Despite all this evolution into social networking, twitter etc. one of the oft-used phrases to denote a ‘social media activity’, at the client side, is still, ‘blogger meet’! At the same time, there is enough chatter, debate and eventual annoyance on poor blogger communication by brands and agencies. These days, anybody with a decent internet connection can search online (specifically via Google blog search or a Technorati/ Icerocket blog search) for blog posts on relevant topics. But, after you do the search, how do you go about finding the right bloggers for further engagement? More than ‘right’, which is a given assuming you searched right, what are the parameters one should consider to select bloggers who’s attention could help spread the word around?

In other words, how do you search and identify influential bloggers?

Here is a helpful, seven step process.

Step 1 â?? Domain

Does the blog have its own domain or is it being published on a free domain like WordPress or Blogspot? If its done under a own domain, it perhaps means that the particular blogger is a bit more serious than just any casual blogger, since owning a domain name and server space annually costs money  (albeit small amounts these days). This point, though, cannot be taken for granted, since there are many serious, known bloggers publishing from a free domain – so use this step, along with a combination of other points below.

If the blog has a unique domain, next step is to check where the blogger is from, using a WHOIS search. Try a search in a site like http://www.whois-search.com/, enter the domain and see if you can trace a country/ nationality etc. For India-specific â??.inâ?? domains, use http://www.registry.in/whois_search/. There are a host of whois search sites and a simple Google search will reveal them – use the one that helps in your search.

Some of the more astute domain owners hide their personal details because itâ??s just a matter of a small extra fee when registering a domain. If theyâ??ve done it, then while we cannot find their location, it still means they are a bit more evolved.

Step 2 – Interest and intent

Is the blogger serious enough about his/ her blog? A simple way to find that is based on the number of blog posts he/ she has. Most blogs usually have an ‘archive’ widget/ section in the index page which lists, usually, month-wise/ year-wise posts. While there is no industry average on how many posts per month/ year denote seriousness of blogging, consider an average of 15-20 posts per month as ‘very serious’ – since it means the blogger has posted at least one, per working day. Even a consistent 5 posts per month could denote enough seriousness.

Another factor is the time the blog has been in existence. In the internet world, anything more than 12-15 months means the blogger perhaps has a serious intent of making a name out of the blog. And, that he/ she is dedicated to continue running the blog.

Step 3 – Content

The theme of the blog’s content may reveal itself in 2 ways – the blog’s title and the ‘categories’ section in the index page. The blog’s title and/ or sub-title may talk about the theme, quite simply. The ‘categories’ section too can showcase a trend/ slant towards a particular topic or a set of topics. Categories like ‘java’, ‘c++’, â??ruby on rails’ could possibly mean that the blogger is a techie/coding geek or at least that he/ she is interested in programming languages and updates.

Some blogs have a tag cloud in place of a categories list – this too is a valid source to track the predominant theme of a blog. But note – multiple tags can be applied to a single post, while categories are usually more attuned to specific posts.

Step 4 – Engagement

How engaged are the blog’s viewers/ readers with its content? The best way to track that is based on the amount of comments and trackbacks each post in the blog gets.

Comments are simple – the blogger posts and his/ her users comment. While each post may get a lot of comments if the blog is popular, what matters is the average number of relevant comments for each post. Assuming a blog has about 25 posts per month and as many as 20 of those have at least 3 to 4 comments per post, it could perhaps mean the blog has a regular readership, at the very least. Check on the commentersâ?? name/ aliases too – it’s quite possible that the blog has a loyal readership of just about 5 – 10 users and they keep commenting. More than 15-20 comments per post, on an average, is a huge deal!

Trackbacks are another option. A trackback is a simple way to acknowledge a blog post when it is being referred to, in another blog. For instance, I write a blog post. That is liked by another blogger and he posts my blog post’s link along with his comment, as a new post in his blog. When that is done, most blog tools (like WordPress, Blogspot) have an automated feature to track such references and add them within the comments section of my post. Trackbacks showcase the fact that a particular blog post is popular among other bloggers and that the blogger is influential enough to be quoted.

Step 5 – Number of readers

Finding the number of readers is an inaccurate science, when you are not a blog’s owner! A blog’s readers could be ascertained through three ways – RSS feeds, email subscribers and general website hits.

