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Sphere – Show Your Readers Related Content [REVIEW]

Sphere LogoOne of the tips that is often given by bloggers is that you should use some sort of service or plugin that shows related posts on your blog. Not only does this give readers something else to look at, it provides another way to make your blog sticky.

This will help to decrease bounce rates and increase average visitor browsing times. However, what if you took the idea of related posts on your own blog and extended it out to those who used a particular service across the web? That is the idea behind Sphere. In this post Jeff Chandler reviews Sphere to see how it works.

Company Info:

Sphere was founded in 2005 by four individuals and is based in San Francisco. Martin Remy; Steve Nieker; Tony Conrad; and Toni Schneider. If the name of that last person sounds familiar to you, it’s because he is also the CEO of Automattic, the folks who bring you WordPress.com. What was originally a search engine for blogs has turned into a site that makes connections across a wide variety of content.

Using Sphere:

There are two ways in which to use Sphere. The first is by submitting your blog to the Sphere network. The second is to use the Sphere widget. Once your blog url is approved and added into the Sphere network, links to your blog posts will be distributed throughout the Sphere userbase. It does take some time before your blog URL is either approved or disapproved but until you receive that notice, you can use the Sphere Related Content Widget.

As with the site submission process, you’ll have to pony up some information to Sphere before you can actually use the widget. Pay special attention to the Blog Content selection box as this will determine the type of related posts that are displayed within the widget. If you are using a self hosted version of WordPress, you’ll be able to use the Sphere Related Content plugin. Once you have that plugin installed and activated, you’ll need to configure it.

Sphere Plugin Configuration

 This plugin currently supports the following content display types:

  • The CLASSIC plug-in — shows related blog posts and news from a wide variety of sources, not category specific. If in doubt, stick with this one. (You’re done here, nothing to change.)
  • The NEWS VIDEO plug-in for news bloggers — shows related video from Sphere Partners, as well as related news articles and blog posts.
  • The POLITICS plug-in for Democrats — shows related blog posts from Democratic and other left-leaning blogs, as well as from a variety of news sources.
  • The POLITICS plug-in for Republicans — shows related blog posts from Rebublican and other right-leaning blogs, as well as from a variety of news sources..
  • The POLITICS plug-in with Balance — shows related blog posts from both sides of the political divide, as well as from a variety of news sources.

At some point in the future, more specific content types will be available to choose from. However, for most people, Classic should be just fine. Once the plugin is configured, you should see a small Sphere icon with the text “Sphere: Related Content” appear below each blog post.

Sphere In Action

Clicking this link will open up the related content widget which displays five posts from other bloggers talking about the same subject, two related videos, and two to three related articles from across the Sphere network.

My User Experience:

When testing out the service on my own blog, I discovered that for the most part, the bloggers talking about the same topic were generally more related than the related articles section. The related videos were hit and miss. Overall, not a bad experience and I’ve found myself clicking on a few of the related articles myself. Personally, I’d like to see the option of configuring the widget to display a certain number of related posts on the blog page rather than having to click on the widget. In a later revision of this plugin that can be configured to display a specific category of posts will be a welcomed addition.

From The Blogs

Conclusion:

Using a related post service such as Sphere has its benefits. For starters, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, TechCrunch, All Things D and Real Clear Politics that generate over 1 billion monthly article page-views are already on board. If a link to your blog post appears within the widget or related post area on any of these sites, you are sure to benefit from the follow through traffic. Although from browsing around CNN, I did see a good mixture of related blog post links. However, the tech category appeared to be dominated by the big name blogs/sites such as TechCrunch, CNET, and Zdnet.

In the end, just being part of the service, displaying your widget, and allowing Sphere to use your content to showcase related articles is a simple way to increase exposure as well as traffic levels for your own blog.

Sound Off:

Here is what I’d like to know from you. First, do you use Sphere or a related service? Pardon the pun. Also, have you been able to measure any amount of success from having your articles display on the various widgets within the Sphere network? Last but not least, have you ever had a blog post show up in the widget on a site like TechCrunch or CNN?

This Review of Sphere was written by Jeff Chandler who is currently a writer for Performancing, BloggerTalks and is the host of two podcasts, WordPress Weekly and Perfcast.

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Comments

  1. Ganesh says:

    Although I’m not a fan of showing others posts on my blog, the possibility of one of my posts showing up on big blogs like TechCrunch is appealing. :)

    I’m just waiting for them to add more topics.

