Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Some Newspapers Can't Quite Get That Link Thing...

According to Jack Shafer, some of our major newspapers are starting to get all link-happy, but the links aren't adding to reader experience:
Almost any Washingtonpost.com or Nytimes.com news story demonstrates the sites' link-happy tendencies. A good example of the Washingtonpost.com's overkill is this Page One story from Monday about the alleged budget crunch faced by some states. In the first 95 words, the story links Illinois, Cook County, Michigan, New Jersey, California, and San Fernando Valley to Washingtonpost.com landing pages containing general news, video, and audio about those places. No thinking human would ever add these links—obviously, a human has programmed a computer to automatically insert them. (some links omitted)


Jack notes that this strategy is meant "for the publisher to serve another page of ads and to optimize search engine results."

Guess that's one answer to the conundrum of how to get web pages to generate more income for ya. But this strategy is not about readers, and giving any of us good information connected to the story.

Which is why people hyperlink in the first place!

Jack also points out the annoyance of mouse-over pop-up ads. I'd like to add annoying animated ads right next to text, that spring to life as soon as the page is fully loaded--which cannot be stopped and then, in some cases, continue the animation for the entire time on the page.

It's worse than a little kid getting in your face while you're trying to read the paper. At least the kid is (a)cute in most cases and (b) not trying to sell you something.

Still, another annoyance of Jack's is what he refers to as a "mixed-link strategy," where one never knows if one's going to a page inside the site or outside the site--unless you mouse over it and check the status bar first. I've gotten pretty used to this, so it's just part and parcel and why, with certain pubs like Valleywag, I rarely bother with the links.

Yet what newspapers haven't figured out about the mixed-link strategy is that it will eventually damage them with Google--as was noted back in October when so many newspapers and blog networks were demoted by Google because the bots saw them as link farms.

Yes, if you link too much to your own stuff, Google will think you're a link farm. So, link out and link often :-)

And while many new and old print journalism folks just can't seem to get the old link thing, Jack notes that Frank Rich (of all people! go figure!) is doing pretty well by linking out to stuff all over the place.

Thing is, I'm not sure that most reporters have the luxury of linking outside to competition. Rich is a well-respected veteran, and I'd bet that the NYT gives him a bit more latitude (or cuts him a bit more slack) because of it. Would they allow this for their other reporters and bloggers as well? (note to self: go check this on the NYT blogs, which seem to be getting all sorts of raves all over the place.)

What Jack doesn't know about is the The Daily Hampshire Gazette, a small local paper that is not only behind a pay wall, but isn't particularly hyperlinking to anyone. Than again, if you're a walled garden, what difference does Google make to who and how many readers you get daily? It still seems like an eventually self-defeating web business strategy to me...

However, in the case of big papers, they should always be working to raise their page rank as well as get eyeballs. And there are lots of ways of doing that...

So, while big papers like WaPo and NYT might eventually get that their automated links will turn both readers and Google away from them, and allow their reporters (not just bigtime columnists) to link out to sources, I wonder what might happen on the hyperlocal level? I bet if I did the research, I might find a local paper or two that has a decent link strategy--but that doesn't say much for our papers of record, who should be linking out to information as much, or more, than linking in or linking to junk.

Then again, it raises the question: what's the purpose of a newspaper anyway? To make sure democracy keeps going, or to serve up the coolest ads?

Makes me wonder....

4 comments:

Webomatica said...

What really bugs me is reading a newspaper article, online, that talks about a website and they can't even bother to hyperlink the text to that website!

Tish Grier said...

Yep...but what bugs me even more is when I write a blog post and forget to put the darned hyperlink in because I'm thinking "oh, I'll just put in all the links later!"

(can't believe I did that...but it's now corrected--very different from newspapers--where it's about not giving links to others, yadda-yadda-yadda)

Well, at least I'm not behind a pay wall ;-)

Danny Sanchez said...

We just got similar functionality over at OrlandoSentinel.com, and we've opted to block many generic locations such as state names. However, I am a fan of when it triggers links for items such as notable people, events and landmarks.

Tish Grier said...

Good point, Danny--and sounds like the O.S. has configured some judicious filtering on what gets linked and what doesn't. Links out to notables that you mentioned can be very helpful to giving a news story background or even "texture." thanks!