This article has value for anyone using the web, not just readers who are launching startups. It is especially helpful for anyone doing Internet marketing. I’m going to tell you how to find the best blogs in any subject area. Why? Because blogs are your best source of current information on the web. If you can find the top bloggers for any topic, you’ll be guided to the most relevant and useful information for any area that you’re researching. Follow the top blogs and you’ll quickly get up to speed and stay current, even if a subject area is new to you. And if you’re doing marketing, the most popular blogs are the best places to solicit “ink and a link” to get traffic to your site.
The top blogs are not easy to identify. You’ll want to find the bloggers who have the most readers, who are recognized as authorities, and who get the most interesting discussions started among their readers’ comments. How will you find them? Many people assume Google is all you need. Google can get you started but Google isn’t much help in identifying the best blogs. That’s why I’m going to share with you sophisticated techniques for identifying the top blogs for any topic.
As far as I know, the top experts in Internet marketing and search engine optimization don’t know these techniques (or have kept them secret!). I’m going to reveal the details here.
What’s a Top Blog?
For those who’ve been living under a log, a blog is a web site with articles (or “posts”) that an author adds on a regular basis. Web applications for blogging make it easy for an author to add new articles without requiring technical expertise (he or she doesn’t have to love HTML). Additionally, most blogs offer an opportunity for readers to add comments (which fosters discussion of each article).
The best blogs in any subject area are written by consultants, journalists, “thought leaders,” or people who are simply obsessed with a subject and unable to keep their enthusiasm to themselves. I call it a “top blog” if the author writes frequently, if he or she has more readers and more comments than other blogs on the topic, if other bloggers frequently refer to the blog’s articles, and if the articles are frequently mentioned on Twitter or bookmarking sites such as Delicious or Digg. These are good criteria to identify the web’s authorities in any field.
Unfortunately, Google doesn’t use these criteria for its rankings. Google is good at identifying web pages where keywords of interest are used extensively and it will show you web pages that have many links from other sites. Google’s strength is finding web pages, not sites. A blog is a site that has value not just because one or two pages are useful, but because the entire site is a collection of related articles that stays fresh and relevant. Sometimes an article from a top blog will show up in Google’s search results (mixed in with every other web page that might be relevant) but most often, when you want to know the five most popular blogs that cover a particular subject area, Google will be of no help. That’s why the following techniques will be helpful.
Start With Google
I’ve written previously about how to do keyword research. If you’re searching for top blogs, you won’t need to know the entire keyword universe, just a few relevant descriptive phrases. Let’s say we are interested in finding the top blogs for “personal productivity.” Keyword research will reveal related phrases such as “time management” and “lifehacks.”
Start with a Google search for “personal productivity blogs,” “time management blogs,” or “lifehacks blogs.” With the first search, you’re in luck because several people have already compiled and posted lists of “50+ Personal Productivity Blogs You’ve Never Heard of Before” and “The Top 50 Productivity Blogs Of The Year” and “100 Blogs that Will Save You Time & Make You More Productive.” This may be all you need, if you want to casually browse a variety of blogs. But I’m going to show you techniques to identify which blogs are most influential.
Going Beyond Google
What if a Google search doesn’t give you a ready-made list of blogs in the subject area you’re searching? I’m going to give you several research techniques that will be more helpful than Google for finding blogs for a given topic.
But first, a word about “blog search engines.” Google has its own at http://blogsearch.google.com/. And there’s a dozen more “blog search engines” listed on Wikipedia. I wish I could say that one of them gives you a comprehensive list of the top blogs for any search. They don’t. Each searches blog postings and may show articles that contain the terms you’ve searched for. If you want to know which bloggers are most influential, and which blogs are most popular, the blog search engines are simply not designed to do this (with one exception, Technorati, which we’ll look at in detail). You may be able to pick out relevant blogs from the maze of articles, but most blog search engines do what Google does: they show you a list of pages, not sites, that match your keywords.
Going Deliciously Beyond Google
To identify which sites are most useful takes some human help. Fortunately, hundreds of thousands of people are already working on it, by saving and sharing their bookmarks with social bookmarking sites. I’ve found Delicious to be the most valuable. People save their web bookmarks to Delicious and tag the bookmarks with descriptive keywords. Fortunately for us, a common tag is “blog.”
Here’s how to search Delicious for blogs on any chosen topic. Create a URL like this:
and you’ll see a listing of all the web pages that Delicious users have marked with the tags “blog” and “productivity.”
You can also do a search using the Delicious search box, but I get better results constructing the URL myself. The advantage of Delicious (over Google) is that you get the benefit of actual humans identifying and categorizing web pages. They’ll know a blog when they see it and mark it as a blog (something Google can’t always do).
The Technorati Challenge
If you’ve tried Google and Delicious and you’re still hunting for relevant blogs, it’s time for the Technorati challenge. Technorati is the best of the blog search engines. The “challenge” is figuring out how to use it. In 2007 it was redesigned as a news portal with “mainstream” appeal and now its main page looks like AOL’s home page. There are several ways to use Technorati to find blogs by topic, all obscure.
