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How To Get People To Link To and Talk About Stuff You Write Without Being a Jerk

I’m writing this up to help bloggers and other people who create stuff online (videos, etc.) get their “stuff” more visibility, by getting more sites to link to it and talk about it. Specifically, I’m trying to help people in my group at work, Intel Software Network, by sharing some of my experience and ideas, since I’ve been blogging for over 5 years. I’m by no means an expert, just sharing what I know. I hope you’ll post a comment or otherwise jump into the conversation if you have ideas of your own on how to get more “outside” links and conversation around the things that you write.

This post is NOT going to be a list of “tricks” or quick fixes. I’m not talking about linkbait, or SEO black magic, or anything like that. Hopefully, the things I lay out will seem like common sense. It takes sustained effort over a period of time to build up your reputation and influence – you don’t just instantly “get famous”. So be prepared.

Update: Google has posted some great tips for bloggers. It’s mostly on how to optimize your site for Google, make your stuff more findable, etc. In case you didn’t want to just take my word for it… :-)

Step 0: Build Your Network

This is “step 0″ because it needs to be worked on for a while before you get real results. I’m talking about connecting with people, in real life and online. Get to know them, what they like, what they write about, and what they’re interested. Help them get to know you, what you’re passionate about, and what you know. You can do this by exchanging comments on each other’s blogs, following each other on Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, or whatever. The medium itself isn’t specifically important, but this is why I’m always talking about how important it is to connect with other people on places like Twitter.

Don’t be a snob about who you connect with. I have people in my network who are senior editors at large, popular tech publications, and also people who write small, narrowly-focused niche blogs or don’t blog at all. I’m friends with them because we have interests in common, and have shared inteactions – NOT just because of where they write! Don’t be blinded into thinking you need to connect with the “big fish” more than other people. First of all, it doesn’t matter. Second, you’re going to be asking people to link to or say something about your material, and you’ll sound like a jerk if it seems like you only care about attention from the “popular” crowd. Everyone has their own audience and sphere of influence. Be grateful for any and all links and attention that you receive.

Step 1: Create Interesting, Easy To Find Content

This is hopefully a no-brainer, but it bears mention. If you want people to link to something you’ve created, it should be interesting enough to merit the attention. No matter how good you think you are, not every single thing you write or create is going to get picked up on all the news sites and linked to all over the web. Some of your stuff is going to be higher quality than the rest. Consider exercising some restraint in what you try to promote, so you don’t become “the boy who cried wolf” by trying to get EVERYONE to link to EVERYTHING that you create. Attention and goodwill from other people is a precious commodity. Don’t squander it.

Also, make your stuff easy to find. For most sites, the majority of traffic comes from search results, not referring links. Think about what you’d search for if you were looking for the topic you’re writing about. Be clear and specific and relevant in your post title. Try putting your post title into Google, and see if Google has any suggestions for making it better (“Did You Mean…”).

Step 2: Link to Other People. A Lot.

Get in the habit of linking to other sites and people in your network. Do it a lot. It makes what you write that much more interesting and useful, and it’s a great way to connect with and show respect for the people you link to, and make them a lot more willing to link to you in the future. If you want people to link to you, don’t be stingy with the links you give out.

Don’t worry AT ALL about trying to keep people on your own site. Think of what’s probably the most visited and most useful site on the internet – Google. Is Google popular because they try to keep people on their site, or try to be “sticky”? No! Google is popular and useful because they send you away as quickly and efficiently as possible. Be like Google.

Step 3. Submit to the News Centers

There are lots of news sites and aggregators out there whose sole purpose is to link to interesting stuff that readers have submitted to them. Slashdot, Digg, Reddit, YCombinator Hacker News, etc. Discover which ones that are most influential for your area of expertise. Learn the process for submitting something, and what the criteria are for it getting published. Become a member of the community – read what gets posted, and post comments on stories.

