An article in the FT this week attempted to cast some light on the most influential blogs in the UK and Europe, though the methodology used to calculate the blog rankings leaves a little to be desired.
The piece was based on a study conducted by blog search engine Technorati and Edelman, the PR firm, but instead of using traditional metrics such as reach and audience share, it used the number of inbound links to determine a blog’s ‘influence’.
So what’s wrong with that?
Well, firstly it is certainly a case of grabbing the lowest hanging fruit. Technorati publishes a list of the ‘top 100 blogs’, using inbound links as the basis for positioning. Edelman, for the record, has an exclusive and slightly mysterious deal with Technorati, to drill down into its data across multiple territories.
One of the biggest issues with Technorati is the sheer number of spam blogs (aka splogs) which populate its listings. Splogs, more often than not, tend to automatically suck up content from RSS feeds and republish along with a link to the original article. A cheap link. Quantity, it seems, beats quality. Should splog links really boost a blog’s ‘influence’? I think not.
The other issue with link-based methodology is that blog networks, such as Weblogs Inc, consistently link to their own stable of websites every time a new post is published (just look in the right-hand sidebar of Autoblog to see what I mean). A new page, a bunch of new links… sort of link nepotism. There’s nothing wrong with this of course, but I'm guessing that it helps boost ‘influence’ rankings. The rich get richer, buddy.
Finally, and somewhat obviously, the longer a blog has been online the more links it is likely to have. So influence might simply be a synonym for ‘been around a while’. It figures, but when you listen to what Hugh 'Gapingvoid' Macleod says (the number one UK blogger, according to this study), it becomes clear that the research is flawed.
Gapingvoid is a much-loved blog that is at least five years old, during which time Hugh has amassed more than 9,000 links. Lots of people like his cartoons, which are great...
Yet Hugh himself admits that he “doesn’t feel particularly influential these days. My focus has shifted away from the blogosphere a lot in the last year”. That's from the cartoonist's mouth, but doesn't at all tally with what Technorati/Edelman are saying.
Given that this study is based on low-hanging fruit, and perhaps bruised sploggy fruit at that, is it in any way accurate? Well if we’re into link counting then yes. But in terms of influence? It is a 'maybe' at best, if you work in online PR, and possibly a 'no' if you're a media planner.
Later today I'll publish some research we've done on UK blogs, which will unearth metrics such as unique users and page impressions.