The Art of Linking
Bloggers school publishers on the wild ways of the Web.
In a recent blog post on Foliomag.com, Variety publisher Timothy M. Gray admitted that the Writers Guild strike that enveloped Hollywood forced the 103-year-old magazine to finally define their goals online. “This was the first Hollywood strike fueled by—and negotiated on—the Web. Information was disseminated quickly by both sides. Stories would break online, we would update them constantly, we would be on high alert all the time and we would staff up for possible news. It became a Web story first. A print story second.”
Still, some publishers—even those with blogs—are hesitant to link away from their site—in some ways, stuck in the print-centric mindset of not wanting to “give away” their traffic.
It’s a mindset that confuses bloggers. “Linking is healthy,” says David Hauslaib, editorial director and publisher of Jossip Initiatives, a pop culture and media-focused blog network with combined readership of 7 million unique visitors per month. “There’s no ‘policy’ in place, aside from a general rule that we link to outlets we source. When it comes to blogs, the viability of many depends on linking.”
While Hauslaib agrees, in theory, that linking away from your site within the body of a story or post might send visitors away, losing valuable traffic, the long-term benefit outweighs the risk. “More realistically, those readers will find their way back, and even boost page views from repeated visits,” he says.
Linking to other sources, even if it’s on a competitor’s site, creates a better user experience. “If a competitor offers useful material that’s relevant to our post, we’ll link to it,” Hauslaib adds. “Blogs are unique, in that readers don’t have to choose just one or two to read. At the newsstand, is the average person going to shell out $3 or $4 for a copy of a dozen different magazines? No. But with blogs, they can visit many titles without any cost.”
Linking to competitors also means eschewing the quasi-bloggy “politics” associated with cross-linking, i.e., linking to a competing site without expecting one in return. “If a link to another site is good for the reader—offering them a new perspective or some background—then that’s our priority,” he says.
However, links should clearly advance a story and indicate to the reader where they are going when they click. “In general, the more links the merrier,” says Lockhard Steele, founder of blog networks Curbed.com and Eater. “The one thing to watch out for is to make sure that a given post doesn’t have too many uncontextualized links—that is, random words in the middle of a sentence that give no context about where the reader will end up if they click the link. I think readers like to know what they’re clicking, and where it will take them.”
Credit or No Credit
Hauslaib also defends the practice of linking without crediting within the text of a post—a point of contention within the blogosphere. “Readers are smart enough to see where a link leads,” he says. “Unless the source of a story is material to the topic we’re discussing, it’s sometimes not worth an explicit mention, if an underlined phrase or two conveys the same notion. We like to keep our copy concise; the fewer words needed to tell our story, the better.” (Hauslaib points out that linking a certain phrase to a site—instead of just the name of the source—can also benefit that source in search engine rankings.)
There is a limit, however, to the volume of links within a particular post or story published online—being link-happy can wear out its welcome. “There’s no hard number, but there should be a reason to link somewhere,” says Hauslaib. “Either you’re using another site as a source, or another site has useful reference material, or you’re linking back to your own site to put a story in context. Should 100 words of copy have 20 links? Probably not.”
The Do’s and Don’ts of Linking
…Link to your own previously posted material, if it’s relevant.
…Understand the power of your links, the search engine weight they carry, and what linking certain keywords accomplishes.
…Follow who’s linking to you—not just so you can send a thank you note, but so you know where your readers are arriving from.
…Expect your brand new blog to be linked to just because you launched it.
…Beg for links back to your site—if you have worthwhile material, a quick email to a blog editor, letting them know about your content, will suffice.
…Forget that if you expect credit for a story, you must also credit others for theirs.