What's the Point of a Blogroll?

Dec 012009
 

kitty-tiaraAre you as confused as I am about these often-lengthy lists of blog titles that appear on blogs?

When I first started reading food blogs, blogrolls were a great resource. I clicked around dozens of sites with dizzying speed, jumping from one list to another, making delightful discoveries. Now I see these lists as more of a Who’s Who and wonder, like all of you (don’t tell me you haven’t!) why MY blog is not listed. (For those of you who are not bloggers, narcissism is an occupational hazard.)

But I also wonder why we list other blogs at all. Is it to acknowledge friendships, mutual admiration, favors, collegial comeraderie? Guilty. My “Resources” section is more straightforward, as it doesn’t list the blogs of individuals as much as places to get useful information. No political problems there.

Is it to boost SEO rankings? According to a comment on a post on the value of blogrolls, the links within your posts are much more valuable.

Another commenter said she deleted hers and now uses Twitter to get to a blog. Which makes me wonder: Is her blogroll for herself or for her  readers? I hope it’s the latter, but I worry my blogroll is really more for the people who find themselves on it. 

The ultimate blogroll is over at Simply Recipes. Updates from Favorite Food Blogs automatically displays part of each blogger’s latest posts. It’s so good I just added it to my blogroll under Resources. Favorite Cooking and Food Blogs from Around the World, another list on the site, describes each blog. Admirable.

Have you deleted blogs from your roll? I have. Even though I loved the people, their blogs were not ready for prime time. I couldn’t explain to readers why I listed those links, so I simply removed them one day, and agonized over whether those people noticed. No one’s said anything yet. 

So, dear readers, are blogrolls simply popularity contests, or do they serve a purpose? Do you actually find them useful?

Thanks to Cheryl Sternman Rule and Sarah Henry, (both of whom are on my blogroll) for suggesting this post.

Update 12/3: I interviewed Sydny Miner this morning. She’s the senior editor of Simon & Schuster and editor of Molly Wizenburg’s and Paula Deen’s books. She said she uses blogrolls all the time to find new blogs she likes. She especially likes the list on Simply Recipes, and said she trusts who Elise recommends (who knew!).

So, if you can help someone get discovered by an editor, or if an editor discovers you because you’re on someone else’s blogroll, that’s a pretty good argument for why to keep it.

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  58 Responses to “What's the Point of a Blogroll?”

  1. When I started blogging in 2001, the blogroll or sidebar links were a way for us (at least my online friends then) to easily go to our ‘frequent reads’, serving the purpose of what the RSS reader does now. It was also a way to let other people know who you read. It was a great way to find other blogs/websites as well. Then there came a time when people thought that being in someone’s list made their ranking higher, which is true in some way. It was a plus that you’re getting a link to your site for free. Consequently, there was a surge of people emailing for link exchanges. These days, I link to people I like, read regularly or know personally, knowing the value of the links these days. So, yes, it can be a popularity contest, an online brag book, but what I use them for before still holds true today: they help me find new websites to visit.

    • Whoa! You started blogging in 2001? But not gourmeted.com, right Joy? It says 2007 on your archive. Anyway, you’re a maverick.

      So you still find them useful, as they help you find new blogs. Good. I like the idea that readers continue to be served.

      • I started Gourmeted in 2007 as a joke almost, because the family got sick of getting photos and emails about our food. I started blogging in early 2000 with domain names that I don’t own anymore. :-)

        Blogrolls are definitely useful! When I go to someone’s website/blog–especially those who are ‘authorities’ in their own field–I trust the links and website resources that they provide.

  2. Interesting post. I’m pretty sure that when I first started writing my blog that I included a blogroll just because everyone else seemed to have one. I don’t worry too much if I’ve “made” someone’s blogroll. I look at them as a way to recommend favorites. I have a rather extensive list of favorites on my site that I refer to as “Noteworthy Blogs” http://www.recipegirl.com/2007/07/05/noteworthy-blogs/ They’re blogs that I visit occasionally, admire, and feel worthy of recommending to my readers. My blog list is arranged by region. People seem to like discovering new blogs from their own state/country. I have a major re-design coming up and am considering deleting the blog list, but it’s actually a pretty well visited page on my site. I wonder if my readers would miss it?