When you have created something that you think would be a good fit for one of these news sites, submit it! On rare occasions, someone else might pick up your post and submit it, but for the most part, if you don’t do it, no one else will. Don’t be shy.

Don’t get discouraged if what you submit doesn’t “make it” to the front page of the site, especially on really big and popular sites, like Digg and Slashdot. Don’t give up, and keep at it.

Step 3.1: Use StumbleUpon

This one deserves its own subsection. StumbleUpon is a collaborative “hey, this is cool!” service that lots of people use. Basically, there are two sides to StumbleUpon. First, in the course of your web browsing, you “stumble” pages you think are interesting or cool. Second, you can see what pages other people have “stumbled” as interesting. That’s a super basic explanation.

The reason I put StumbleUpon apart from the other “news” sites is the quality of the visits that getting on StumbleUpon brings compared to the other sites. Getting linked on the front page of Slashdot or Digg will bring a BIG spike in traffic, but it doesn’t tend to last. People who read those sites are voraciously looking for “what’s hot”. Traffic from StumbleUpon is different. Because there’s not a “front page”, once your stuff gets into the database, it generates a pretty steady, constant flow of visits. Which is really nice.

Step 4: Ask Your Network, Nicely

Once you’ve built your network (see Step 0), get in the habit of letting them know when you’ve posted something that you think they may find interesting. Send out a link on Twitter, or in your Facebook status, etc. Try to make it “hey, I just posted this, let me know what you think” and not “hey look! I posted something awesome again!”. Ask (nicely) for people to link to your post, or to vote for it on Digg and the like. Again, don’t become “that person” who only ever tries to promote their own stuff. But when you’ve done something that you think deserves some attention, it’s OK to let people know about it. Again, if you don’t do it, it’s unlikely that anyone else will.

Step 5: Listen and Respond

Once you’ve put the word out, monitor for links and mentions of your stuff. This is where having “ego” search feeds, or a personalized listening dashboard like the one I created for Intel comes in handy. Set up search feeds (I use Google Blogsearch, Google News, Ask.com blog search, and Twitter search) for your name, and the URL and name of your site. This topic probably deserves a whole post of its own. I’ll write something up soon.

When a news site or a blog does link to or mention you, post comments on their site, thanking them, answering questions, and basically being involved in the conversation. The reason for doing this is to show that you’re smart, savvy, listening, and engaged in the conversation. Engaging in the conversation, wherever it happens, builds connections between the participants, and makes them that much more likely to want to link to you again in the future. Which feeds right back into “Step 0: Build Your Network”.

Step 6: Make This a Habit

Like I said at the beginning, this isn’t a trick that can be learned. This stuff takes time and effort. That’s why you need to think of it as skills to be learned and habits to be formed. Keep practicing. Accept that you might not get stellar results at the beginning. But if you keep it up, you’ll find that you’ve grown your own reputation, influence, and network of people who listen to you. That’s what makes all the effort worth it.

Step 7: ???

What have I missed here? If you have ideas, suggestions, or things that you do that you think would be helpful for people trying to get noticed and get linked to, please let me know. Post a comment, or post something on your own blog and link here. Like I said, I’m not proclaiming myself the expert on this subject. I learn lots every day, and I love it. So tell me what YOU do to get people to link to you and talk about you without being a jerk. :-)

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29 thoughts on “How To Get People To Link To and Talk About Stuff You Write Without Being a Jerk

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  2. Jeremiah says:

    Josh great article.I will definitely start using a lot of these ideas as the project I am working on moves into beta in a few weeks. Keep up the good work :)

  3. See, I err too much with the ‘don’t promote your stuff’ vein – it’s a kneejerk reaction that I need to get over already. I’m reluctant to use Twitter to publicize my personal blog posts, and I’m only starting to use it more to publicize some OurPDX stories. But I asked the followers on the OurPDX Twitter account, and yeah – they want to see stories. *And* conversation. *And* links to other stuff.

    So in order to do it right, I have to do *more* with it – not just pump out links. That’s when I run up against the whole ‘have no time to do it right, so won’t much do it at all’ wall.

