July 08, 2008

The Importance Of Blog Linking Seems to Be Declining

I am a strong believer in the power of linking between blogs, and I still go out of my way to link, especially to peers, to smaller blogs, and to developers of services I write about. At one time, I thought being linked to by the most prominent bloggers could have a significant impact on my traffic. And for a short time, it did. But now, I've seen traffic from other blogs to be driving an ever-declining percentage of visits to my site, swamped by social media tools, aggregation sites, and of course, Google search.

Yesterday, out of curiosity, I downloaded all my visitor logs going back to January of 2006, when I started regularly posting on the blog. While there's no question traffic overall is significantly higher now than it was one year ago or two years ago, the impact that even the biggest of blogs can deliver is lessened. I believe that this is due to a few things:
  1. People are relying on aggregators to find them new sources of information, including Techmeme, Hacker News, Reddit, Mixx, FriendFeed and others.
  2. People, especially those who read this site, are relying more on RSS readers, and many have subscribed to so many feeds that they are reading through stories in an effort to clear out their unread items, not clicking the embedded links.
  3. People who actually read blogs on the site (outside of RSS) are clicking through to respond to the author with comments, rather than viewing links.
This year, thanks to covering some of the hottest topics in the tech blogosphere, I've been lucky enough to have been linked to from some of the most-prominent blogs in the market, including TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, Scobleizer, MicroPersuasion, Jeremiah Owyang, Mathew Ingram, The Inquisitr, Profy and others. I've also been actively engaged with those flying lower on the radar, including I'm Not Actually a Geek, SheGeeks, Regular Geek (see a theme?) and others.

But looking at my aggregate statistics from the last six months, not even the "big name" linkers drove a lot of traffic, relative to just about every other source. And in some cases, the top blogs that drove traffic were themselves relative unknowns who I've featured in my monthly obscure blog recommendations, themselves often being the beneficiaries of being on Digg or Techmeme.

Top Blog Referrals in First half of 2008:
  1. I'm Not Actually a Geek: When Your Blog Is LouisGrayCrunched
  2. Scobleizer: Loving my FriendFeed
  3. Regular Geek: Required Reading in Social Media
  4. ValleyWag: Most bloggers don't deserve any ad revenue, the seven-word version
  5. TechCrunch: More Bloggers Raising Money. Here Come The Politics. And Here Comes My Rant.
  6. Micro Persuasion: Become an Expert with the Power of Deliberate Practice
  7. Mathew Ingram: Duncan Riley: Lessons in diplomacy
  8. WebWare: A Proposal for Twitter: Shut It Down
  9. ReadWriteweb: Content Is Becoming a Commodity
  10. Mark Evans: Who's Louis Gray?
Definitely a lot of bigger names here, mixed in with some others. But the most interesting thing is that the highest among these "only" delivered just shy of 500 visitors over the first six months of the year, and the lowest passed less than 100. That doesn't even come close to a single day's worth of Google traffic, or a single day of having a post on Techmeme or Hacker News, let alone Digg.

Instead of blogs driving traffic, we have some more mainstream names, as shown in the below graphic from Google Analytics, highlighting sources for the last 30 days:

In fact, it isn't until the #10 position overall over the last 30 days that you get a total number of visitors that is less than the #1 blog referral over the last 180 days. And in most cases, I've not seen any kind of meaningful traffic from mentions on Mashable or ReadWriteWeb. Back in January, I was a little less than happy that Mashable wasn't giving linkage a lot of prominence, but even now that they are, the impact is extremely small. I got 77 referrals from Mashable on their story around Twitter brand management, and 53 more from a story on my being an early adopter, very insignificant in the large scheme of things.

Now, I'm not saying that this data proves linking is dead. I know links power Google juice, and they enhance Technorati rankings, and if done well, people can find new sources of data, but the ability for even a so-called A-List blogger to deliver a windfall of visits is much less than I had ever expected. It is now more important to be part of the social media sites that drive strong traffic - the Twitters and Techmemes and FriendFeeds and Stumbleupons and Reddits, if traffic is your goal. Those sites, combined with RSS activity in Google Reader and other programs are what will drive traffic. So don't wait around begging for Scoble or Mashable to write you up. It might not have the effect you thought.