  3. My blog roll is very limited and is a combination of honoring blogs that inspire me and bloggers I feel a connection to. However it is in no way exhaustive of either category. As someone who needs to sneak in blogging time here and there, I found it way too much effort to maintain, so I usually don’t.

    I do however love to find someone has put me in their blog roll and I will usually visit the blog and leave a comment or send an email thanking them.

    I do feel guilty, my blog roll really could use an update (at least to get rid of some of those inactive blogs), but its just not a priority.

  4. when I started blogging a few years ago, there weren’t that many food blogs especially in Seattle. It was a way to keep up with the blogging world and know about other blogs. With the amount of blogs around today, it is almost impossible to keep up. I am thinking of adding a blogroll to my new improved site. The only question is : where do I start? There are so many that I like. I am still thinking this through.

    • Keren, I like Faith’s answer: choose those blogs that inspire you or those you feel a connection to. How about that?

  5. At first, our blogroll was about sites we love and love to share. Then it became one of those SEO/SERP booster-type list of links. I have trimmed sites off the blogroll in the past, to keep it short and to reflect what I am currently interested in. But I admit I haven’t paid much attention to maintaining the blogroll.

    Perhaps I should just publish what’s in my Google Reader RSS list.

  6. I’ve never had one and never will. Since the beginning (2003 for me) I felt weird about blog rolls in part because there were bloggers I liked and yet I didn’t like their blogs and vice versa. They do feel like a popularity contest and cliquish as well. I hated high school and don’t want to repeat the experience online.

  7. My sister and I still try to maintain our blogroll as sites that we love to read and that we want to share with our readers. They aren’t all food blogs and aren’t all the most popular blogs, but are our favorites. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get updated often enough.

    Of course, it’s an honor when someone decides that our blog is worth putting in their blogroll, but we never exchange links or just add a blog in hopes that they will add us.

  8. I think the function of a blogroll has changed over time. In the earlier days of foodblogging, it was a great way to find new sites. Now, there are a million great food blogs and it’s not difficult to find them (the problem might be avoiding finding new blogs that one doesn’t have the time to read!).

    I suppose one could view it as a popularity contest, but I think it’s more a matter of quality work rising (eventually) to the top. I link to sites where I don’t know the authors, and there are people I know and like but our blog sensibilities don’t resonate and I don’t link to them. It’s true I have a hard time taking anyone off my blogroll, as I don’t want to hurt feelings.

    I think there is a practical/business side of blogrolls as well. I get a certain amount of my traffic from blogroll referrals. I always think it’s a shame when bloggers move their links list to an internal page, as the click-throughs go down.

    Just yesterday I updated my blogroll, adding a good number of new sites that I admire. I don’t have a problem having a long blogroll, it takes up space that would otherwise be empty and I like the community aspect of it. When I started out there were plenty of people who supported me by adding my site to their links list. I like to return the favor.

    • Thanks for a long and thoughtful reply, Tara. I think I have both views: it’s a popularity contest and it’s quality work rising to the top, as you say.

  9. I removed mine from my blog few months ago, mainly as a way to remove clutter from my sidebars. I’ve been thinking of reinstating a shorter version of it that’s whittled down to the few blogs that really matter to me, but then I’d have to bother with editing it periodically to keep it current.

    • Arnold, yes, some commenters here have voiced their inability to keep their blogrolls current. Apparently that is an issue.

  10. I agree with Joy (gourmeted) who says “These days, I link to people I like, read regularly or know personally”. When I first started blogging (ahem, 7 months ago…) I had all sorts of blogs on my blog roll that I don’t really know why they were there. As I have added to my Google reader, I have culled the blogs on my roll and whilst it still looks lengthy, believe it or not, I actually do read those blogs on a regular basis and/ or have a connection to those bloggers. It’s a tough call but ultimately, I have decided the blogroll is for my readers to help them find similar blogs and to show where much of my inspiration comes from.

    There is definitely an element of popularity contest going on out there in the blogosphere but as I grow my own lil old blog and worry less about “hits” and readership and if I am listed on so and so’s blog, I feel more settled and less panicked that I might not be listed on many people’s blogrolls but those I am, I am happy to be. I would rather be listed on 5 blogrolls whose authors I know read my blog than 500 when I know the authors don’t.

