Author Blogging 102: a Practical Guide to Developing Your Weekly or Monthly Link Post
Content curation (or as I prefer to call it, "link posts") is a great way for authors to help both their readers and other writers by one, pointing readers articles worth reading, and two, giving other writers public kudos by including their work in a post.
But if you’ve never created a link post before, it can be difficult to tell where to begin. I can help with that.
This post boils down my experience with curating link posts and lays out a practical step-by-step guide that you can use to both develop your link post and to set up the procedures you will need to consistently publish your link post on a regular schedule.
Link Posts on My Blog
I have been curating a daily link post on and off since since 2010, and in that time I have also published other bloggers' weekly and monthly link posts. Currently I am publishing my own Morning Coffee link post as well as Paul Biba’s weekly link roundup (from his Twitter feed). Both are posted on The Digital Reader. I also curate the weekly ebook link post for MediaShift, and am in the process of developing a link post for the EPUBSecrets blog.
I’ve been doing this so long that I have developed hard and fast rules on what should and should not be included. Here are my guidelines for curating a link post.
- Read everything you include in the link post. You don’t want to link to a piece which is nothing more than a snippet with link, or is itself a link post. You should also avoid posts where the blogger got their facts wrong, or where the blogger wandered off-topic (unless the diversion is entertaining).
- Do not include your own work – unless you are directly responding or rebutting to one of the other links. Remember, the value of content curation is in helping readers find new content, not your own.
- Set a schedule, and keep to it. If you can only commit to once a month or every other week, that’s fine.
- Keep it short. No one wants to read a link post with 30 links; readers' eyes will glaze over by the tenth link, or they will be interrupted, or they’ll simply be overwhelmed. Try to aim for links to six to ten stories.
I will be honest with you – I break these rules all the time. But I do try to follow them (especially the first two) because I have found, as a reader, link posts that consistently ignore the first two rules have little value to me as a reader.
Keep these rules in mind as you develop your link post and readers will appreciate your curation efforts more.
Readers will also appreciate your work more if you put time into developing your own procedures before publishing the first link post, and I can help you with that. Over the past 8 years I have developed a number of guidelines or best practices and I have refined my techniques to the point that I can get a link post done in under half an hour (longer if I stop to read everything before rather than after completing the link post).
I have boiled down setting up a link post (or newsletter) to five key components.
The first thing we have to do is shoot all the lawyers – er, find stories to link to. Here are some of the tools I use to find stories.They are all free, too.
- Twitter – Facebook is where people go to hang out, but Twitter is where you will find the news junkies. We not only tweet links that you can find through twitter search, but we also collate lists of sources. I myself have created four lists of Twitter users who share a lot of links, and I follow a half-dozen lists made by others.
- Google News , Bing News – Just put in your favorite keywords, and these two niche search engines will give you an endless, constantly updated stream of news stories. Based on different algorithms, Google News and Bing News will give you different results, but they do share one deficiency – they’re biased towards a strict definition of "news", which means they will miss a lot of the more interesting blog posts and other commentary.
- Feedly – Here’s an old-school solution for you. Way back in the time before people shared lots of links on Twitter (about six years ago) news junkies used to have to subscribe to news sites and blogs, and then periodically check to see if those sites had published new articles. We used services like Feedly to stay on top of all those subscriptions.
- Google Alerts – do you know what’s even better than looking for news? Having it come to you automatically. Google Alerts lets you follow search results for just about any search term. Whenever a new result is found by Google’s bots, you’ll get an email with the news.
It’s hard to say how you should pick a topic, but I do have a few ideas.
An author might find that their readers are interested in topics related to the author’s work. Fantasy readers might like links to articles about armor and archaic weapons, or historical trivia. SF readers might want to read about the latest theories in faster than light travel, or other new technologies.
What catches your attention? What do you think your readers will be interested in?
And is anyone else focusing on that topic for their newsletter or link post? (You don’t want to copy someone else’s idea and come out looking second rate – or worse, a plagiarist.)
Do you want to publish your link post once a week, everyday, or once a month?
The answer to that question really depends on how much time you can devote to this project, and how many linkworthy stories you can find. But what matters more than how frequently you publish is that you set a schedule, and pick the optimum time. MailChimp and other newsletter services will tell you that timing matters. Publish a post when everyone is busy and readers are more likely to simply skip it and get back to what they are doing.
They are correct, but alas, I can’t answer this one for you; the optimal time will depend on your readers. (Although, if you do decide to publish the link post a newsletter, MailChimp can recommend a publication time.)
Before you publish your first set of links you will need to make three decisions about the formatting. Obviously you will need a title, and you will also need to write a one- or two-sentence intro for your link post.
But the big question here is how you want to organize the links.
Do you simply want to share a list of links, or do you want to include an excerpt from each story? Or do you want to instead write a one- or two-sentence description for each piece you link to?
There’s no single best option. I like to use article titles, but Joel Friedlander and many other bloggers use excerpts. Both work, but speaking as a reader I have also found that I am most likely to click a link in a link post if the curator wrote that one-sentence summary.
As the curator, the decision is up to you.
It is always a good idea to include an image related to your topic or to one or more of the linked articles. It’s not just that it makes your link post look better but also that the right image will help your post get more attention when people share your post on Twitter or Facebook.
I make a point of using a photo of a coffee cup with my Morning Coffee posts because of how it ties into the title, but I also sometimes find an image that I want to share as one of the links (this drawing of owls on coffee, for example).
Another option would be to use the same image for every link post. I got this idea from MediaShift, where they have specific images for each of their daily link posts and for their once-a-week link posts.
Their images include the title of the link post on a background that conveys the topic. Here’s one example:
I paid ten dollars to get text added to this photo:
In the interest of self-flagellation, I think the font choice could be better, but all in all that image works.
O O O
So there you have it; a practical step-by-step guide you can use to take your link post from idea to reality.
Link posts have been one of the more popular features on my blog over the years, and when done right they can generate a lot of traffic, help other bloggers gain recognition, and help readers stay up to date with the most important stories.
If you add them to your blogging routine I am sure your readers will like them as much as mine do.