One of the areas where I think even some of the best book blogs let themselves down is in their outbound links.Nowadays, I tend to ignore links in book blogs. I’ve just come to expect them to lead to either the Wikipedia entry or a page on Amazon. It’s not that I disapprove of those websites; I just already know that they’re there. They’re easy to find, and if I want the information they carry, I can go straight to them and get it for myself.
When I’m reading somebody’s blog, I’m really looking for something new. This can be what’s written in the blog itself, of course, but the outbound links are part of that, and it’s really a shame how many blogs waste these opportunities to improve their readers’ experience.
The effect of lazy linking on search engines
When Googling for an author or book title, you may have noticed that the top results are dominated by two or three websites: Wikipedia will be there, along with Amazon, and if there’s a film out, IMDb will show up too. As each of these websites can often have two results on the page, that means that up to six out of ten of the top results are these same three websites.
We all know that there’s more variety out there, so why aren’t we seeing that variety in the search results?
Well, if you’re a book blogger, it may be partly your fault, because it’s largely due to the “lazy linking” described above. Search engines like Google pay attention to the links in blogs. They count them as “votes” for the website. So, if the engines see that blogs that talk about The Name of the Rose all link to the relevant Wikpedia entry or Amazon listing for that book, they’ll assume that these are the most important pages to show their users, and they’ll ignore more worthwhile or unique websites.
Not only does this mean that the search engines are less helpful, it also keeps traffic away from the more useful, unique, or unusual websites. And that’s a shame, because if somebody goes to the effort of creating something special on the web, they should at least be rewarded with an audience. And that’s something that bloggers can give them.
Some ideas for intelligent linking
Well, it’s easy to criticise. (After all, book bloggers do it all the time.) Where can you find good links for your readers? Here are some tips:
- Forget Wikipedia, Amazon, and IMDb: Unless the relevant page is particularly interesting—or you’re actually talking about the page itself—there’s probably a more interesting one out there. If you use the Amazon affiliate program, reassess its value. Is the reduction in value for your readers really worth the occasional 12p from a battered secondhand copy of The Lord of the Rings?
- Google deeper: Google the book or author that you’re talking about, and go through the first pages of results. Keep going until you find that special page that your reader might not have seen before. Yes, it’s a little more work, but isn’t it part of a blogger’s job to put the effort into research, and then present his or her discoveries to the readers?
- Look at other blogs: If you’re talking about, say, the latest book by Martin Amis, and you want to link the name of the author so that your readers can find out more about him, take a look at other blogs. Maybe somebody else will have written an introduction to him, or an interesting article, or a review of another of his books, and they’d appreciate your link. (They might even remember you, and link back to you one day!)
- Remember the publisher: We all know by now that the publishing industry is having a tough time. Show them that you appreciate what they’re producing by linking to them and sending your readers their way. This is especially important for small presses, who don’t always have the same opportunities for in-store display that the big boys do. If, say, Hesperus Press has gone to the effort of publishing Petrarch’s My Secret Book, the least you could do is acknowledge that fact.
- Go to the source: Does the author have his own website? If so, link it!
- Societies and fan sites: Is there a society dedicated to the study of the author’s work? Many of these exist, from Arthur Ransome to Edgar Allen Poe. If not, is there a good fan site, or even a dedicated blog? (Shame on any blogger who would talk about Henry Miller and not recommend this blog!)
- Contemporary reviews: If you’re talking about a classic novel, why not try to dig up a review from when it was first published? This might not work with something really old, like Beware the Cat, but you might find something for a more recent book like Lawrence Durrell’s 1957 novel Justine.
- Interviews: Can you dig up an interview with the author in the online archives of an old newspaper, magazine or literary review?
This is by no means a complete list, but I hope it’s a good point from which to start thinking about imaginative linking and how it can help to enhance your blog.