My Top Five Tools for Finding the Best Blogs

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April 2014
by Joel Friedlander

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Joel Friedlander, who blogs about book design and the indie publishing life at TheBookDesigner.com, is an award-winning book designer; the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, a publishing services company in San Rafael, CA; and the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion.


Blogging to get some marketing traction before a book comes out is an excellent idea. In fact, I think it’s about the best thing you can do to make sure that your books and your ideas reach a wide audience, and that you have a chance to be compensated for all the work you’ve put into publishing.

After all, if you can make your books (and other products and services) pay, you’ll do more, right? And being able to continue will allow you to help more people, won’t it? See, it’s a win-win if you can make this work.

But even people who have been blogging for years sometimes get confused when I ask one essential question: If you don’t market your blog, how will anyone know it’s there?

Yes, marketing-haters, here’s one more task you think you can get away from if you just ignore it. But I’m here to tell you that’s just not true.

Besides, marketing your blog will give you great market intelligence that will be absolutely crucial when the time comes to launch a book.

In fact, you can get a lot of great benefits by marketing your blog:

Getting to know your readers—via comments on your posts from people in your target market and insights into where they are hanging out.

Understanding their problems—every problem your readers are having is an opportunity for you.

Networking—it takes a village to launch a book, and getting to know the niche that is your village is essential.

Building a mailing list—you probably already know that turning your blogging and publishing into a sustainable business depends on building an email list.

Earning passive income—once you round up readers, you can make money from ads and affiliate sales, automatically.

Gaining trust and authority—getting known in your field is vital to building your reputation and sales.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea that it’s not enough to just write a great blog. If you want to reap the benefits of all that hard work, you have to market the blog, too.

Discovering the Blogs to Tap Into

When I talk to people about how to get started, the first question I ask them is this:

“Can you tell me the top five or top ten blogs in your field?”

Every blogger who has built a readership can answer, “Yes, you bet I can!” to this question.

Inevitably, the ones who can’t ask me a question: “Well, how do I find that out?”

And that’s a good question. How do you identify the top blogs in your niche, category, and/or genre? The ones that really make sense to follow, connect to, the ones run by bloggers who have already solved the problem you are now faced with?

To help you with the answers, here are my five favorite tools for analyzing blogs I visit. They aren’t the only things to take into account. But when you’re looking at a blog you’ve never seen before, you can start with them.

Alexa rank

There are no perfect measurements of blog traffic that I’ve found, but the rankings from Alexa.com are the closest to a standard. You can surf over to the site and input a domain name, and Alexa will return a ranking number (smaller is better) and lots of other information on the site you chose.

These numbers are good for comparison. Although they should be viewed with some skepticism, by and large they do seem to be accurate.

Google page rank

Page rank is another good comparison tool, as long as you remember that very new sites will likely have no page rank for a few months after launch.

You can use sites such as page-rank-calculator.com to check a selected site’s page rank, or you can install a browser plugin such as WebRankSEO for Google Chrome and get the Alexa rank, page rank, and a bunch of other metrics instantly right in your browser.

Twitter followers

Twitter’s @addresses are becoming a de facto standard for identifying people in the social space. Virtually every blogger is on Twitter, and it’s easy to find out what kinds of platforms bloggers have there.

Alltop

This is a highly selective list of the top blogs in specific categories. Because each entry is hand selected and vetted by real live people, inclusion in Alltop conveys a good deal of authority.

Blog metrics

You can see some very important things from a quick inspection when you visit a blog. The ones I pay most attention to are:

  • Post frequency – When were the last few posts, and how often does the blogger post new content? More active and more current blogs are better candidates for networking.
  • Comments – Are readers engaging with the content, talking about it in the comments? And when they do, does the blogger respond? You can’t always expect bloggers to answer every question, particularly on older articles, but it’s important to notice whether they seem to care.
  • Information about subscribers – Some bloggers tell how many subscribers their blogs have. You probably won’t learn how big a blogger’s email list is because most people guard that kind of information. But what I’m looking for is whether a blogger has signups, and how actively the blogger seems to be encouraging people to sign up. When you see a blogger offering free downloads, courses, or bonuses in exchange for a subscription, you will know that the blogger is serious about building a list.

Other tools include blog directories such as Technorati, or supposed “social influence” measurements like Klout, but these five are the ones I rely on.

Armed with intelligence you gain from them, you’ll soon find out who the leaders are in your field, and which ones are responsive, active bloggers with meaningful audiences.

Then, when it comes time for you to start actively marketing your own blog, submitting guest articles, doing a virtual book tour, or undertaking just about any other marketing task in the future, you’ll proceed with powerful help from bloggers you’ve already identified.

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