Are Link Trains the Chain Letters of the Blogging Age?

You’ve probably seen several versions of a link train meme going around the blogosphere. Whether it’s supposedly optimized for certain web applications (e.g. Alexa version 1 & version 2, Technorati, MyBlogLog, Bloglines) or requires some other qualifier (viraltags, your name in your domain name, tech sites only, feed URLs, Z-listers only!), this method of sharing the link juice has grown immensely popular. It’s like a new class of memes have replaced all those generators and quizzes we love trying out.

If you look more closely, link trains are more like chain letters—stripped of hexes and a set number of people to send them to. But are they also hoaxes?

(Chain letters are nothing but empty threats, in case you haven’t figured it out yet!)

What is a link train?

A link train has the following parts: an operator’s manual (how the link train works), the main train (the links), and your own train (the links you’re going to add). It’s basically a list of links that grows as it from blog to blog.

Can non-blogs ride the link train?

Some trains probably allow it, but the reason link trains are popular is because they spread through blog posts. Websites that don’t update in a blog-like format probably don’t have a space for pasting memes, right? Also, the webapps mentioned above cater primarily to blogs.

Do link trains work? (Or, why do they work?)

It depends on your standards. One the one hand, link trains try to game the system (webapps and search engines) by demanding that one must keep all previous links (remember the main train?) and link back to them. (Some trains require you to also add them to your Technorati favorites, for example.)

On the other hand, it’s viral. You will want to jump on the train—whether you want to be more popular, or are just plain curious. Why?

  1. Easy. The instructions are extremely simple.
  2. Exciting. Imagine the rush of passing on something from blogger to blogger.
  3. Encompassing. Anybody can participate.
  4. Rewarding. Everybody on the train links and gets linked to you. You are helping other bloggers and they help you. (Take it to the next level by posting this Charity Link Meme!)

Hoax, Hex, or Hackery?

So, are link trains as useless as chain letters? Remember these points whenever a new link train shows up:

A link train are seen as a hoax by search engine optimization experts. Some trains aren’t SEO-friendly and the whole idea is a bit unnatural. Keep all of these in mind.

  1. Are the links keyword-rich, and in line with the content of your blog? Example: Viralinks uses asterisks (*) as link text.
  2. Link trains can even be considered as spam or even link farms—and can therefore be penalized by Google!
  3. Most people don’t mind since they still bring traffic, but if the train grows too long, will it still work?

A link train is not a hex, but bloggers can become highly dependent on it. If you don’t wish to link to certain sites on a link train, or you don’t think it’s that effective, don’t force yourself. And be sure to update your blog with entries that are not link trains!

A link train is a good hack to discover new sites. With all the new ways of blog-surfing, do we really need another one? Yes—whether they are natural methods or not.

Link trains are much better than chain letters, that’s for sure!