  11. I’m right there with Joy. I started writing online in 2001 as well, many many blogs ago, and used the blogroll as a bookmarks list for frequently-read sites. Now a it seems archaic and I pretty much only keep ours around as a nicety – and I fully admit that the list on our site is not updated very often.

    I probably have three times the number of feeds on my Google Reader list than I have listed on the blogroll, many of which are found through links on other sites or personal recommendations, not through other peoples’ blogrolls. Yet I feel too guilty to ditch it altogether!

    • Hey Casey. Yeah, the guilt thing is a bummer. I have that problem too. But if you ditch the whole list, it’s not personal.

  12. The blogs I list are blogs I admire and frequently refer to. I am technically challenged, so I have ended up using this as a personal resource and quick link for myself to blogs I enjoy reading. The list is kept relatively short or else it becomes overwhelming and diluted, and occasionally rotate blogs in and out. Your blog is always on my list!

    • Well thank you, Lynda. I appreciate the link. It didn’t occur to me, until I wrote this post, that bloggers use their blogroll for their own reasons. But it makes sense.

  13. I’ve never seen it that way. For me it’s an additional resource. I’ve discovered many interesting blogs through other people’s blog rolls that I’ve continued to follow and read. And mine is pretty small and focuses mostly on bloggers in my area. I agree that RSS feeds, which can now be shared, fit this purpose better now. But I suppose when you’re not that prominent and you’re part of a rather small food blogging community, you don’t have to worry about people wanting to be on their blogroll as a measure of their popularity. At least, I haven’t encountered that.

    • Paula, good points. Only one person contacted me when I started my blog and asked to exchange links. Otherwise, I’m pleased with the organic way it has progressed. Maybe you’re right that RSS feeds now fit the purpose better, but only you can see your list.

  14. When I began my blog, about 2 years ago, my blogroll was a way or presenting my favorite blogs. As my blog grew, I tried to keep my blogroll very tight. I only included blogs that were in a similar vein with mine. I had been using my list as a way for me to find my favorite links more easily.

    Now some new bloggers are asking me to do blogroll link exchanges with them. How do I turn them down since I’m still kind of new at this too. And I don’t want to litter my site with all this extraneous material. I agree with Amy, that there’s no need for one. It’s a popularity contest. I’m thinking of getting rid of mine after reading this.

    • Joseph, I wouldn’t put blogs on your list simply to exchange lists. Your blogroll represents your tastes.

      I’m thinking of getting rid of mine too after reading this, but several people have made an argument for why they have value.

  15. Lots of good advice and interesting takes as I contemplate the whole do I put up a blogroll or not conundrum?

    The bottomline for me is I would like readers who are not fellow foodies to find other resources online that may resonate with them as well.

    There is definitely the whiff of high school popularity to all of this and as I study other blogrolls I wonder if they really read them all. But, like Faith, I’m delighted if someone lists me on theirs — especially folks who don’t know me personally. Still, I feel no compulsion to follow suit.

    Don’t know if I’ve been “delisted” anywhere — that could be a bit ouchy for the ol’ ego! And when I eventually let bloggers know they’re on my (to-do) list I don’t at all expect them to reciprocate. It’s just a way of saying, “hey, I like what you do and want to let people know you’re out there.” Does that make sense?

    • It usually ventolin inhaler vs. albuterol inhaler is taken twice a day.

      Hi Sarah. Yes, it does.

      I’ve realized something though, after reading the comments. I KNOW the people who have blogs on my blogroll. I’m not sure that’s criteria for other people, or if they have the opportunity to know other bloggers. It’s different if you list a blog because you like it and don’t know or care who writes it.

  16. GREAT post. I love that this is such a point of contention – like, will so-and-so be upset if they don’t get a Christmas card? Because really, we all want links and get a little pouty if we’re not listed somewhere we feel we ought to be. I know it’s silly, but it’s human nature to want to be included.

    My own blogroll consists of the blogs I read regularly. I read a lot more than I have listed and I feel a little guilty for not listing everyone, but then it would be a mile long. Maybe I’ll follow your lead and delete it altogether. Really, I don’t need any more in my life to worry about!

