The “W list” is great, except it’s a link farm

Holly’s Corner
Many blogs, like this one, have posted the full W-list with links. Is that really a good thing?

Lately there’s been a meme going around called the “W list” — a lengthy list of links to high-quality blogs published by women.

As far as I’ve traced it back, the kernel of this movement began with an Aug. 7 post by PR blogger Valeria Maltoni. But the momentum really picked up when my friend and colleague, the noted PR/marketing blogger Toby Bloomberg, christened an expanded version of the list “the W list” on Aug. 16. Since then, the full list of links has been reposted on many blogs around the world.

The W list was Toby’s response to Ad Age’s Power 150, “a ranking of the top English-language media and marketing blogs in the world, as developed by marketing executive and blogger, Todd Andrlik.” That list was based mostly on quantitative popularity in Google, Technorati, and Bloglines — and it contained very few blogs by women.

Toby’s laudable aim was to bring much deserved attention and “Google juice” to accomplished female bloggers, many of whom are writing for niche communities and so don’t make the kind of numbers it takes to get on Ad Age’s Power 150. I think that’s crucial in any field, since (especially when you’re talking about blogs for a particular niche or industry), the quality of the content usually is far more important than search engine ranking, site traffic, or number of subscribers.

I’m honored that Toby included me on her W list, and I recognize many fabulous bloggers there that are worth checking out. I definitely don’t mean to trash this effort. However, there is a problem with it: I think it’s become a link farm, which could end up backfiring on the bloggers who post the list of links, and perhaps those who are included on it.

Here’s why I’m raising this red flag…

Earlier this year a similar list-meme of recommended bloggers, 2000 Bloggers, was making the rounds. Instead of a text list with links, this meme featured thumbnail photos of 2000 bloggers of all sorts, assembled into a photo montage with links. Bloggers were encouraged to republish that montage on their sites in order to increase the number of inbound links from around the web to the listed blogs, thus hopefully improving their positioning in search engine results.

Here’s the trouble with that general approach, as I discussed Feb. 6 in The Right Conversation:

“[Because of this meme,] there’s an awful lot of identical cross-linking happening online. And I can see it happening. Every time I check my feed reader (I have several search feeds for my name and URLs, so I can find out when I’m being discussed or linked to online), I see a slew of new links from new people who have posted the 2000 bloggers photomontage.

“Normally, inbound links are a great thing for traffic and search engine placement. And of course, there’s some social networking potential here too. However, tons of identical links from multiple sites might look like link farming to Google and other major search engines.

“Link farming is a problem, since it’s often employed to game the search engines to artificially boost the rankings of involved sites. Since it’s a problem, search engines have devised sophisticated algorithms to identify it.”

In a followup Feb. 7 post, I noted that Technorati had indeed responded to 2000 Bloggers as a link farm — in effect, erasing those links (and their effects) from its index. Since then, 2000 Bloggers appears to have constructively altered its approach to increasing the visibility of lesser-known bloggers.

I’m concerned that mass cross-posting of the W list links might backfire in the same way — which is why I haven’t posted it to Contentious, even though I support its goals and am a fan of many of the bloggers listed there. In my experience, trying to game search engines (regardless of intentions) is always a losing game for all concerned.

On the bright side, there are a couple of other W-list efforts I believe are very constructive and helpful. First of all, there’s now a W-list Facebook group (which I’ve just joined). That’s a great example of working with the intent of an online tool to further your community’s goals.

Also, there’s a W-List wiki, which could eventually have a beneficial effect on female bloggers’ visibility as long as its feed gets distributed to all the major aggregators (Technorati, Google Blog Search, etc.)

What do you think of the W-list? Did you decide to publish it or not, and why? Please comment below.

4 thoughts on The “W list” is great, except it’s a link farm

  1. Hi Amy – You always add more depth to the conversation which encourages me to think along different lines. I’m interested to see if the W List Facebook group turns into a real resource or becomes just another ‘ Facebook link farm.’ However, there is some discussion going on so we’ll see to what extent the community wants to continue to engage.

    And thanks for your kind words.

  2. Hi Amy,

    First, I’m curious what caused you to pick my blog as an image/link example in your post. I’m not sure if it’s meant as a good thing or not. LOL But it brought me here so that’s always worth something to me.

    At any rate, I share the concern that when more becomes more sometimes the quality becomes diminished and some value can be lost. I think it’s unavoidable as the ultimate purpose for everyone is growth at some point and in some way. While organizations like technorati and others like them continue to find new ways to balance and tame the linking aspect, the entire point and success of blogs is the ability to connect easily to and with others. If we take that away or try to circumvent it from happening or being successful then we’re back to the limited connection and input of a single publisher. That said, finding the balance between the two is desirable and why I support the businesses that deal with it. Traffic is nothing more than traffic unless the visitors are there for the very reason the destination exists, so at the end of the day the traffic game is still just a game in my experience. And therefore not worth the amount of worry and effort that often goes into it.

    I think the upside is that while everything has an opposite and good things can be turned for bad the fact is still some good came from it. Which is why I decided to publish and help feed the growth of the W-list. And the reason I posted it a second time was to showcase the caliber of person that started it because I think it’s by far more good than bad. I have truly enjoyed getting to know other bloggers on the list and so far the only ones I’ve made the time for (even with my many great intentions to get to the task) on the list are those who took the time to comment on mine or link back to my blog. Positive or negative? Probably both but I’d rather have some positive than nothing at all.

    My four cents. 😉

    Hugs,
    Holly

  3. Toby — Thanks. Again, I think your intent is admirable. I just hope that people who republish the full list on their site don’t end up experiencing backlash from search engines and aggregators, as I described with the 2000 bloggers meme.

    – Amy

  4. Hi, Holly. Thanks for commenting.

    Actually, I just picked your blog at random from the many which have published the “W list” so far. So you’re just a random example here, nothing more.

    You wrote:

    “While organizations like technorati and others like them continue to find new ways to balance and tame the linking aspect, the entire point and success of blogs is the ability to connect easily to and with others. If we take that away or try to circumvent it from happening or being successful then we’re back to the limited connection and input of a single publisher.”

    That’s very true, and I agree wholeheartedly.

    That said, the reality is that link farms are a favorite tactic of spammers and others who are seeking to “game” search engines and artificially inflate their visibility. You can’t blame search engines and aggregators for combating that. If they didn’t, the net would be much less useful to us all.

    Adopting the link farm strategy, regardless of content or intent, is probably not a good idea, regardless of intention.

    Also, you mentioned that you published the full list twice on your site. I understand your motivations for this. But perhaps you weren’t aware that search engines tend to nullify or even penalize duplicate content on a site (since that’s another strategy people use to artificially improve search visibilty).

    Here’s what Google has to say on that topic.

    Again, your intentions in republishing the list are admirable. You just might want to consider these aspects of how search engines and aggregators work. They’re not trying to censor you — they’re just doing the much-needed job of limiting the damage that spammers can do to everyone’s experience of the web. In this respect, it’s better to work with them, I suspect.

    There are other ways besides link farms to enhance search visibility. Like, for instance, choosing one blog per day from the list to highlight and link to. That sort of approach does the target of the link far more good in terms of search positioning and visibility than appearing in a list that may just get filtered out in search results anyway.

    – Amy Gahran

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