As bloggers we like to know that people are reading what we write and that we're connecting on some level with our audience. The more people that come to our site, the happier we are. Maybe you're happy simply because people are coming or maybe you're happy because more traffic means more revenue (especially if you're in an ad network or selling a product.) Either way, what if you could host a party that increased your traffic, but also gave back to your community? You can. And that party is called a blog carnival.
What is a blog carnival? A blog carnival is when a blog owner hosts a party online and invites other bloggers to participate by writing on the same topic and linking back to the main host site. For example, when I was running BloggyGiveaways.com I held a Quarterly Giveaway Carnival. Every three months I invited other bloggers to host giveaways at their own sites, then come to BloggyGiveaways and list their giveaway with a link to their site (I'll get to the mechanics of how you do that in a moment.) So what we ended up with was a central blog (BloggyGiveaways.com) hosting a list of links to blogs with other giveaways. We were sharing link love (I was linking to them, they were linking to me) and people could find everything in a central place and didn't get lost surfing from one blog to another. That carnival regularly generated over 1,000 links and my traffic increased by 300% during carnival weeks.
Which sounds like magic, doesn't it? And I wish it were. Unfortunately, while a carnival can be a terrific traffic generator, it's really hard to come up with an original idea that spreads like wildfire. It's much easier to simply participate in carnivals and soak up the link love that way; you'll still probably see a spike in traffic.
How to do you run a blog carnival?
What's that? You're not deterred? You're set on hosting your own carnival? I say go for it! The carnival itself is fairly easy to run, it's coming up with an idea that works that takes the most time. Once you've decided on the topic, here are some things to get you started on your way to hosting a successful carnival.
Establish rules and guidelines. You have to have guidelines or everyone and their dog is going to just come and link up at your site whether what their linking to is relevant or not. Then, when you delete them for not being relevant, they may be upset. It's easier for you down the road if you know what you expect and convey those expectations to your participants.
Promote your carnival. You need to tell people you're hosting a carnival, what the topic is, how they can participate, and what the rules are. So make yourself a pretty button and post it in your sidebar (include the name and dates of your carnival, your URL, etc.). Write up a post about what you're doing and ask your readers to help spread the word via their social media outlets (and offer them the code for your button in case they'd like to use it in their own promotions.) Give your readers about two weeks notice and remind them a week before and again two or three days before the carnival. Once your carnival is established, you might just need to remind them the day before or not at all once you really get going.
Use the right list-generating tool. Since a carnival is all about linking up together, you need a way to generate a list of blogs that are participating and have each one link to its respective post. There are several widgets you can use to achieve this:
- Mr. Linky used to be the only game in town. Unfortunately, the widget wasn't always stable and it's not much to look at so people started making new options. The Bloggy Giveaways Carnival used Mr. Linky.
- Linky Tools (formerly MckLinky) also creates a basic linked list of participating blogs. You can see an example at Works-for-Me Wednesday.
- Inlinkz is a really cool option because it posts a photo related to the person who leaves the link (h/t to Linda Sellers for alerting me to this tool.) You can see it in action at Sweet Shot Tuesdays.
Monitor the links. This is the most time-consuming part of any carnival. In order for the carnival to be useful, you'll need to keep an eye on who is participating. You'll more than likely get a few spammers who are linking to irrelevant sites (delete them). You may also get a few people who aren't using a permalink (the link to an actual article, not the main page of a blog.) You'll want to ask these participants to change the link because if readers click the link and don't see what they expect to see (i.e., they see the main page of a blog that doesn't have an article relevant to the carnival), they are confused and frustrated. The down side here is that you'll need to delete the original link and ask the participant to re-submit her site with the permalink. She's going to lose her spot in the list of links and be further down the list when she re-submits (which is another reason to ask your readers to use permalinks when you're explaining the guidelines; if they do, they won't lose their place on the list). If you find a link that doesn't fit your carnival for some reason, you can delete it. If the blogger contacts you to ask why her link is down, you can point to your guidelines and explain why you deleted her link. I want to point out, though, that most people are happy to play by the rules if they know what they are. Once participants are used to how you run your carnival, you'll see fewer and fewer issues.
Questions for You
- Have you ever used a carnival to increase your traffic?
- Did it build your community at the same time?
- What are your favorite carnivals to link up to (feel free to leave a link in the comments here)?
Melanie Nelson writes tips and instructions for bloggers at Blogging Basics 101 and is the co-author of TypePad for Dummies. She hasn't figured out a great idea for a tech carnival yet, but she's open to suggestions.
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