    I need to find a happy medium here…!

  4. Jeremiah and Klint – thank you! :-)

    Betsy, you have a very good point. I tend to cringe little at “shameless self promotion”, and if that’s ALL you do on a particular Twitter account, then it pretty much sucks. You’re definitely right that you need to do MORE – talk with people, connect with people, be yourself, let people get to know you, learn about who you are, so when they link to you, it’s “my friend over at whateverblog.com” not “some person at whateverblog.com”.

    It definitely takes a lot of effort. :-)

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  6. Betsy, I’ve been thinking about it more, and I wonder if perhaps the “I don’t have time to be genuine AND promote something online” is an artifact of having two different identities online? You mentioned separate Twitter accounts – one personal and one for OurPDX. While I don’t think having a “faceless” twitter account for something like OurPDX is a bad thing at all, (I have them for Intel Software Network), I think it’s a LOT more useful, and it eliminates the “I have to be real and personal on more than one account” problem if you just have one main “you” account.

    The subject of having separate “work” and “personal” online personalities comes up quite a bit in my circles, and I’ve always instinctively felt it’s better to have just one “you” personality (unless, of course, you really do have more than one ;-) ). Maybe this is the first concrete argument in favor of that. People will follow/link to stuff that you share because it’s you, not because it’s from a faceless account that someone has worked hard to make “personal” and “genuine”.

    Hmm. Lots to chew on here. Thanks! :-)

  7. For certain things I’m very for the ‘one’ personality. It keeps things organized, however even outside the clear ‘public appearance’ / ‘neutral’ I agree there is that wobbly / balance where someone might have to choose and just portray a more professional appearance or lean ‘mostly’ towards that.

    I believe it might have been Dave Kellett (author of http://www.sheldoncomics.com/ ) while in a web comics weekly podcast with fellow web artists (who formed the group Halfpixel.com and later the site http://webcomics.com/ ) discuss keeping such things separate. Basically he said, my users are visiting to be entertained, not to hear me cry about my bad day. And I kind of use what he said as a guideline when ever I think of that.. blurry area.

    I’ve never actually had to use it but at times I might work on something and wonder, how much of my personality and personal life do I want to be insert into this activity. I think of, why would people use this.. why are they visiting. Is this a blog or is this to inform/educate and how much can I mix the two and would I want too?

    I also think of the writer/producer ‘Jane Espenson’ whose tv series works have included Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, StarTrek:DS9 and the current Battlestar Galactica her blog ‘Jane in Progress’ ( http://www.janeespenson.com ) Primarily (and perhaps only) deal with the subject of writing and how it relates to script writing. With only minor sidetracking to related life experience and the writer’s strike. The only personal thing I’ve ever noticed in her entries is what she had for lunch. :)

    Vs say my favorite author Joshilyn Jackson in her “Faster than Kudzu” blog ( http://www.joshilynjackson.com/mt/ ) will write a lot of personal stuff. Not personal personal stuff but quite a lot of things that might happen in her family on occasion. Not just about books or writing.

    So anyway yes, quite a thing to mull over. You just have to find what works for you. Personally I enjoy reading about personal bits on some of the blogs I visit. I understand some people don’t like that but in the end it’s up to the author to decide how they want to use their time and how they want their project to appear. Also nothing is permanent, things and decisions can change. :D

    heh I totally missed the 5 part. :)

  8. Wouldn’t you know it, I have been doing some of this stuff already. I also find sometimes using Google Trends to find out what is hot is useful when you want to keep a steady flow of readers to your site!! ;) I’ve done that in the past and it seemed to up my google friendly links!! Just got to be wary of all those spam link backs!!

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  10. Hi, Josh!

    This is very helpful. A good reminder like going to the dentist — brush, floss, rinse with mouth wash. You need that network clean, strongly rooted just like we need those pearly whites! Best wishes and a big smile!