A good place to start is the Technorati “tag search” which is buried on the Technorati Advanced Search page. For example, use the Technorati “tag search” to find posts tagged with the phrase “time management.” Technorati creates a URL that’s similar to the one we created for a Delicious tag search. The Technorati tag search URL looks like this:
and, like Delicious, you can create the URL directly without going to the Advanced Search page if you want.
What You Get From Technorati
Technorati has volunteer editors (from blogcritics.org) for some popular tags and you may find your tag search yields a page with a nice summary article as well as a box with “Top blogs about time management.” There’s a link at the bottom of the box that may give you everything you need: “View all” top blogs.
Here’s a tip. For your search for top blogs by topic, you can skip the Technorati Advanced Search page entirely. Just create a URL like this:
and you’ll see a list of blogs that Technorati users have tagged “time management.” Best of all, each blog is ranked by “authority” (the number of other blogs linking to a blog over the last six months) and shows how many “fans” the blog has among Technorati’s hardcore users.
Technorati’s list comes close to our goal of identifying the best blogs for any topic. But chances are, you’ve found other blogs that Technorati doesn’t know about (and thus won’t include in its ranking of top blogs). If that’s the case, I’m going to show you a technique for ranking any arbitrary list of blogs, whether you’ve found them on Technorati, Google, Delicious, or through random surfing. This technique is the ultimate tool for creating a master list of top blogs, ranked by importance.
Making a List of Blogs
As you find interesting blogs using Technorati, Google, Delicious, or any other means, you’ll want to compile a list. As you add each interesting blog to your list, make a note of the URL for its RSS feed. That’s the link you get when you click on an RSS button on a blog. You’ll need the RSS feed to sort the blogs by importance.
There’s a zillion ways to compile your list of blogs. You can create a simple list in a text file or spreadsheet. Just copy and paste the URLs. Some people will add each to their favorite “feed reader” software. Or add the interesting blogs to web apps like Netvibes or Google Reader. If you plan to winnow down your list of blogs to only the most influential, I don’t recommend adding them to a blog reader at this point. Instead, wait until you’ve ranked them by importance. Use a simple text file for now, or try the following “advanced technique.”
An Advanced Technique for Making a List of Blogs
If you want something a bit more efficient than a simple text file for your list of interesting blogs, you can use the Firefox web browser with the “OPML Support” add-on. This allows you to bookmark each RSS feed for each blog you view and then export an OPML file when it’s time to sort the blogs by importance.
Sorting Blogs By Importance
Whether you’ve found a ready-made list of a hundred blogs, or you’ve compiled a list from your own research, you won’t know which of these blogs are the most important and you probably won’t have time to follow them all. I’ll show you how to rank them by importance.
Your secret weapon is PostRank. This is a service that takes blogs and scores each article by number of comments, inbound links, mentions on Twitter, saves in Delicious, votes on Digg and other feedback metrics. PostRank can be confusing but you don’t need to know how it works, only how to add blogs to the service and how to check their rank.
Go to PostRank.com. You can try a search with the box that’s labeled “Find a topic, feed, or user” but chances are you’re searching for a topic that isn’t yet tracked by PostRank. And you’ve already got a list of blogs that you want to follow. You just want PostRank to analyze the blogs you’ve found and rank them by importance. To do that, you have to create a PostRank account and enter a list of the blogs you’re interested in.
Set up a PostRank account (“Join Now”) and log in. Next, find the “subscriptions” link (at the top of the page) and click the “Import” tab. You can upload an OPML file (which is a fancy name for a list of blogs in a fancy format) which you might have if you were using Firefox to save a bookmark for each blog. If your list of blogs is in a simple text file, you’ll choose the “Direct Input” option and enter blog URLs line-by-line. Here’s where things get tricky. You don’t actually enter the URL of each blog. You have to enter the URL for its RSS feed (that’s the link you get when you find an RSS button on a blog).
As you add the URLs for the RSS feeds of blogs you are interested in, you can give the list a “topic” tag. You’re creating your list of “Best Blogs” for the topic you’re interested in. PostRank will need a day or two to analyze any blogs it doesn’t already know about. When you come back, you’ll find your list of blogs (under “topics”) ranked by importance. What you do next is up to you. You can start reading the posts from the most important blogs right from PostRank. Or you can export the list of blogs, for example, to Google Reader, which many people use to read the articles on their favorite blogs.
I’m indebted to Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb for his articles “Comparing Six Ways to Identify Top Blogs in Any Niche” and “How to: Build a Social Media Cheat Sheet for Any Topic” which helped me develop these techniques.
Is It Worth the Effort?
If you’ve gotten this far, you’ll realize the technique described here is laborious. It’s a lot of work to find interesting blogs and enter each one into PostRank just to get a list of blogs sorted by importance. If you are only casually interested in a topic, you’ll be better served by idling browsing a few blogs at your leisure.
The technique described here pays off if it is your job to find the most influential bloggers for a given topic. It’ll be a day’s work to compile your list of top blogs, but the effort will pay off if you must monitor current affairs in any field, or contact the most-read and best-known bloggers for your marketing efforts. This method leverages your efforts and allows you to focus your attention on the blogs that matter.
Got ideas to improve this technique? Have you created an awesome “best blogs” list? Leave a comment for other readers.