  17. Came back to read the new comments–interesting discussion. Thanks to Dianne for starting it.

    I have to say, I think blogrolls are an important part of the food blogging community–or they used to be. When I started (and I’m no 2001-er, like Joy and Casey) the food blog scene was a lot smaller and more supportive of each other. Why not share traffic with other great sites you admire? It’s a easy and passive way to build community.

    I will always think of blogrolls in a positive rather than negative context, and I think it’s unfortunate when people do away with them. None of us is out here alone, why not connect to other like-minded folks?

    That said, I hope I never get another link exchange request email. Thankfully those seem to be dying down.

    • Tara, oh I’m so happy you came back.

      To your questions, I’d like to play devil’s advocate.
      Re why not share traffic with other great sites you admire? Actually there are many, and I worry about my blogroll getting too long.
      Re connecting with other like-minded folks, we can do so by commenting on their blogs, following them on Twitter and Facebook, etc. These days there are many ways to connect. In fact, people who were never accessible before are now available. ex. Ruth Reichl on Twitter.

      • I agree with Tea. When there weren’t that many blogs, it was nice to link to other blogs to make people aware of them since not that many people read food blogs or knew they existed: I think they really helped get readers aware of food blogs, in general, and it was nice to network with others and build community.

        Lately, I guess, because there are so many food blogs, it’s not necessary to have one. For years I had a blog list that was annotated. But now I use the Blogger blogroll, which is like an RSS feed so I can put blogs in there and they show up as they’re updated. (There’s a tutorial here.) It gives visibility to blogs that update often and shows a snippet of their content.

        I don’t know how many people read or use it, but the other good thing (as Tea mentioned) is it’s a way to mitigate the link exchange requests: since it’s a variable and evolving list, people are less-likely to ask for exchanges as it’s not really a blogroll in the traditional, fixed sense.

  18. It’s interesting how politics can make it’s way into everything…even blogrolls. I guess I had never thought about it as a popularity contest, but it is in a way. We all want to be loved (read) and what better way to share the love, right? As long as your intentions are admiral, i.e. providing better content. I think, in the end, that’s the whole purpose of blogging, sharing quality material, and i find that the people who’s blogs I admire, usually have a blogroll worth scrolling through. Many of the blogs on mine were discovered this way…it’s how I found yours, Dianne!

    • Oh thank you Carri. I think you came back as well.

      Yes, I too like to scroll through the blogrolls of people I admire. It’s a kind of approval. We all want that, don’t we?

  19. Dianne, I am so very glad you tackled this issue, and you did it exactly the way I knew you would — by stripping the subject of its BS and getting all the issues on the table.

    I’d venture to put more of a positive spin on the subject, like tea_austen did. In fact, I almost think of my blogroll like a reverse popularity contest. Half of those I list are people I know, some of whom have helped inspire me professionally, true. But the other half are smaller sites with excellent writers who deserve greater exposure than they might otherwise receive. A mix of “big” and “small” keeps the list vibrant.

    • Well hello Cheryl, here you are. Thank you. I like the idea of a mix of big and small. Your blogroll seems like a good size, and I like seeing names I recognize and names I don’t.

  20. I think the value of blogroll has diluted significantly over the past couple of years with the proliferation of social media such as Twitter, Facebook fan pages, and such. There are a lot more mediums to discover really good blogs, even without blogroll. However, when I started blogging 3 1/2 years ago, Blogroll was huge, in fact, it helped tremendously in getting noticed, a “platform” that helped my blog grow to what it is today, imagine if you are on the Blogroll of Times Online and Martha Steward’s site.

    That being said, I no longer update my Blogroll but still use it to access my favorite blogs (I am not a fan of readers!). At one point, I hid my Blogroll link to the footer of my website because I didn’t think it deserved my top navigation anymore, and had a couple of readers asking me where was my blogroll. I think it’s certainly valuable to readers, who are otherwise not familiar with the whois. Yes, I did delete a few blogs from my Blogroll mostly because some blogs are pretty much dead. Not personal though.

    • Hi Rasa Malaysia, great to hear from you. Your perspective is useful to understand why people created blogrolls in the first place, and why they are still of value today.

