I got a trackback to one of my posts yeseterday. I was so excited that someone thought what I wrote was worth sharing. Eager to read what they wrote about my article, I paused in my busy schedule to race to their site to find out if I’d changed a life, influenced them in some way, made their day, or just served as a reference.
Instead I found an unrelated article with nothing about my article or my site in their post content, just a collection of slightly related posts at the bottom, auto-bot generated. Impersonal and hope dashed, I sighed and started writing this post. I really thought someone cared.
In the past couple years my comment queue has been plagued by reblogging and Sphere (called Possibly Related Posts) and now Zemanta trackbacks. I get so excited about the trackbacks generated by these posts only to find out that the blogger shared these without thinking and without context, a no-no in the serious blogging world.
I think the WordPress.com feature known as Reblog is a great feature – if used well. Unfortunately like all good things, people don’t always use it well.
Reblogging The Right Way
Reblogging happens when visiting a WordPress.com site and you wish to share it with your site’s readers. Click the Reblog button on the admin bar and instantly the WordPress.com site you are viewing will be added to a post on your site. It’s at this point that things fall down.
Like “like” and “follow,” these are easy to generate and use. It makes sharing easy. However, you must tell your readers why they should read it, something overlooked by most people. Without context or motivation to click through, why should I bother?
Tell us why we should care about what you share.
Sphere Possibly Related Posts Links
Tools like Sphere and Zemanta are cool as they add a list of possibly related posts to the bottom of your post. What a neat way to offer your readers alternative sources for related information – not.
WordPress.com stopped using the Outbrain service called Sphere recently though it is still available as a WordPress Plugin. WordPress.com replaced it with Zemanta, which does two things. First, it offers recommendations of links and images based upon what you write in the Visual Editor when working on a Post or Page. Second, it offers you a chance to add possibly related links to the bottom of your posts.
If you are paying attention and care what you are putting in your posts, Zemanta may be helpful. If you don’t care and just add all the links, the links in the list may not be directly related to your site.
Links to topics unrelated to your topic is unhelpful to the reader, and often bites you back as people look at these and think “what were they thinking?” You could lose readers as trust is now shaken.
The purpose of tools like Sphere’s possibly unrelated posts and Zemanta is to increase exposure of your posts around the Sphere network. People will see these lists at the bottom of other people’s posts and possibly click through and discover you.
The problem with tools like this is that you cannot control the end result, possibly damaging the reputation of the blogger featuring your posts.
Early in blogging history, tags served a similar purpose as Sphere’s possibly related posts. Tags were developed to be a replacement for search engines – or enhancement as some described it. Put tags in links on your site with keywords describing the content in each of your posts. The links would go to another site, such as Technorati or WordPress.com, which would collate all the possibly related posts together under that keyword. Another great theory in theory, not in practice.
I’d find my articles on content theft next to people talking about being ripped off by some business, scams, poker, casinos, mortgages, and topics that had nothing to do with my article. Not even closely related to the issues of copyright infringement and intellectual property. The biggest problem was that people didn’t know how to use tags, often using the wrong words or random words unrelated to the topic.
More importantly, the path back to my site would be convoluted, keeping the reader on the external site and not back to my site, certainly not helpful to my readers. When tag links were finally found to be more successful linking to tag pageviews on your own site where you could control the results better, I started using tags on this site.
While these tools are simple and easy to use, they boil down to the fact that easy doesn’t mean you care. Show you care by using the tools properly, telling the world why they should care as well, and make what we say matter when you share. After all, we put a lot of work into these articles. Put two seconds into showing some appreciation.
Your blog exercise today is to show you care when you link.
We’ve been working on several blog exercises lately on making things personal, setting an example for others, how being linked together with others raises your integrity and reputation, and showing your sincerity in the blogging process. There has even been a blog exercise on how to connect and network with bloggers to help you establish relationships and a community. Linking is a big part of that process.
Go through your past posts to see how you link and shared articles, references, and other bloggers with your readers. Did you take the reblog/possibly related posts lazy method or did you use your talents to share with readers the importance of these people’s work?
Make sure that when you link, you link well and with integrity. Remember that linking is an honor and a gift, treat it with respect.
If you blog about this blog exercise, don’t forget to include a hat tip link back to this post to create a trackback, or leave a properly formed link in the comments so participants can check out your blog exercise task.
ALERT! I’m working on the six month collection of these blog exercises. Watch this space for news on how you can get a free copy of the first part of the collection.