or so in the Ecosystem. 😉

  8. You never told me I’d have to write well or frequently to get links from you.

    I feel misled. Or used. Or something.

  9. McGehee says:

    While most think it would be nice to be noticed, if you don’t write for yourself and enjoy doing it. Blogging will become a monster.

    Yeah, I’m afraid if I made a concerted effort to get beyond my 1(a) status it would only take a few weeks for me to start burning out. In fact there were a couple of occasions where I think I had something going that could have built me up higher, but it didn’t take long in either case to start wanting to quit blogging entirely.

    Of course, if I were making money at it that would have made a pretty significant difference in how long I would have stayed at it.

  10. Moe Lane says:

    I’m happy to have gotten the reciprocal link, myself. Now, if I can only figure out where my blog stands in the press of things…

  11. keith taylor says:

    James, if you don’t link to me by 2400 tonight I will unplug the Internet. Seriously. The socket’s right here.

  12. Ursula says:

    Wow! I can’t believe people can be so demanding when it comes to linkage. If people link to me, great! However, I feel no obligation to link back. Same goes for when I link to others. Thinking people should realize that blogging is not a popularity contest and as with anything, it’s better to earn your way on someone’s blogroll than demand they be placed there.

  13. Teresa says:

    Heh – yes I’m another Teresa (didn’t know there was more than one of us out here – LOL). I actually got email requests saying “add me to your blog roll” BEFORE I started my blog. I thought this was amazingly funny. I figured they had to be getting my email off of postings. But you’d think they would wonder why I didn’t have a link to my website…

    I never really considered my Blog Roll to have a policy. LOL. I simply put up links of pages I visit. I don’t ask people to link to me – they can if they want to. I know there are probably some links missing on my Blog Roll, but I don’t have the traffic for it to matter to anyone.

    I try to post daily – at least several things. But like you mention, I don’t have the time to post 40-50 new things daily. I’m not out to win over as much traffic as possible, I’m happy with the people I have who drop by to visit. It works for me.