One 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?