Ant Stone is a traveling freelance writer (or a writing freelance traveller, depending on how much sleep he gets). He’s the creator of struggling travel blog, Trail of Ants and When in Wellington, and he welcomes you to follow him around Wellington, New Zealand or on Twitter.
Starting a travel blog is pretty simple: You buy a domain name; slip some money to a web host; and download WordPress. Then tip tap away until hoards of travelers instinctively flock to your website, bring down your web host, rip off your domain name and create lots of hard work. Right? Wrong.
Human instinct is powerless on the Internet.
This approach is akin to hitchhiking on the autobahn. You have everything you need, you know where you want to be, but everyone’s just whizzing carelessly by. Because lets face it, this is the Internet; you don’t just write stuff and shit happens.
As with Real Life™ business, you want people to visit and promote your blog, and the easiest way to achieve this is to score good inbound links. The reason links are important, is that it tells search engines like Google that X-number of quality site owners value your website’s content. Everyone else loves you, therefore Godly Google does.
The greater the perceived quality of the website domain that’s linking to yours, the easier the persuasion. Think about it as David Beckham endorsing your website, versus Dave from Peckham.
Creating a Travel Blog Directory
In the travel blog niche, this is most commonly achieved with a travel blog directory, often referred to as a resource list or blogroll. If you own or run a blog, you probably already have one, but are you using it effectively?
Bloggers need to know your links page has a good reputation, yet Google is famously snobby, and doesn’t like pages crowded with links. Its spiders (the things that crawl through the web looking for new content to index) look at these ubiquitous directories, shrug their spidery shoulders, and scurry on.
To convince the spiders to take notice, you need to apply the same SEO techniques to the blog directory, as you would your carefully crafted posts and pages.
The first step to appeasing Google, is to add some content to the links page: “This group of travel blogs features some of the finest examples of travel writing/photography/video on the Internet etc.”
Also, consider sprucing up this page with some tasteful imagery (not too much, as you need a quick load time), and consider engaging readers with a comment thread. Another good way of convincing Google that your links page is valuable, is to add small descriptions for each link:
Jimbo’s Travels: Discover some of the world’s best places to play frisbee with Jimbo, as he travels across Asia.
This is good place to include any keywords specific to your website.
Of course, if you’re just starting out and no one knows your site exists‚ and you’re yet to engage on any social media platforms‚ simply adding a bunch of travel blog links to your directory is a cheeky way of attracting the links’ recipients.
For example, if I link to Anil’s, How to Travel with Pets website, Anil will see this in his Google Analytics’ reports, and curiosity will almost always draw him in. I score a unique visitor, and hopefully I’ll wow him with my own brilliance, and he’ll add me to his own directory.
So you’ve given out a hundred links, which is great for everyone else, but not so great for yourself.
Promote your Travel Blog Directory
Travel bloggers are a tech-savvy community, and very easily approached. In my early blogging days, I kept quiet during the Great Link Rush. As a person, I prefer operating on the fringes.
I’m a natural observer‚ rather than an active participator‚ so I was reluctant to go all, “ME ME ME” against a predominantly American marketplace. Call it the English in me.
I saw little value in forcing my way onto dedicated link pages, because I knew they were smeared with mutual links, rather than well-researched and useful ones. I wanted to be useful, whereas Google didn’t much care.
I did create a links page, because it seemed a wonderfully blogtastic thing to do. Whenever I came across a website that made an impact, I quietly pasted it in there with a small description and went back to dunking my ginger-nut into my cup of tea. It was nice and cozy, but no one really noticed it (unless they were on it).
Then in April this year, something clicked. I was writing good content, but no one was reading it. I was completely off the radar of most relevant Google searches, new travel blogs (“harder, better, faster, stronger”) were appearing and I almost clicked the big red DELETE button and moved on with my life. But I couldn’t (could you?)
I supposed, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” (ME ME ME.) So I created a separate page, the whizz-bang T-Bag Travel Blog Directory. I knew straight away that the title had perverse connotations, but theorized this could work in my favor. It hasn’t, but there are a few things that have.
I looked at existing travel blog directories, and figured there was a better way. In this era of social media, it was obvious I needed to offer an option to incorporate Twitter and/or Facebook links (bloggers love this). I also needed people to be aware of the directory itself as a resource, not just a cheap link.
