External Links from Stories Are a Service, Not a Threat

August 30, 2006
Category: Uncategorized

My posting yesterday, Revising Stories: Keep the Long Tail in Mind, brought in a few interesting comments — mostly by e-mail. (why is it, I wonder, that Tidbits readers tend to comment more by e-mail than on the blog?)

Dee Dee Nilsen, online reporter for the Springfield (MO) Business Journal, wrote (emphasis added):

“…I noted in your piece a mention about creating live hyperlinks to Web addresses that are given in an online news story. ‘Classic print-mindset mistakes,’ you said.

“We struggled with this idea for a while when our site went live last year. Ultimately it was decided that providing links within a news story to sites that are unrelated to our paper wasn’t the best idea. It was thought that giving that link might give readers the impression that we’re somehow associated with that linked Web site, or that we were giving free advertising.

“I was of the opinion that giving the live link was a service to the reader, and why not give the reader all the information they could want?

“But alas, I’m not the editor, and we opted to do away with live story links to outside sites. We simply list the plain-text address.”

There you have it: Dee Dee pretty much nailed the unfortunate attitude toward external linking I’ve seen at many news organizations — although, thankfully, it’s becoming less common.

Here’s my view: In online media, relevant links are always a service. In fact, if you mention something in a story for which you could include a relevant direct link and fail to do so, you’re probably only going to frustrate and eventually alienate your online audience.

Also, you give what you get in online media. Look at your site stats. How much of your traffic is coming from other Web sites, including blogs? If the answer is “very little,” that’s probably your own fault, and you’re probably missing a big opportunity.

Inbound links can be one of the most valuable sources of high-quality traffic for any site, because they leverage inherent interest in complementary audiences for other site. Visitors who arrive with elevated interest or curiosity are more likely to pay closer attention to everything they see on your site — maybe even those ads that pay your bills.

But in online media, you only get what you give. If you don’t give many relevant links, it’s unlikely you’ll get many in return.

…I could go on and on about this, but I’ll stop here for now. Thanks, Dee Dee, for raising this topic. Now, for the rest of you: What do you think? Please comment below.