  11. Put your blog URL in your forum signatures, make regular forum postings, create your own rss feed. Make your friends read the latest interesting post of yours and let them spread out the word. Comment on similar/related blogs/niche blogs. Never be a comment spammer, make your online reputation bring in traffic. You may try out to make a slideshare or video presentation of your blog. Last but not the least update your blog on a regular basis, this will make people come back and visit your blog and you earn a lot of retaining visitors.

  12. That was a very helpful post. You’re right, a lot of that sounds like common sense. I started a blog a few months ago on blogger, and I’ve been trying to find ways to get someone to visit it (it’s linked to my name if anyone wants to check it out), but haven’t found any success yet. I think my two main problems are my mindset about my blog (I created it to show off my writing skills and creativity for any advertising agencies that might want to hire me after I graduate so I wanted to keep it “professional”) and my poor network. I also need to update it more frequently.
    How do you guys feel about blogger? From my brief blogging experiences, I get the feeling that blogspot blogs don’t bring in the same traffic. Maybe they’re viewed as less professional? Am I just being paranoid? Do you think blogger just has a higher percentage of people who blog about irrelevant personal stuff?
    Thanks for sharing your insight with us.

    Jeff Kempf

  13. Actually Jeff,

    I’ve found blogger didn’t bring in anywhere as much as traffic as having your own domain and server. I was using blogger without a domain, and hardly ever had a hit. Then I went to my own domain and I started to get hits. I finally bought by own server and it boosted even more. I also went to WordPress. That also seemed to bring in even more people.

    In other words, you won’t get anywhere quick with that blogger account. You will do better with GOOGLE and other search engines to go and buy a domain, register it for 2 years more more. :) I’d also suggest getting a server at least, you can use blogger with your own server. These are all just tips from someone who had the same problems you’re having now. I’m getting around 300 people a day on my blog!!
    http://www.tech-linkblog.com

  14. Jeff – not to minimize Paul’s advice, but Blogger isn’t a bad platform at all for getting started, and there’s a LOT you can do to improve your blog and your presence online before you start spending money.

    Before you do anything, ask yourself why you’re blogging. If you’re in it to build your personal and professional reputation, connect with other people in a community, and just to share your thoughts and writing, there’s no need to spend money. If you’re trying to build your blog as a business, and you have a good reason to care about how many visitors you get, then it’s probably worth it to buy a domain, pay for hosting, etc.

    Even though Blogspot blogs have a sort of reputation for having lots of fake spammy blogs, there are lots of good, legitimate blogs there. Google themselves use it for all of their “Official” blogs. Linus Torvalds, the guy who started Linux, uses Blogspot (http://torvalds-family.blogspot.com/). And even if you don’t want to stick with Blogger, for whatever reason, there are other free options. I, for one, am a HUGE fan of WordPress, and you can get a free hosted version of a WordPress blog at http://wordpress.com. You can even buy your own domain name and use that for your free wp.com blog. Lots of “big” bloggers use WordPress.com – including Robert Scoble (http://scobleizer.com) and the ever popular http://ICanHasCheezburger.com folks. :-)

    If you DO decide you want to host your own blog, don’t go overboard. There are shared hosting companies where you won’t have to pay more than about $10/a month. Look for one that’s friendly to hosting a WordPress blog (more info at http://wordpress.org). This is what I do, not because I want to run my blog as a business (even though I have ads, I make at most a couple bucks per day, enough to pay for hosting), but because I wanted the freedom to host lots of sites, install my own plugins and themes, and basically tinker around. It’s definitely not necessary if you want to focus on what you write, and what community you want to become a part of.

    Hope that helps! :-)

  15. Not to Go overboard on this, I’ve got friends who use blogger and have a ton of people who come through them. Josh is right to say it is how you develop your Community. It comes from understanding what people are looking for or wanting. I’m like Josh I’m a HUGE, VERY BIG, fan of WordPress for the one fact that I can customize everything on my blog from Ads to SEO Optimization. Which on that case you could create even more google juice and get even more people to come to your site. I a like Josh, right now I’m getting enough a month to pay for my hosting account and my domain names.