RSS Feeds

Most blogs usually display the number of RSS feed subscribers quite prominently. FeedBurner, a web tool now owned by Google offers such a service. There is no single measure to gauge the number of RSS feed subscribers. Very popular, commercial blogs have thousands of subscribers. This only reiterates the fact that when a blog is posted, it reaches at least those readers, instantly, via their choice of feed reader. This is a considerably more solid measure than something like followers on Twitter. Why? Because, on Twitter, not all followers are attuned to an update/tweet at the same time due to the sheer volume of data. In a RSS feed, people have chosen to be updated when there’s a new post and hence, it is likely that they will see the update.

RSS feeds could be partial or complete – partial feed offer the first one or two sentences of a new post and provides a link to read the full post in the actual blog. This means, all those who get the RSS feeds in their feed reader, would ideally click on the link to read more. Full feeds offer the entire blog post via the feed reader and a visit to the actual blog may not be necessary. However, most bloggers who choose to offer full feeds are confident of their content and expect a lot more informed and evolved readers who would visit the site not to read the post, but to comment on the post.

If the number of feed subscribers is not displayed, the alternate way to check it, with limited authenticity, is to enter the RSS feed URL in the ‘add subscription’ section in a feed reader like Google Reader and it would display the number of readers for the particular blog. This is limited in its authenticity because there are many more feed readers, both online and offline, besides Google Reader, but could still help in doing a guess estimate.

Email subscribers

FeedBurner offers a facility to subscribe to blog updates via email and there are other tools to enable such a blog feature too. However, FeedBurner also lets a blog owner display the number of email subscribers. Much like the RSS feeds count, this potentially represents a captive audience for the particular blog.

Website traffic

This is the dicey part. One can rely on a variety of tools and web services to get a broad estimate of traffic for a particular blog. The top few tools include,

Google Trends for websites – http://trends.google.com/websites?q=wikipedia.org (Just enter the blog URL and off you go!)
This can help you assess the broad page views of a blog, if the blog happens to be popular. If it is not, this may not work at all.

Google Ad Planner – https://www.google.com/adplanner
This could you a bit more information on a blog, particularly for top-level domains and those with unique domains.

Technorati rank – http://technorati.com/blogs/www.engadget.com?reactions (Just replace ‘www.engadget.com’ with a blog’s URL)
Technorati authority doesn’t have the same ring as it used to, sometime back

Compete Siteanalytics – http://www.compete.com/#site_profile_search_tab

Quantcast - http://www.quantcast.com/

On social networking sites

Many blogs have embedded a Facebook Connect widget and it could give you a glimpse of the number of ‘followers’ a particular blog has.

Step 6 – Authority

A website’s authority is determined by the number of other websites/ blog that link to it – err, I did not cook this up…this is the basis for Google’s strategy and success, called PageRank. Google lists it’s results based on PageRank, among other factors. So, you can use Google with a special search to check the number of other blogs/ websites that link to the blog you’re tracking. Simply enter ‘link:<blog name.com>’ in a normal Google search bar to check this count. More relevant sites linking to a blog possibly means a more popular blog.

Step 7 – Other quirks

Advertising: While it is really very simple to have ads in your blog (via Google adsense, for instance), ads in a blog possibly denote that the blogger is technically savvy enough in monetizing his/her effort.

Blogroll: Many bloggers have a blogroll, a list of other blogs that they like and visit very often. Based on the sites listed in a blogroll, you can make a reasonably sound judgment on the kind of topics that interest a blogger.

Social networking: If you are able to trace the name of the blogger, you could simply search for the name in prominent social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and find out if he/she has a prominent circle of friends (most bloggers list their Facebook, LinkedIn and/or Twitter profiles prominently in the blogs). Such a circle would most likely be his/her blog’s readers too.

Blogger outreach is not a one-size-fits-all – it has to be done based on proper research, in the interest of your brand’s/client’s image. Being relevant to a blogger’s interest is the most important criteria to have a win-win engagement in any form and the above steps would help you zero-in on reasonably known/popular bloggers worth your brand’s/client’s time and effort. After all, every blogger is not the same, much like the fact that every publication is not on the top 10 list of PR clients – there are some who seem more influential than others and they could help spread your brand’s word out better than others.

One of the best places to start, if you’re looking for top Indian bloggers, is this list curated by Amit Agarwal.

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