  2. I have been using the related posts plugin for some time now and it has helped tremendously with pageviews. Every time a new person arrives there more likely to view more than one post now.

    I think it is a great way to market some of your older posts and bring them back to dead. Otherwise readers are stuck at the bottom of the post deciding what they want to do next…leave or stay

  3. Nice review, you really summed up what Sphere is.

    I’m not sure how a “food blog” would benefit tho, as Sphere seems very “tech” oriented. But I may give it a test run.

    Looking forward to seeing answers to your final questions about using and measuring success with Sphere.

    I agree with Ganesh, more topics would be a good thing.

  4. Harish says:

    Probably this would be a great method to Drive traffic If we are willing to Display Half a dozen of links linking to other related posts.But having our posts Being linked in some of the most popular sites/blog would fill our blog with traffic to a high extent.And thus Blog becomes popular enough to survive on this blogosphere.
    So I gonna use Sphere for traffic

  5. I don’t use anything like sphere at the time because until this post I didn’t know they exist! You are the reason I now use Aweber as well! I’ll be looking into this today.
    Thank you for keeping me up to date on the latest and greatest!!!
    Christy :)

  6. Adam Singer says:

    I’ve been doing this for ages – have a look at any post on my blog – after EVERY post I list not only 3 related posts from my blog, but another 3 from the blogosphere.

    I do it manually so that the content is gauranteed to be useful and related.

    I would recommend you do the same, doing this automatically does not gaurantee quality content…it only takes a minute to scour your RSS feeds and find content that actually is relevant and interesting to share with your readers.

  7. Is it required for you to add the widget for them to accept your submission?

  8. Adam Covati says:

    Very interesting Jeff, I might sign up and check it out.

    @AdamSinger great idea, I usually do that inline, but I like the idea of calling them out at the end, so as not to distract the reader while they are in the process of reading the post.

    Thanks for the advice!

  9. Vinayak says:

    I used to have this on my blog through Feedburner’s Feedflare feature (that’s another way of getting Sphere). I did get some traffic using it. But I used it basically search more information for my post, something that i might have missed. It’s related posts do tend to be effectively related.
    Sadly, my Feedflare started acting out a few months ago and I haven’t had Sphere on my posts since then.

  10. Rob Chant says:

    I’m just about to give it a try. My blog’s in its very early days, and whilst it is very niche, I still need a bit of traffic!

    Much more importantly, I think it’s important to be a part of the community in general, apart from any obvious, immediate benefits you might receive.

    It’ll be interesting to see how much control over the related content you get too.

  11. Wouldn’t you want to give your readers related post to your own blog posts instead of sending them elsewhere? And also does it count when linking out to other companies or not? It seems a little sketchy.

  12. Sedruola says:

    I’ve never heard of this, but then again, I’m still very new to blogging. I find it very beneficial to list “related” blog posts to my content. I’m still in the throws of deciding exactly which direction I want my blog to take, but in the meantime, I would definitely use Sphere to help boost my traffic. Thanks.

  13. Interesting. Not my kind of site.

  14. Naren Ubi says:

    I was using Sphere, and was displaying related content on one of my tech blogs. However, I kept a close watch on the stats. The first thing I noticed was the visitors’ exit rate was high!! i would have lived with this if Sphere was able to get me more visitors, which sadly didn’t happen.

    Be it Sphere or Outbrain that you discussed in one of your previous posts, it is never a good idea ‘unnecessarily’ showing external posts on your blog that already has low traffic rates.

    Having said that, Darren, probably you could try the plugin for a couple of days and see if you’re able to further increase your traffic or if your bounce rates are getting higher. What say you?

  15. Thanks for the tip Jeff!

    Just curious, do you have to show the Sphere related widget to be featured in Sphere’s content?

  16. Brad says:

    Nice review!

    No, I haven’t tried out Sphere yet. But posts from my blog have appeared on websites like CNN after I had linked to an article or something. They have a cool little widget that shows related blog posts from around the internet below most articles.

  17. Ark Lady says:

    I tried a blog community widget on my sidebar for a while but it didn’t give me too much exposure and eventually I decided to remove it.

    Next, I created some widgets at Widget Box and use them between my blogs to drive content back and forth but not to move readers out to other sites. I use them on the static portion of my website but not on the blog.

    Thanks for writing on this topic since I had not heard of Sphere previously. I’ll check it out and perhaps will have more input on it down the road.

