Today marks the three month blogiversary of Outside the Beltway. I’m sure it seems like a lot longer to some of you. . . .

Eugene Volokh weighs in on the topic of growing one’s blog with some interesting advice. The condensed version: write good stuff, e-mail your best stuff to big name bloggers and hope they link you, and be persistent. He provides a lot more details than that, but that’s the gist.

I have taken a somewhat different route. I try to write interesting stuff, certainly, but mainly just write about things that interest me and that I know something about, either by virtue of experience, education, or long-term curiousity. Frankly, writing with the express purpose of generating links not only strikes me as puerile but is pretty futile. I’m amazed by the things I write that get linked, occasionally by major blogs. Oftentimes, it’s some minor thing I’ve found elsewhere and they just happened to see it on OTB first and hat tipped me. Other times, I’ve spent a very long time crafting what I think is a brilliant analysis of some topic and don’t generate so much as a response in the comments section! I write to amuse myself, which keeps me interested enough to keep plugging away at it. Honestly, not that many people care what I have to say about anything. But there are an inordinate number of people who read blogs and, if you keep at it, it seems that a few people will like it and gravitate toward your blog.

Although I’ve e-mailed a handful of the “biggies,” I’ve never done the “oh, please Mr. Bigtime Blogger, would you link me” thing. That may work, but it strikes me as rather smarmy.

I have nothing like the traffic of the big-time blogs. Glenn Reynolds, the biggest of the big, averages 80,000+ unique visitors a day; I had my 40,000th overall visitor yesterday. Still, OTB has gone from getting under ten unique visitors a day when I installed the counter on February 4th to 500+ a day most of the time, which is more than I would have expected at this point in the blog’s evolution. Some additional observations, for what they’re worth:

1. Don’t worry about trying to get InstaPundit to link you. He might do it; he might not. I had the good fortune to have had some Instalanches. They generate a ridiculous number of hits. The thing is, though, that once your link has disappeared into his archives, so do the visitors. Unless he adds you to his blogroll–which is unlikely, it’s already pretty large–it will create only a short-term fix.

I’ve been pleased to get some mentions by some of the top blogs–Eschaton, Volokh, VodkaPundit, A Small Victory, and On the Third Hand most notably. While they don’t quite deliver the traffic of an Instalanche, they can cause radical spikes. But, again, they only last a few hours and go away. What you want is to build loyal readers who come back day after day; the spikes are few and far between.

2. Volohk eludes alludes to my second point: What DOES help get repeat business is getting blogrolled. While, obviously, it’s better to get blogrolled by a Biggie because of their traffic, the main thing is just to get blogrolled by people on a regular basis. Why? Because that means that, if nothing else, the bloggers themselves will come back regularly. Plus, some of their readers will see your link and follow it to yours. And, if they like you, they might blogroll you. While I’ve had days of 5,000 or more hits from Instalanches or the high traffic days of Command Post, my main traffic comes from the 50-odd sites, some big but mostly small, that have put me on their rolls. Even the Insignificant Microbes are good for five or six visits a day. So, the more people who like you enough to blogroll you, the more long-term readership you’ll develop.

I got lucky very early on and got noticed by Scott Ott at ScrappleFace. He is still my leading referrer. Stephen Green at VodkaPundit, John Hudock at Common Sense and Wonder, and michele at A Small Victory all blogrolled me reasonably early in my history. My guess is the ScrappleFace link got me noticed by some of them and then other links helped others find me.

3. Rather than e-mailing bloggers begging for links, something I’ve found helpful is participating in Comments discussions on other blogs. I did this because I enjoy the discourse, but I soon learned that a few people will track back . Don’t go to sites that are radically different from you ideologically and play the troll; that just annoys people. But bloggers seem to like it when people engage in rational discussion in their Comments sections; I know I do.

Indeed, my most loyal readers are also my most frequent commentators. On those days when a major blogger links to something in my archives, I may see a tenfold increase in my visitors but rarely see even a doubling of my comments. That tells me they’re just passing through. I like it when people pass through, as that is the only way they’re going to take a look at the site and decide they like it, but I’m much more interested in building long-term readers.

Update (14:19) NZ Bear puts his two cents worth in as well: The Truth Laid Bear: Blogging for Links.

FILED UNDER: 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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ursula says:

    Happy Three Month Anniversary!!!

  2. Romulus says:

    Thanks for posting that James. It contains some good info and more importantly gives some reason for encouragement for beginning bloggers such as myself. I’ll keep plugging away and try to be patient in this venture.
    Judicious Asininity

  3. jen says:


    I agree that emailing to the biggies is not the most effective way to get readers. I, too, think it’s smarmy, a little rude (presumptious?), and smacks of blog-spamming.

    You got really lucky early to get linked as you did by a few biggies. Good writing on your part only helps. You have a lot of lurkers who don’t comment because they have nothing to add. At least that’s how I am. I’ll comment if I think I have something new to contribute, which is rare. Commenting is the biggest way I’ve increased getting linked and my overall readership.

    Oh, and isn’t “eludes” supposed to be “alludes?” *wink*

  4. James Joyner says:

    Oh, and isn’t “eludes” supposed to be “alludes?”

    One way to look at it, I guess.:) Maybe saying it more directly eluded him?

  5. ray says:

    Not true. Not true. I found you by a link from InstaPundit and ended up staying. Course, the brilliant analysis, excellent writing and really funny humor have combined to keep me here. Can I have that stipend you promised me now?

    Congrats on the anniversary.

  6. ray says:

    Hmmm. That should have included this at the beginning:
    ‘I had the good fortune to have had some Instalanches. They generate a ridiculous number of hits. The thing is, though, that once your link has disappeared into his archives, so do the visitors.’

  7. James Joyner says:


    Yeah. Clearly, getting mass amounts of one-time hits increases the likelihood of getting noticed. I’m sure it’s helped. Although getting blogrolled by ScrappleFace and VodkaPundit–most notably–helped more than the three InstaLanches.

  8. jen says:

    Eludes-alludes: could be. Thanks for the fix. Makes this grammar-freak happy.

    But now alludes looks weird. Too French-looking.

    Ignore me.

  9. Chris says:

    Nice advice. Especially the part about sticking to stuff that interests you or you have some knowledge about. Which is what I try to do, and really, most of the good political stuff is being done better already by people who know what the hell they are talking about it. I found you through Lead and Gold and will stop back by more often.