At my LifeTwo site, I decided to experiment with hosting a “blog carnival” (a collection of links pointing to different blogs on a related topic). There are basically two ways to host a carnival. One is two have the same group of contributors each carnival (a “closed” carnival) and the other is to open it up to any blog that wants to participate. The benefit of the latter approach is that it can be good for exposing your blog to new readers. But for an open carnival to work, bloggers need to know about it. Fortunately, where there is a need there is often an Internet company trying to build a business satisfying that need. In this case the company is BlogCarnival.com.
BlogCarnival’s mission is to facilitate carnivals by bringing contributors and hosts together. For example, if you have a blog focused on personal finance, you can go to BlogCarnival and search for carnivals that are relevant to this topic and then submit your post to them. It is a pretty nifty idea. Unfortunately there are still a number of kinks to work out and the the most important question of whether blog carnivals are even useful for readers is still unanswered.
I decided to create a blog carnival based on middle age career issues. I did this because there wasn’t anyone doing a carnival on this topic. I thought by being so focused on a niche that I’d have a chance to discover some relevant blogs covering this area and with whom I could trade links, have a source for future posts, and so forth. After filling out the not-too-intuitive interface on BlogCarnival.com I looked forward to the relevant posts to start rolling in. I was in for a surprise. Yes, I did receive contributions, and a lot of them at that. However, I learned that my definition of “relevancy” and that of contributors was two wildly different things. Of the 20 or so contributions, only a few were really on topic, about 1/2 were only tangentially related to the topic, and the balance had pretty much nothing to do with it–something I’ll call “blog carnival submission spam.”
Because this was my first open carnival, I took the time to visit each blog that submitted a story to verify the relevancy. If the post wasn’t on target I would try and find something on their blog that was, and if I couldn’t find anything I emailed the submitter to ask them for something a little closer to the topic. The response? Almost nothing. I had just learned lesson #1 of blog carnivals: the majority of story submitters to blog carnival are “serial submitters” who submit stories to large numbers of carnivals and don’t particularly care about the relevancy to the topic. They aren’t interested in taking the time to actually craft a story to a specific topic nor do they give two hoots about the readers–they just want a link. It’s a classic shot-gun approach and BlogCarnival makes it possible.
As a carnival host experiencing submission spam, you have a choice. You can: 1) Give up; 2) Weed out everyone who isn’t relevant and have a smaller carnival post; or 3) Accept posts whether or not they are on target. Since the primary goal of hosting a carnival is to maximize links and traffic into your blog, #3 makes the most sense. But there is something unsettling about this choice because it feels like false advertising. A carnival post on a particular topic should only contain posts on that topic, if it doesn’t, you are essentially misleading your readers (a bad idea long-term) in order to get links/traffic (short-term gain). I decided to opt for #2 and tried to stay as close to the topic as possible but still have as many outside contributors as possible.
I then emailed everyone who had made the cut with the URL to my carnival post so that they could link to my blog. At this point I learned lesson #2 about blog carnivals. Hardly anyone (less than 10%) reciprocate with a link back to the carnival. I found this surprising and thought that linking was generally accepted quid pro quo of blog carnivals. I’ll include someone’s post in my carnival and they link back to the carnival. If everyone does this then many more people see the post and in the process everyone’s links. Everyone wins. Well, that’s a nice theory. In practice, serial blog carnival submitters don’t bother linking back to the post. They don’t have the time, interest or inclination for this step. In fact they won’t even respond to emails asking them why they didn’t link. (Note that there is a subset of bloggers who honestly forgot to link or weren’t sure how. I know about this small group because they did respond to my emails and then did subsequently put up a post.)
So why do an open carnival? To be honest, I ask myself this every time I do one since I end up weeding out the majority of submissions as either irrelevant or people who haven’t linked back in the past. But despite the work every time I do a carnival I discover at least one very good blog/blogger who is both on topic and a nice person. Because of the carnival, over the past several months I have developed some very good blog relationships with people doing the same thing as me–building an online business. This has been the primary benefit for me of the carnivals–much more than the tiny traffic boost and links in.
I’ve also developed a process to make hosting the blog carnival as efficient as possible and tipping the cost/benefit equation in my favor:
1. I make it very clear in the Blog Carnival listing that contributors will need to link back to the blog.
2. Before putting up the post, I email every submitter of a relevant story asking them to confirm that they will in fact be linking to the carnival post.
3. When I create the carnival post, I only link to those who’ve responded to my email that they will link.
4. I then email everyone with the link at which point most put up some sort of link.
5. By the way, I completely ignore the BlogCarnival feature that automatically builds the post. I find it buggy and more time consuming to use it than to do it from scratch.
Even with this there are a few scofflaws, but the vast majority who make it to this point are good, honest bloggers who are more than happy to do their part of the process. As I said before, every carnival I do ends up leading to the discovery of at least a few more good on-topic blogs and as long as this continues I’ll continue hosting the carnivals.