forget trying to be a one-stop-shop, be the hub of the network

I’m often astonished to come across – still – the occasional journalist or editor who thinks that linking out from a news story or other page to third party content is counterproductive because, in their minds, it simply sends traffic away.

I suppose, on the face of things, that makes sense but there is value, in fact there is enormous value, in making the link and anyone who denies this need only look at the commercial success of Google for evidence that sending users away, quickly and directly, to what they want does make business sense. Google does this through an automated process. Content producers, including news and media websites, can do it better because they can apply editorial skills to the process.

No website can provide everything it’s users are likely to want but, increasingly, niche sites are popping up that cater to very specific interests, or focus upon narrow topics at a level of detail that most traditional media and news organisations can’t do. Audiences who come to your site looking for this content need to find it or they’ll go somewhere else the next time their looking for it. This is where editorialised links come in. Don’t just let your audiences slip away, provide the link that gets them – quickly – to the most relevant content and they’ll remember your site as being the best route to that content.

This morning I came across a post by Rich Gordon on the Readership Institute blog at Northwestern University. He argues very much the same:

"My colleague Limor Peer suggests
newspapers should work harder at making their Web sites into
destinations. But newspapers have been trying to build Web destinations
for more than a decade now, with little real success. Maybe it’s not a
matter of poor execution — maybe it’s the strategy that’s wrong.

I’m going to suggest a different approach: Instead of trying to build the best destination, build the best network.

kind of network I’m referring to is a web of interconnections — links
between content and between people. In essence, I’m arguing that on the
Web, news organizations — perhaps, all media — should focus on
building themselves "into the clickstream." The goal: make your Web
site a network hub that connects content and conversations."

Gordon  provides a bullet point list of ways for websites to become "Mavens and Connectors". His list includes:

  • link out — alot
  • link, especially, to blogs
  • link in — to related content of your own
  • open up the archives
  • use web technologies intelligently
  • cultivate conversations about your content
  • distribute your content widely
  • partner with portals
  • build your own social networks
  • encourage use of ranking/rating sites
  • build shortcuts across the web

The original post provides far more detail on each of these points and is well worth a read.


  1. Google vs mainstream media is chalk and cheese or rather Yellow Pages and Plumbers. Google’s business is search. Other sites have a Google search box, but I don’t want it, my browser has one anyway.
    Blogs can definitely gain by sending people away for further information (particularly in a new tab or window) because they cater to a particular audience that wants quick tips, but most sites want to hold the end user, for the sake of the advertiser and so that they can be as comprehensive as possible on their own site. Say if I’m reading The NY Post as a non-regular, the first thing I read that sends me off to a more familiar site effectively spoils my custom. NY Post isn’t a news aggregator, it’s an end-product in itself, and competes for credibility rather than turning a free market into some kind of shareware.
    Consider a supermarket website that tells me where I can pick up a better deal. The linking thing might help with search engine ranking, but generally not with customer retention.
    And if it seems newspaper websites aren’t as popular as YouTube, that’s just a sign of a healthy, competitive and long-established market, and the fact that we only want to read the news for so long. So if news websites are going to “build themselves into mainstream networks”, first do what Google does and have a damn good network of your own.

  2. I still don’t exactly have hordes of people visiting my blog so can look at this on a micro-level! On the one hand, I’m inclined to agree that links are the way forward mainly because I know I find them useful. I provide lots and it can be quite time-consuming, but it’s worth it if people use them. I have one visitor, for example, who always comes through my site to get to his favourite blog. (I’m not quite sure why he hasn’t discovered bookmarking but anyway he loves that link…!)
    On the other hand, I have a general impression from a skim over Feedburner stats that not many people who visit my site actually use many of my links. What are your impressions of the visitor to ‘link user’ ratio for your blog?

  3. On our website scribblesheet, we added a newticker that links to other interesting content around the world. Its been a hit. And it feels good to link to others. Now people don’t just come for the content, they come for direction. A network hub is much better than a content hub. As a business its more defensible and in some ways you can say it offers more value than pure content.

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