    If you DO Decide to go with WordPress and having a shared hosting account. I’d suggest GoDaddy, they can install WordPress without much effort from your part.

    Now not to Minimize Joshes comment about not needing to focus on your writing. I would tend to disagree because If you right really good stuff more and more, others will come and comment and bring in even more traffic. More exposure and more chances of getting advertisers to come to your site and want to partner with you.

    This is experience talking, I’ve wrote some really good articles and two publishers came to me to put ads in my Articles didn’t pay a lot but that helped pay for my hosting account. So you see, if you focus on writing you will have people come to you. Might not be today, might not be tomorrow but someone will come. Who knows someone will post a link on another site and people will flock to see what the fuss is about!!

    I hope this helps with your quest to become a better blogger, if you have any questions by all means ask away!!

  16. Paul, I never said one shouldn’t focus on the quality of their writing. Please don’t put words in my mouth. I believe that focusing on putting out good, quality content will do more for your “Google juice” than any amount of SEO trickery.

    We seem to have different approaches to blogging, which is good. You’re all about hits and Google juice and SEO and traffic and ads. That’s cool. I’m more about building connections and becoming part of a community. Let’s not derail the comments here by getting into a debate about which of these approaches is better. This blog is my living room, you’ve been invited here to comment, and I’m asking that we change the subject. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  18. Thanks for the info. Blogs are a great way to advertise posts but one thing i would like to include is – it’s a free place to link to your site however don’t just add a random post to your blog. If you’re going to respond to a post, it’s no big deal to go for the cheap plug but, if you going to reply (for demonstrational purposes)

    GreenDay.Moguling.com – 21st Century Breakdown! Coming 2009

    And leave – it’s not relative to the posts and the admins can very easily remove your post, and for good reason.

    Try to at least reply with some informational material relative to the blog.

    Thanks Lucas, great information.

  19. Thank You Josh!

    Very useful and great stuff. Many things in life and business can be automated. But relationships, networking can’t… It takes time, effort to get to know people for real. Internet is a great tool but still not like real life… Did I say that?
    I spend many many hours online every day… Working from home… /Stefan

  20. I think #2 (Link to other People) is hugely important. I just started blogging and most of my visits come from linking to other people and Google indexing my blog as “associated” with those links. I would also add commenting – it doesn’t have to be a pingback/trackback. Just comment on people’s articles. This seems to be a second big one for me. I guess it’s also because my name is my URL which makes it easier for search engines to index.

  21. I am currently using blogspot, and I haven’t seen much traffic even though the blog is VERY new. I bought my own domain for cheap, but I liked how it was emphasized that I can use my free account to bolster my social network and get people genuinely interested, and during that time I can learn to use more sophisticated optimization to get more traffic. Right now, traffic really isn’t as important to me as feeling like I have a cohesive network, so I’m really glad you emphasized that Josh.

  22. I agree with all of your tips, Josh. Especially the one about Stumbledupon. Not only is the Stumbledupon mechanism great at helping you find other sites in your niche, it gets your name out there quickly and brings in quality traffic. I’m debating switching to wordpress for my newest blog, bloggerlisted.blogspot.com, but so far Blogger fits my needs. Keep up the good work!

  23. Hi Josh,

    This was a great article. I recently started blogging and found all of your advice to be very helpful. I think another tip is – be patient it will take time to gather a following (hasn’t happened for me yet but I’m working on it).

    Another tip that you could add as another step – SEO. Create good titles (10-70 characters), include head keywords and descriptive text (50-156 characters). I use “Greg’s High Performance SEO” WordPress plugin. Submit your blog for crawling to the Search engines. For example: http://www.google.com/addurl/?continue=/addurl. Lastly, use Google webmaster tools to frequently submit your newest Sitemap and check for crawling errors.

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