  21. The first blog I had was on vox 3 years ago so there was no such thing as a blogroll because only other vox users had access to my blog and posts were categorized by levels of privacy as well. Then when I started a blog on Blogger I had a very long blogroll broken up into the languages they were blogged in and it never occurred to me, until someone else mentioned it, to even ask someone to exchange blog links with me (which I never did even when I found out about it) as the purpose of my blogroll was both so I could have easy access to blogs I liked to read and for other people who might have been curious as to what blogs I read or who might not have known about food blogs (as was my case until early 2007) and upon chancing on mine, might have wanted to look at other blogs I considered worthwhile reads.
    Perhaps my never thinking about it as a method of gaining popularity is the reason why my blog has stayed relatively anonymous. I’m of course very flattered when someone includes me on their blogroll, but I don’t consider it a slight of any sort not to be and recently moved my blogroll to a separate page to declutter my sidebar. Maybe you’re right, perhaps it’s no longer relevant. I still find it useful, particularly with regards to the non-food blogs listed on it. It’s definitely an interesting discussion though.

    • Thanks Hilda. Maybe it’s only when you know the people behind the blogs that you think of it as a popularity contest? Otherwise you choose them for genuine reasons. A few people have moved them off the sidebar when the list gets long. That seems reasonable.

  22. Perhaps i’m selfish but my blogroll is generally for my own amusement. I set it up so that each blog’s newest post title is listed under the blog name. Every time I check the comments on my posts I look at my blog roll to see what’s new.

    Mine only lists a few blogs that I genuinely like. I haven’t even thought about being listed (or not listed) on other people’s blogrolls – how does one even find out about this?

    I started my blog to share my pastry obsession with people who care about that kind of thing, not to become the popular girl – that just seems like such a shallow reason to obsess over blogrolls. I was the nerdy girl in high school so popularity politics has never been in my realm on consciousness.

    • Erika, I think that’s a fine reason, and your readers will discover why you are amused. I think you could find out if you’re on other blogrolls by researching your analytics to see who links to you.

      Yes of course it’s shallow to want to be popular. But it’s human too.

  23. Hi Dianne!
    It was nice to meet you tonight at the BlogHer holiday party.

    As a food blog writer, I get tired of blogrolls on other food blogs. Why? Because they all list the same darn sites. I always hope to find something new in another blog’s links. Instead, I usually find the typical links to The Pioneer Woman and 101 Cookbooks. Not that there is anything wrong with these sites. On the contrary, I enjoy them very much. But I’ve “been there, done that”. I want to discover something new. I wish people would add more “undiscovered” blogs to their blog rolls. It would make visiting their sites far more interesting.

    Tiffany

    • Hi Tiffany, I enjoyed getting to know you. Excellent point. Your blogroll has many blogs I don’t know and look forward to investigating.

  24. I find blog rolls really helpful. When I first started reading and writing food blogs, I guessed that if I liked one blog, I would like her/his recommendations on the blog roll. I have one on my own site, but boy is it due for some updating!

  25. Interesting topic! I started my blog in 2003 and it wasn’t originally a food blog–it was just general interest. I kept and continue to keep a blogroll of sites I enjoy and want to check in with when I get the chance. Now that my blog is almost exclusively about gluten-free baking, my blogroll is heavy on baking, cooking, and glutenfree sites. For me, as for Erika, it’s more a reflection of what I’m reading and getting inspiration from. And, since I’m not a superstar food blogger, I guess it doesn’t really matter what blogs are on my blogroll.

    And I agree with Tiffany–it does get boring to see the same limited group of popular blogs on every single blog roll. Especially if it’s the blog roll of a popular blogger. I kind of think that if you’re an established food blogger, blogrolls can be a way you can provide a service and call attention to other blogs–and it’s always nice if those blogrolls include not-so-well-known blogs. If all the popular blogs only list each other, it’s kinda like a cool kids’ table that the non-cool kids can’t sit at.

    As for me, I really enjoy finding new and interesting blogs to read. So, I enjoy blogrolls that are diverse and include blogs that aren’t on everyone’s list.

  26. Back to answer your devil’s advocate question! Yes, there are a million ways to interact with other blogs now–twitter, leaving comments, etc–but those all take time! Having a blogroll is passive. All I have to do is update it on occasion. This is a win-win for me.

  27. This is a good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Simple but very accurate info… Thanks for sharing this one. A must read article!

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