  18. Robert Barr says:

    Don’t like the idea of driving people away from my site. I already get content on Reuters, CNN, and major newspapers without having to trade away readers.

  19. I have had a few of my articles featured on CNN. Was an accident at first, I just linked to one of their articles in my blog. I noticed a bunch of traffic coming to my site and figured out it was from their sphere plugin.

    It’s a great plugin if you blog about anything that would be featured on these sites. I am very niche in my site, so I don’t tend to get many links with them. But it’s a great little plugin that adds a lot of potential!

  20. Mike says:

    I used it for a little while easy to set up but in the end I didn’t think it did a great job finding related articles and took up space at the of articles I had posted where I might want to have a call to action or Adsense advert

  21. Albert says:

    For those saying they’ve had their article linked to from CNN through sphere, I’m curious as to what kind of extra traffic you receive from those sites?

  22. Milinda says:

    I tried on my blog. But when I click the Sphere related content link it only shows the widget and the loading animation with we’re getting you the good stuff.

    Did anyone know the reason for it. Also it didn’t ask me to register my blog when I am getting the widget from sphere.com.

  23. Rachel says:

    This sounds like a great tool to use to increase traffic, but I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t speak personally about my experience with it. The only con is that users will be clicking on links that lead them away from your blog; if they are relatively new, this is far from beneficial.

  24. Milinda says:

    After some time sphere widget started to work. But I think it didn’t perform well on my blog. Because most posts are not that much related to my posts.

  25. Papa Razzi says:

    Sounds really interesting I’ll have to give it a try next chance I have. I’m not sure how much related content my paparazzi blog will get though. Maybe photography.

  26. Papa Razzi says:

    Yeah I think I will have the same problem Milinda had. Its still worth a try. I just hope it doesn’t clutter my blog up as well.

  27. Black Zedd says:

    I’m not sure about sending my visitors away from my site. Furthermore it will compete with current in-house ‘related post’ section that most bloggers have currently.

    I’ve never submitted my site to them before, but I had visitors coming from a CNN article through the Sphere widget..all I did was linking my post to that article.

  28. Sue says:

    I have 2 self-hosted wordpress blogs and installed the plugin. Not being able to constrain the results to the specific niche areas of either of the blogs, caused me to have to disable the plugin as some of the content presented as related was highly inappropriate. So, once we can constrain the topic areas, this service and plugin will be of significantly greater value to a far wider range of bloggers.

  29. Sarah says:

    I installed this widget and actually thought it hadn’t worked – it really does just show the “related content” button until you click on it, so it doesn’t clutter the blog at all.

    It is showing related content, and I don’t think I will be a problem with sending traffic away from my blog. I’m more than happy to point other writers in the direction of useful resources, as much as I’m happy to discover them myself.

    I have submitted my site to Sphere, but I haven’t heard whether it has been approved or not. Any additional traffic it could generate would be appreciated, but I’m not able to comment on whether or not it would work in my case – yet!

    Thanks for pointing this out. I would never have discovered it otherwise.

  30. Jason Brown says:

    I like the idea of this plug-in, the notion that I could have my content appear on CNN and other high traffic websites is the holey grail of links. The major downside I’ve found with it though is that it is very America centric when you use the balanced politics plug0in like I have.

    This is OK if you are a US political blogger, but for me who is a British based political blogger who writes only about British politics I can see it maybe causing some problems. Why cant it include content from the BBC and Britons première newspaper.

    Im not giving up on it yet and will see how things develop and keep you all posted.

  31. Related content still drives traffic to your site since these related articles are pointing to the same homepage. As such increases your site’s relevance. Besides, making users browse over different contents on your site may mean that your site has been constantly visited and a plus point in page rank.

  32. paul says:

    Not sure how they determine which articles get featured in their related content widget and I don’t know what kind of traffic to expect.

    Anyway, I have submitted my site and hoping that they will approve it soon.

  33. Dan says:

    I have used sphere on our blog on and off.. When I make a general post that has a news like appeal I turn it on and than I turn it off. There is no reason you should have it on all the time. So use it when you make a new post that you think will get posted somewhere else… Great plug in- easy to use- mixed results.

  34. uwak says:

    ehm…..I thinks, you are already to recommend good plugins, thanks for information…..

  35. I submitted my blog. I’ll keep ya posted! :) Thanks for sharing about Sphere.