Years ago, I remember reading a delightful book by Henry Petroski entitled The Evolution of Useful Things. The book considered the labored genesis of inventions like the paper clip, zipper and fork – items so commonplace that today we take them for granted. They become almost invisible to us.
One such Internet innovation is the permalink, a tool that is at the heart of a blog’s ability to build traffic . The permalink, is a unique identifier (typically human readable) that ensures Internet users will always be able to link to your posts, even those in the archives. When someone links to one of your archived posts, they use a permalink. This humble innovation means that the content you generate in your posts is forever available (unless you choose to delete it). The thing that makes permalinks so useful is that linkages made with them become small traffic feeders to your blog. In this sense, every post is a magnet with the potential to attract a steady stream of visitors over time. As content accumulates, your traffic naturally increases in tandem.
You can amplify this potential by adding a “related posts” section to the end of each post. The related posts are simply links to other content that is relevant to your current post. Why do this? This exposes more of content to readers. Every time you publish a new post, it pushes older posts further down the list. At some point, readers will have to page back to older posts and it is unlikely they will. The related posts area keeps older, relevant content within easy reach. It also makes it more likely that someone will create a link to one of those older posts.
Another tool to expose archived content is a “Featured Posts” area on your sidebar. This is just a set of permalinks to posts you think might be of interest. You can use other variants such as “Popular Posts.” The idea is to use these links to get visitors, especially new visitors, to explore your content.
Social bookmarking sites have become very popular in the last couple of years. Millions of individuals use sites like del.icio.us, StumpleUpon, Digg and others every day to share URLs to content they like. Adding a bookmarking widget to the end of each post makes it easy for them to do this and potentially drive more traffic to your site. I would recommend a single widget that contains access to many bookmarking sites rather than cluttering yours posts with multiple widgets. For example, I use AddThis, which lets you choose a bookmark from a list of 36 sites.
Perhaps some day, Petroski might decide to compose a history of useful Internet technology. Surely the venerable permalink would be near the top of his list to write about. It is so simple, useful and ubiquitous that it has become invisible. Today, Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, a time when we consider our blessings after enjoying an impossibly large meal. Writers contemplating the power of the blog to create a readership for their work, should give thanks for the humble permalink.
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