This article is part of a series of posts on How to Build Blog Traffic (see Intro).
When I first started blogging in 2003, I viewed the exercise mostly as a way to express myself. I didn't know what a "blogroll" was, nor did I care that much when I learned. Over the last few years I have found that the main distinction between a blog and any other website, other than diary-like entries, is the interconnectedness with other bloggers who care about the same things I do. It's being part of a community of other similarly interested people that make blogging so compelling.
Engaging the community of people who care about the same things you do can exponentially enhance your blog's visibility. The following tips are obvious to me now, but weren't when I first started blogging:
The first bit of advice I give to people just starting out their blog and wanting to increase their readership, after the obvious advice on content (include photos! spell check! focus!), is to actively link to other bloggers who share their interests. Why? Well, most people will find your site because 1) someone on another site has linked to you or 2) they found you through a search engine, a search engine that finds out about you because other people are linking to you. The best way to get other people to link to you is to link to them first. You don't need to ask for link exchanges. All you need to do is have a blogroll - a list of links in your sidebar - to other blogs of similar interests, and to generously link to other bloggers in your posts. That's it. Bloggers watch their stats. They notice who is linking to them. If they like your site, they'll start linking back. (If you want to keep track of which blogs are linking to you, claim your blog at Technorati.com.)
Linking out to other blogs is the essence of the spirit of generosity that is needed to have a vibrant online blog community. In general, I will only link to another site, or add them to my blogroll, if the site has a blogroll on its front page that links to other blogs in the community. I don't care if the site links to me or not, but if it doesn't link to anyone, that tells me the blog owner really doesn't care about the community and it is highly unlikely I'll link to them.
Next to linking out to other bloggers is to start reading other blogs and leaving comments on their blogs. If you want a loyal following of readers, and you are not a known celebrity, it helps to be a loyal reader of blogs by people who share your interests. Leave the kind of thoughtful, insightful comments that you wish other people would leave on your own blog. Leaving comments on another person's blog is like saying, "I'm paying attention to you." Physical-world communities - our circle of friends, neighborhood associations, etc. - operate through an exchange of attention. It's no different in the online world. I check the website of every single person who comments on my blogs, don't you? I find fabulous blogs this way.
It is worth noting that leaving comments per se will not help your search engine rankings. Blogging services have incorporated a "no follow" attribute in the links that get published when you leave a comment that includes the URL to your site. Basically this means that search engines don't care about comments. This is a good thing, as it discourages spammers.
Plan and Join Online Events
A couple of years ago a man named Alberto started a little online blog cook-off called Is My Blog Burning? and requested that food bloggers cook some soup and write about it on their blogs on a certain day. Since then, the food blog world has never been the same. Is My Blog Burning turned into a monthly event (now in its 28th month), each month hosted by a different food blogger. Now we have an event calendar that is filled with blog cooking events - Sugar High Friday, Weekend Herb Blogging, Hay Hay It's Donna Day, Wine Blogging Wednesday, to name a few.
A similar phenomenon has being occurring all across the blogsphere in the form of blog carnivals - online blogging events on practically every topic known to blogs. Like Is My Blog Burning, blog carnivals have a topic and a host; people write about the topic in a certain time-frame and the host compiles the links to all the participating blogs.
Memes. There are more blog memes out there than one can easily count. Like chain letters, blog memes are ideas that get replicated through throughout the blogosphere. Someone writes up "20 things about me" and then "tags" (tag- you're it!) four or more other bloggers, challenging them to write up their own version of the meme and then tag more bloggers. To see how this can play out see The Cook Next Door meme at Delicious Days. The map at the bottom of the post details all of the connections between blogs.
Along the same theme as carnivals and memes, Darren Rowse of ProBlogger.net frequently instigates online writing events. Check out If I had to Start My Blog Again for an example of a well organized group writing project.
Contribute to the Community
The last point I would like to leave you with regarding community is that communities thrive from the generosity of their members. If you want a healthy, happening blogging community, do the kinds of things that will make that happen. The best example of this spirit of generosity I know is Food Blog S'cool, a blog for food bloggers who share and learn from each other's expertise. Food Blog S'cool was started and maintained by Sam Breach, who is also a contributing food editor at BlogHer. A strong and vibrant community helps everyone in it. When you volunteer your time and expertise to help other bloggers in your community, you raise up everyone, including yourself.