Has Technorati Ranking Become Irrelevant?

Web folks are fascinated with statistics. We love to see how many visits our blogs get, how they get there, who's linking to us and what browser everyone is using. In our quest for meaningful data concerning who's reading and paying attention to our writings, we'll pour over numbers from AWStats, Google's PageRank and Alexa's traffic data to figure out if we're the Next Big Thing(TM). For a long time, Technorati has been somewhat of a gatekeeper when it comes to determining which blogs are relevant and which are not. By counting how many unique blogs link to other blogs, it spits out a nifty "Authority" number that we use to figure out how many of us have permanent position on someone else's blog. That number, however, means almost nothing.

Knowledge of how Technorati's authority system works makes blog-to-blog links valuable for bumping up the ever-present Authority. Meme creators often run a blog of their own and will provide these valuable links in return for participating in whatever meme is it they offer. These link exchanges do prove relevance for the creator of the meme, but the automatic link back to the participants is little more than a gimmick to encourage participation. This automated form of link exchange does not contribute toward finding related high-quality content and simply clouds what is already a poor system for ranking relevance. It has been proven again and again to be infinitely more beneficial to the larger site than to your own, especially when looking at Google's PageRank.

Technorati's main problem with "Authority" is that all links are created equal. A link from "Jim-Bob's Blog of Origami Turtles" (yes, I made that up) has the same weight as a link from, say, EnGadget, the top-ranked blog. Doesn't make much sense, does it? You could have links coming in from a bunch of low-content or link farm blogs and still have the same authority as someone who works hard to add to the conversation and earn those links. In short, Authority counts links, but it hardly quantifies if your blog is or isn't authoritative in the blogosphere.

A good example of how Technorati's score is pure bunk is to compare to the master of what is or is not important on the web, Google. Your PageRank will determine where you'll fall in the billions of searches a day that Google fields, a significant thing to consider since visitors from Google searches make up about 6% of our total visits. Our site has a Technorati Authority of 24, making us ranked 210,469. Another blog on Technorati (who shall remain nameless) has an Authority of 209 with a rank of 19,862. You would think that the second blog would therefore be of greater importance, right? Looking at the PageRank, Google seems to not think this is the case. Our site pulls a 4/10 PageRank whereas the comparison blog pulls the exact same rating. How is it that a site with 209 blogs linking to it can have the exact same importance with Google as a blog with just 24 blogs linking to it?

The answer is in link quality. Google's engineers aren't dumb. When they see a link to your site sitting alongside the same group of 600 other links on 600 other websites, it knows that a machine generated that information and drops its importance accordingly. As the lists grow larger, the quality of the links in the list get lower. Add onto this that most of those links carry a rel="nofollow" attribute to negate any possible Google bonus and you're looking a lot of space given away in your sidebar for not a lot of benefit. Also consider that these blogrolls do readers a disservice. There is no way anyone is going to scroll through hundreds of blog links that you yourself probably haven't ever read to pick something out of there. They're going to flock straight to the blog's main blogroll to see what the author personally recommends. 

The scourge of systems like Technorati is that they make us focus on link quantity rather than link quality. Yes, it's very easy to generate quantity. You can even do a lot of it for free. That does not, however, make your site of any greater importance. If you're really interested in generating new readership, then work to add yourself to blog aggregators and comment frequently on blogs that you read. Fill out your blog URL in profiles on forums and other websites and be a regular participant. (A single comment I left on CrunchGear has generated 67 visits in the span of less than a week.) Above all, content is still king; if you're not writing something that keeps readers coming back, you can't hope to build a following. It takes work to build readership, not participation in the blogging equivalent of chain letters.

Most of us are blogging for fun rather than to pursue political action or gain recognition in the technical community and that's just fine. You should, however, seek to be a good neighbor to all of the other bloggers out there by discouraging link farms, participating in online community-building and avoiding the trap that more links are better links. It'll end up making it better for all of us.

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