I've been blogging now for a little over three years now, and one of the important lessons I've learned during that time is that, to have a successful blog, you need to build relationships with other bloggers.
Now, smart link builders have long understood that "link building is relationship building," and you will get more links by forging friendships than you will cold emailing strangers and begging for links.
The same holds true for "blog building," and developing relationships with your contemporaries is something that should be part of every bloggers' strategy. Networking with other bloggers in your niche allows you to:
- Develop mutually beneficial connections
- Generate more awareness for your own blog
- Establish credibility and cache for you and your blog (via a recommendation from an influential blogger in the space)
- Grow your blog readership and community
- Build your brand
Okay, now that we know the benefits of connecting with other bloggers in your niche, let's take a look at where you can find bloggers to befriend.
Where do you find bloggers to connect with?
Before you connect with other bloggers, first you need to find them. The bloggers you're looking to connect with are:
- Relevant to your niche
- Considered influential or somewhat influential (in fact, depending on your niche, it might be easier to connect with bloggers who aren't "tier one influencers," as they may be easier to approach)
- Have large, active and engaged audiences
Here are some great places to discover influential blogs and bloggers:
- Google Blog Search - Plug your target keywords or the topics you blog about into Google Blog Search to discover your fellow niche-related bloggers
- Technorati - Use Technorati  to identify the "Top X Blogs" online, rated by Technorati Authority, which measures a site's "standing and influence in the blogosphere"
- Google Alerts - A more passive option is to set up real time alerts through Google Alerts  so you can monitor specific keywords that sites and bloggers would use that are closely-related to your niche
- "Best of" Lists - The Web is saturated with compilation lists of the "Best X Blogs," which can help give you an idea of respected blogs/bloggers in your area of interest. For example, I had a client who runs a "cycling blog." When researching for influencers, I found a great collection of the "Top 50 Cycling Blogs"  which is ranked using metrics like traffic and social media presence. In any case, lists like this are a great place to identify and explore bloggers to target.
After you've found a list of influential blogger prospects, you should create a spreadsheet to manage all the information. I like to organize the info into columns like "contact info," "twitter handle," "outreach efforts," "blog name" and "URL," "outcome," etc.
In addition, you should also add a few columns for "influence metrics" for even more granular analysis. Some of the metrics I use when evaluating blogs are:
- Inbound Links: It's safe to assume that "good content attracts links," so the more links a blog or blog post earns, the more engaging or popular it is. There are a number of link data sources you can use (both free and paid). Some of my favorites include Yahoo Site Explorer, Open Site Explorer , Majestic SEO , Influence Finder  (read my review here ) or SEO Spyglass  (read my review here ). I've also written about how you can analyze the SERPs to find the most popular and most linked blog posts in a niche .
- Social Engagement: Check out the blog's Twitter activity, Facebook "like" totals, Digg and Reddit activity, etc. BTW, If you're interested in plunking down some cash to get these metrics, PostRank offers a slick data service that tracks social engagement across 20 different social hubs  through their API.
- Alexa Rank: Alexa  ranks sites with an algorithm that incorporates page views and reach. It's not a precise measurement on its own, but it's a good metric when used on a relative scale and comparing one blog to another.
- Community Engagement: I also like to see blogs that have an active and engaged audience that comments often and frequently.
Again, add these metrics to columns in your Excel spreadsheet and give yourself even more data points to evaluate potential blogs and bloggers to connect with.
Ways to connect with influential bloggers
Okay, so you've found influential blogs and bloggers to target and connect with. Now, you're probably wondering "how do I connect with these bloggers and persuade them to help promote my blog and/or share my content with their audience?"
The best way to start a relationship with other bloggers is to:
- Figure out how YOU can help THEM: You need to approach this by thinking about the relationship from the other person's perspective: what can YOU do for them, first and foremost, and not vice versa
- Give before you receive: Again, in keeping with "selfless" theme, if you want your fellow bloggers to promote you, you should start by promoting them first.
Point being, blindly reaching out to other bloggers cold and asking them to share your content with others isn't going to work. So you need to start your relationship building campaign by referencing and sharing their content. You can do this by:
- Pimp their blogs and content on social networks - You're going to plug their blog and blog content on any and all of your social media profiles, be it your Facebook fan and/or personal page, your Delicious bookmarks, your Digg, Reddit or StumbleUpon profiles, your LinkedIn groups, and on your Twitter profile too.
BTW, with the Twitter stuff, I like to automate the process with Twaitter  (Tweet scheduling tool). You can spend about 15 to 20 minutes per week creating canned Twaits of posts from your favorite bloggers, or you can also task this to an intern or hire a "virtual assistant" from oDesk  on the cheap.
NOTE: Be sure to @ them in your Tweets, so they know you're a fan ;) Also, @ting them and getting on their radar is a great ice breaker and opens the door to start connecting with them and chat about similar interests.
Other ways to connect with bloggers in your niche include:
- Visit their blogs, comment and participate in the discussion - Bloggers appreciate it when you participate on their blogs to help build the community and will often return the favor. I'd also recommend you drop a link to your blog when you comment (and not with a spammy hyperlinked keyword string...use your actual name). People will often visit the sites of someone who leaves a smart, funny or interesting comment.
- Create blog posts that promote the blogger and their blog - Every so often you could write a post that spotlights a specific blogger, their blog and some of your favorite posts. Quite often, they will in turn share with the post with their audience, which can help expose your blog to her audience.
- Interview the bloggers - It may sound like a lot of work, but it will yield great rewards. You can do individual interviews or a big group interview and ask each person the same four questions about something in the realm of your niche topic. This is also a great ice breaker as well, since asking for an interview gives you a great excuse to contact bloggers in your niche.
- Link to their posts on your blog - This is effective for two reasons: the blogger will see referred traffic coming from your site to theirs (through analytics), and if they integrate trackbacks/pingbacks on their blog (which most do) a link to your blog will show up in their comment stream.
- Offer a guest post: This is really a great relationship builder because who doesn't love free content! I use a few different methods to discover guest post opportunities in a particular niche, which include:
- Running advanced search operators, such as "intitle:[my topic] + "guest post" or a number of other phrases you can find here .
- Leveraging the fantastic and free community created by Ann Smarty over at MyBlogGuest  that connects bloggers with site owners who are looking for content
- Using the Link Building Toolset  developed by the boys over at Ontolo to scour the Web and uncover guest posting opportunities in a matter of seconds
Final Thoughts on Making Friends with Bloggers
For me, building relationships with other bloggers in my niche has been THE most effective and powerful strategies I've ever used, and I know other prominent bloggers would agree . There are so many benefits that come from connecting with other bloggers in your niche. By promoting their content, they will often in turn promote yours. They will recommend you to their audience, link to your blog, promote you on their social media profiles, which helps contribute to your blog's growth and visibility.
But even more, connecting with your fellow bloggers can have a tremendous positive impact for your life because the personal connections and friendships you will make are invaluable.