So I made it really easy for readers to tweet about it by giving them a one-click link, and for every submission to the T-Bag, I fire off a personalized and engaging tweet to my c.900 followers, which includes a hyperlink back (important) to the T-Bag Travel Blog Directory:
@JimbosTravels just bunged his baggy blog and quick-drying social media socks into the T-Bag Travel Blog Directory: http://bit.ly/aCBOxT
It couldn’t be any easier for genuine blog authors wanting to get listed, it just takes time to make people aware. The tweet also works because it begins a conversation, the conversation leads to more submissions, more submissions leads to more backlinks, more backlinks leads to a plethora of Google love which leads to more readers, which leads to… you get the picture.
Now people see the page as a resource. They respond well to the personal touch, and it opens up myriad channels to engage.
Don’t underestimate the power of your links page or blogroll; Make it relevant for Google, make it enticing for your readers, and make it engaging for your community. Over time, the spiders will stick around long enough to realize your good intentions.
Had you considered your links page to be such a powerful tool, or did you just see it as a bloggy thing to do? Have you come across a unique travel blog directory? And finally, would you like to hear more from me here at Travel Blog Advice?
[photos by: Profound Whatever (link), Bob Elderberry (woman hitchhiking), John ‘K’ (spiderwebs), comedy_nose (open mic)]
Great guest post Ant. Everything you say is spot on and so eloquently put. It baffles me that some bloggers don’t have a links page and if they do it’s empty. You really have a unique Travel Blog Directory and it’s brilliant what you’ve done. Kudos.
Although not as interactive as Ant’s you should check out these blog’s Travel Blog Directories too for a great list of blogs:
Many people are scared of links lists for some reason but Ant’s and the others are good resources (thanks for the mention) to start building links and of course good advice here on starting your own.
Thanks Amar. The sites you mentioned are indeed great lists of blogs but what you really want to do, is to make them great pages of resource. Quality attracts quality.
If you take Nomadic Matt’s links pages for instance. He has two. One containing approx 30 links, but with one line, unique descriptions. This earns a PageRank (PR) of 3. Then he has a mutual free-for-all, containing over 200 links, but purely links (no descriptions or surrounding content). This doesn’t currently register any PR. If you could choose, you’d like to be on that PR 3 page.
Once again, our veritable host, FoxNomad provides a long list of great blogs but with very minimal content = PR 0, the same for TravelAdviceEurope.
Interestingly, Gary of Everything-Everywhere scores a PR of 4 for his directory. To the naked eye, it’s a long list. But rub the surface and you discover Gary sensibly uses ‘nofollow’ on some questionable links (often called PR sculpting), perhaps persuading spiders that he is trying to do the right thing. He also receives multiple inbound links from .edu and .gov domains, which further affirms the perception of a morally upstanding webmaster.
Theory aside, as Google tightens up their algorithms it’s worth considering that it takes just as much time to a great job, as it does to do a good job. (Seth Godin might call this the Big Moo.)
I like the tweeting idea – I hadn’t thought of that. Travel directories can be great content in themselves if done properly. I have a static website with a directory of well over a 100 pages. It’s a chore to organize and maintain (and I’m always way behind) but, aside from the link exchange opportunities this gives us, I believe it is one of the reasons why we sometimes get picked up and mentioned in national newspapers and books – giving us those David Beckham links.
Very true, Shane. The directory should be a resource for everyone. Another way I use mine, is to tighten my connection to the community. I actively comment on blogs within my directory, which in turn spirals me into the wider community where I discover new blogs. If I decide they’re a good fit for the T-Bag, I might flick them an email and suggest they submit their blog.
Another use for your personal directory, is they’re an easy source of great content. “Blog Carnivals” are a really easy way to reward your link exchanges with a nod from within the post-proper. It’s win-win: you get engaging content, they get links. Bloggers love getting mentioned in these style of posts, and will almost always comment on the post. So content + comments + traffic. What more do we want?
The T-Bag is ultra simple to maintain, because I’ve set up the submission form to deliver ready-made HTML which I just copy and paste into the relevant section. The majority of time comes from checking the links.
Great article, Ant. I relate to some of the things you mention, being a natural observer and the ‘me me me’ attitude that is so prevalent and foreign to some of us. That aside, I am guilty of neglecting my Links page. It was thanks to Anil that I set it up and updated it but adding descriptives is still on my to do list. This blog often given me a the proverbial kick I need!
The T-Bag idea is brilliant and so are the follow up tweets you mention. I see some benefits from having a directory as such but I’ve also noticed a trend. Most of time someone checks my Links page, it results in either spam or emails asking for a free form of advertising. I am yet to see benefits rather than telling the world these are my recommendations.
