The Linking Marathon – Substance in List and Roundup Posts

The Linking Marathon – Substance in List and Roundup Posts

I’m only one person… and the following is an opinion piece on originality and substance in link/roundup blog posts. Have your own thoughts on the matter? That’s what makes opinions exciting! I’d love to see you share them in the comments below.

One of the things that surprised me most from starting a blog was just how many people link to your content. Most of these inbound links come in the form of list or roundup posts highlighting content on the web. But linking is the nature of the internet, right?

Just to be clear, I’m not referring to those theme-less blogs that scrape the RSS feeds of sites directly; those are in their own league. I’m talking about the blogs that have an administrator and are actively maintained.

There are an overwhelming number of blogs whose regular posts are lists with dozens of links to articles on other sites. Past an opening paragraph, there is no real original content involved. While some of these are simply hobby sites, others are just clear attempts at monetizing the usefulness of other pages.

But are these long-winded attempts at being useful actually having positive impacts? Or are they a growing distraction from truly original content?

The Discovery of the List

Somewhere along the line, bloggers discovered that lists of resources or ideas get great traffic. This realization did for the blogging world what the discovery of Red Bull did for the college student. Since then, lists pop up for everything from “10 Signs of a Good Masseur” to “Things I Do In My Shed“. They are a great way to serve the basic rule for good blogging — be useful.

Then someone decided to take this idea and apply it to the roundup link list. Same idea; different kind of list. If the list format was doing so well, why not apply it to cool and useful links?

But simply having a list is not a guarantee for success. Having a number in the post is not a surefire way to gain traffic. It has become absurd to the degree at which some blogs are topping each other in sheer numbers games.

Don’t Make it a Numbers Game

Make it a quality game. Don’t get caught up in the competition to make the next “Definitive List” on a subject. Focus on making a bit sized list that is practical for a person to go through in a reasonable amount of time. Your links won’t help anyone if they never get read.

But with so many links to great content, how is it a bad thing? The post must be doing a huge favor for its readers somewhere. But here’s the big idea: There’s a certain point where people just don’t care anymore. If there are 100 great links in a list, the probability that they all get the attention deserved goes down sharply. In a way, these enormous lists of great content are actually devaluing the links involved.

It’s easy to see if a post was the result of a ten minute session on Google, or a carefully plotted out theme. Bandwidth aside, it’s harder to appreciate the links in a roundup as much if they aren’t presented with much care.

Consider a text-only list of links versus a list with thumbnails and descriptions like the capture of NetTuts+ below. Which does a better job of presenting the content? Neatly Presented Items

Examples in Successful Roundups

Roundups are wonderful when used in moderation, or when a certain level of thought or quality is put into it. Posts like MyInkBlog’s “Best of the Design Community” and Tutorial9’s “Creative Bookmarks” do a great job of aggregating the month’s best web design/development content. It’s not as overwhelming because it has become a regularly scheduled part of their overall blog’s experience, and does not occur often.

A productive roundup

Twitter user roundups have become popular lately, and for good reason. In this case, the linked content isn’t overwhelming. When you see a list of 85 of the best design oriented Twitterers it is manageable. You either follow them or you don’t. Transactions with each link are brief and low commitment for full experience.

I’d argue that these sorts of “roundups” do not fall into the same pitfalls that those for articles, resources, or tutorials do. As Twitter grows, recommendation posts like these could help connect users based on interest. The is the exact idea behind sites like WeFollow.

Twitter Users by Category

Our Philosophy

Before anyone gets confused, I’m not advocating a ban on roundup or list style posts. This is a plea for more thoughtful ways to share great content while also producing some of your own.

On Build Internet, our general rule is that we try not make general roundups. We will not make a roundup of “25 Great jQuery Tutorials” because it has no overall theme, and would be far too simple. It would feel like a gimmick.

When we do roundups, it must be deliberate and specific; not everything can make the cut. Using the jQuery example above, we would instead do “10 Sites Using jQuery for Slideshows” and then link to relevant tutorials within. Being specific is worthwhile.

Our Track Record

At the time of this post we have 72 live posts, and just eight of them are true roundups. Just for fun, here’s a look at all of the roundup and showcase posts from Build Internet over its lifetime:

Note: If you’re loving the irony of the list “roundup” below, you’re welcome. It was unintentional at best.

  1. 12 Sites Great at Being Green
  2. 8 Sites with Excellent jQuery Navigation
  3. 22 Well Done State Tourism Websites
  4. 25 Font-tastic Type Resources for Web Designers
  5. 10 Galleries of Creative Logos
  6. 27 Illuminating Lightbulb Logos
  7. 17 Action Packed Single Page Sites
  8. Design in Motion – Kinetic Typography Music Videos

Being honest, roundups are often the easiest route when you’re busy with other things. When I’ve been buried in other work, it’s often the best solution to make a quicker post. There will always be an audience to enjoy it, and they are hit-or-miss as far as traffic goes. Some of our most successful articles have been these types of posts, but others have been passed over entirely.

What Do You Think?

Do you think that frequent list and roundup posts show a lack of originality for the blog? Or is it just useful? I asked this question on Twitter earlier today and got a few quick responses back.

@HeckYesItIs “I don’t mind the roundups when they are once a day or once every other day…”

@eronarn “A lack of originality comes only from a lack of original content. Roundups can and should be filtered out by their haters.”

@aravindajith “I think frequent roundups show the lack of originality… blogs should keep a balance in roundups and original posts”

Have one of your own? Share it with the rest of us in the comments.

Posted Thursday, May 14th, 2009 · Back to Top


Add Comment

3 Comments 1 Mentions

  1. Kawsar Ali Author Editor

    What Can I say. I did recent post also about round up.

    There should be balance. One round ups one original post, Or two round ups one original post. you have to mix it up. See what works best.
    Thanks for sharing Zach.

    Kawsar Ali’s last blog post..27+ Handy Javascript Techniques for Web Designer


  2. Chris Raymond Author Editor

    Not sure this is the same issue you are addressing, but I stopped following one person on Twitter because he posted round-ups something on the order of 20 or 30 a day, and it just got annoying to get so many Tweets. I also have noted the number of blog “aggregators” that Tweet on an article and the link takes you to their site first and then you have to click again to get the actual content. This too annoys me…it’s like I am being treated as a pair of eyes to monetize someone’s blog; the information is being Tweeted not so much to share a resource as to get me to click to their blog.

    Just my view….

    Chris Raymond’s last blog post..Work in progress: Doggie heaven


  3. Tim Smith Author Editor

    You make some good points. I think that some bloggers post these types of “link posts” just to post something. Great post and solid arguments!

    Tim Smith’s last blog post..Don’t Use Photoshop For Everything



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