Creating blog seed lists for research

Colleagues and regular readers will know that we’ve been working on an “online influencer mapping” tool called Rufus. Those of you who’ve had a chance to use Rufus will know that it requires a seed list of URLs to get started. Creating this seed list can be automated in one or two ways, but one of the fastest, most effective, and most sensible ways to build a seed list is still to do it by hand.

We’ve got one or two other processes that also require us to build a seed list. No doubt other people do too — lots of web research is quite data hungry. So — because I’ve found myself telling a few of my Porter Novelli colleagues how we go about the process, I thought I’d share it here, in the interests of:

  1. having somewhere to point people in future,
  2. general good-heartedness: I’ve learned a lot from people in the past, and I like to give stuff back, and
  3. getting feedback and tips from people about how they might go about the same process.

Oh – and while these methods should work in any language, please bear in mind that I tend to think and work in English. I’d appreciate feedback on how best to localize these methods.

Building a seed list: 5 easy methods

With all these methods, there’s no substitute for checking out the blog. I don’t ask people to read the blog (that comes at a different stage of the process altogether) but you should at least click through and see what you’re dealing with. In fact, method 3 rather relies on you visiting the blogs you’re researching.

1. Look for someone who has already done your research for you

Start by being optimistic. Generally you’ll find that someone else has created a list of the “top ten” (or however many) blogs in the niche that interests you. Take a look at Brendan’s regularly updated PR Friendly Index for example. If you’re searching for English language blogs then you could do worse than start by looking at Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop. But simply Googling for lists of blogs or blog charts should get you a long way.

This is generally a source of fairly high-quality data. One thing to watch out for, though, are search engine spamming link farms, and shady “Make Money Online” (MMO) directories. You’ll learn to recognize these soon enough, but as long as you’re visiting all the blogs you’re putting on your seed list you should be alright.

2. Do a tag search on delicious

I picked up this technique from Anthony Mayfield, who showed me that by searching on the delicious social bookmarking site for the tags “xxx” and “cool” and/or “inspiration” you could find sites about “xxx” that people thought were cool. Knowing what your digital trendsetters think is cool is one hell of an insight.

For our purposes though, we’re looking for cool blogs. So (1) click the “Explore Tags” tab on the home page, and then (2) type your keyword and the word “blog” into the search box. Couldn’t be simpler?

Use the 'Explore' tab in delicious to find blogs for your seed list

Well — actually it could be simpler. You can query the delicious database when you type the URL into the address bar of your browser like this:

Where “keyword” is the word you’re looking for.

When you get the results, check the ones that (a) have the right kind of title (if you’re looking for French blogs, look for French titles for example), (b) have the right kind of tags and description and (c) have been bookmarked most often

If there’s a better local language social bookmarking site, I’d use that whenever possible. For example, Mister Wong is a good one for German language sites.

A quick note: social news sites like Digg and Reddit, and “serendipity browsers” like StumbleUpon tend not to work so well in my experience.

This method also owes a lot to Marshall Kirkpatrick. You might like to try out the Yahoo! Pipe that I built based on the process that Marshall documents.

3. Look for blog rolls

On every blog you visit during the research process, look for the blog roll — and check the likely-looking links. See if they’re useful or useless. Quite often you’ll find that someone who has an interest in widgets will also read and link to blogs that cover widgets. That, after all, is the principle on which Rufus works wrote small. So we reckon it’s a pretty good approach.

4. Ask your Twitter followers

Seriously — this works. Well — it worked for me and my team from around +100 followers onwards. I’d be interested in others’ experience.

5. Call someone

Get hold of someone who knows about the subject and phone them up or get them on IM. Category experts are an excellent source of low-volume but high-quality information. It’s time consuming, but can work well if you have the right contacts. Journalist friends might be a great source of blog lists.

I’ve purposefully left this one till last; I think it’s a good rule of thumb to do your desk research before picking up the phone. That way you can ask intelligent questions instead of damn fool ones.

Using a text editor

I try to keep two lists running all the time that I’m working; a scratchpad list of blogs I have yet to visit and the seed list itself. Because I’m on a Mac, I use the excellent BBEdit (there’s a free version called TextWrangler which will be just as good for most people.) If — as is more probable — you’re on a Windows machine, you might like to try the very powerful but slightly less pretty Notepad++. But if you just want to use Excel, though, that’s fine, too.