I still see a Links page as a by-product of personal blogging which has moved on. If at one time you decide to remove a link because you no longer enjoy the blog or they’ve changed direction, it can cause some angst. But I’m willing to give it a go and build it with blogs I like.
I would you like to hear more from you here. Your comments and articles are informative and engaging. So are Anil’s! 🙂
Most types of unique content will help your blog in general, so getting that link page to rank will be a great bonus. The best way to do this is to get those spiders to say, “Ah! This isn’t just a page of nondescript links, there appears to be a reason for it being here.”
Don’t get too precious about not accepting non-quality listings. If I’m dubious about applicants for the T-Bag, I don’t add them. I genuinely try to only endorse blogs who are adding to the community, not (just) leeching it for “link juice”. Similarly, if I decide down the line that I’d prefer not to link to a particular blog, I’ll cut it. Blogging is organic, after all. Do others agree?
Perhaps I should ask Anil about doing a post on the ‘back end’ of directories and how a little time spent can save you a lot in the long run.
Would anyone want to read this? Scratch in a comment, and you could see it soon here on TBA…
I like that idea Ant.
Like many of the comments mention, a good link page pruning is a good idea about every 6 months. Many blogs and links die out, so best to only have the ‘follow’ links to active, related sites. I’ve been trying to sort out my links page for months but keep putting on the back burner, I think many of us do with those pages!
Completely natural. Consider tying the housekeeping it in with running out some quality comments to the blogosphere. If you’re going to click a link, you might as well maximise your time. In a word; use your directory for external uses, as much as internal.
Greetings from a travel blogger in Korea,
The link page (at least on my blog) is as much a community service as it is an aim at bettering my PageRank, Google standing, etc. While I do care about such technological / SEO things, I’ve found that the positive mentions from interested readers (not just the random person who bounces five seconds after arriving) create a better relationship. Lower bounce rate. More comments – and more interesting comments. Yadda yadda yadda.
This post was a reminder that it’s been awhile since I’ve done a housecleaning of sorts. The problem is the ‘is it worth it?’ argument – can I put that time to better use elsewhere? Maybe I can, maybe I can’t…
Time spent in cleaning up your link page you mean?
“What’s the best use of my time” is a topic which often springs up around this kind of topic.
Truth is, if you spend a little time doing all the small things right, then all the effort you put into the big things will be much more effective.
It’s not sexy, but it works.
Your comment is a timely reminder that I need to spend some time doing those small things right. It was particularly reinforced just moments ago when, catching up with my extensive email backlog, I came across a link exchange request from… YOU.
I’m so glad I was a least honest with my comments earlier that “I’m always way behind”.
Note to self: attend to the links directory this week.
Ha! Love the serendipity of that Shane. I’m practising what I preach. Looking forward to welcoming you into the T-Bag Travel Blog family
Would it not be more productive to not to have to waste time creating another boring blog directory or another mundane links page, and instead concentrate on your content and write content that people want to link to?
With link building you really have to think outside of the box.
Link exchanges carry much less weight in the Google algorithm than they once did. Ideally, you want one-way links, from authority sites. Spend your time and energy on this, rather than promoting yet another directory, or links page.
Just my 2pence.
I think that links pages, aside from some SEO benefit, do help create bonds between bloggers and can be a good way to invite comments and interaction from other bloggers. A good links page can be setup in a few hours and after that doesn’t require too much maintenance.
The effort and time required for the benefit gained are a good trade-off I’d say. Of course, like you mention, the *best* way to get quality links is to write quality posts, which is much harder to do.
Thanks Darren: one of the messages I try to convey here is that the link exchange doesn’t have to be “mundane” or “boring”, it can be relevant and useful.
Of course good content is always going to outweigh the links pages, but we’re bloggers in 2010. We don’t just create posts any more. We create websites.
And also, if you set them up right from the very beginning, links pages hardly take up any time at all.
For the benefit of others: I am not advocating that blog directories should supersede the core of your blog, nor that you should spend much time on them at all.
Just that, if you do want one as part of your blog’s overall content, then spend a little time now and make it work for you, not against you in the long run.
Oh, and for the problem of those morons that scrape your RSS feed and aggrigate it – use a plugin called RSS footer. This allows you to put in a link of your choice, and a link to the original post in your RSS feed so those that scrape, will link back to you – this helps (a little) with SEO, and also tells Google who the original owner of the content is – which helps avoid duplicate content.
Good article. I am another who suffer from the list of links that you so eloquently describe. Maybe they need a good sort and clean-up – another thing to add to the list…
I’ve been thinking of going through mine as well, soooo many dead blogs!