September 7th, 2007

Traditional Media Sites Should Link To Third-Party Content


Linking to third-party websites used to be anathema to the traditional media mindset — why would we send people AWAY? We want to keep (read: trap) them HERE. Attitudes began to change when an online media company that did nothing but send people away started making billions in advertising (i.e. Google).

Still, most media companies resist opportunities to link to other sites — which is particularly acute in instances when linking to other sites could create a lot of value for readers. Articles on the sites of most traditional media publishers still don’t contain inline links, as most blogs do, i.e. these articles conform to print publishing standards rather than web-native publishing standards. This is not surprising as the majority of traditional publishers still recycle all of their print content online (and why shouldn’t they — it’s great content that cost a lot to produce).

You can see evidence of attitudes changing in blogs that traditional publishers are running on their sites — these blogs are much more web-native in their approach to publishing, including the use of inline links to third-party sites. (Publishing 2.0, like most other blogs, contains links to third-party sites in nearly every post — and yet somehow people keep coming back to be sent away again to someplace interesting or useful.)

But reluctance to link out still abounds.

For example, I was checking out the Auto section because I recalled that they were using third-party content — and indeed, there is content from other sources, like J.D. Power and New Car Test Drive. Of course, the New York Times has deals that lets them host all of this third-party content, rather than link to it on the other publisher’s site.

What really jumped out at me, though, is an instance where New York Times missed an obvious opportunity to link to third-party sources. I looked up reviews for the 2007 Toyota Prius and found this message:

The New York Times Review is not yet available for the 2007 Toyota Prius. Click on the link below to view a full, detailed review for the 2007 Toyota Prius written by the automotive experts at New Car Test Drive.

So I clicked through for the New Car Test Drive review, but it turns out that they don’t have a review yet either. So instead, I found this:


Wow, I thought — the New York Times doesn’t have any content on this topic, so they created value by aggregating the best third-party content. That’s the way to go.

Intuitively, I went to click on the links for these other reviews…but there were no links.

In print, this aggregation of quotes would create a lot of reader value. But on the web, the failure to link to the sources is overtly hostile to users.

And that’s a shame, because the New York Times is missing a great opportunity — if they linked routinely to the best third-party cars reviews, they would actually REINFORCE the value of NYT Auto as a DESTINATION. This is completely counterintuitive to the traditional media mindset, but it makes perfect sense on the web.

The problem that most traditional publishers have is that they see aggregation of third-party content as being in conflict with the distribution of their own original content. In fact, aggregating links to third-party content is highly COMPLEMENTARY to publishing original content.

Traditional publishers need to stop applying monopoly distribution thinking to web publishing. On the web, the more you direct people to other useful nodes on the network, the more they will keep coming back to your node as a starting point.

Just ask Google.

  • This is a GREAT article, and exactly what I've been trying to put into words for my current client. Bravo!

  • Dhyana Sansoucie

    What's missing here is the realization that for many newspapers, it's the extra work and understaffing that's the issue, not an intentional decision to not link to other sites. They just don't have the resources yet on the online side to do this consistently, so it's the special local projects that get the extra attention.

  • Rich Gordon

    For more on the importance of linking out, and the reasons to do it, you might want to read something I wrote recently:

  • Yes Scott, this is something which has been anathema - but it has to change. It changes based on one simple understanding - you put the community (of interest/purpose) first.
    A community wants the information that suits its needs best - no matter which source it comes from.
    That community should also then rate which of that stream of information from all sources is best.
    Few traditional media brands are brave enough to apply this.
    But you have to ask, what don't they want to learn from the process?

    I posted "A blank sheet of paper approach would open our eyes to simple facts such as:

    * The best content for the community is welcome - be it our own, rival media brand owners', or user generated content.
    * The community should judge which content gets highest prominence - and which gets booted into touch.
    * Groups should be allowed to form which set their own parameters for what equals interesting and 'good'.

    This requires some bravery on the part of the media brand owner. It means that only if our own content is good enough/a good enough fit with the community will it score the highest ratings and get top billing.

    But what would you not want to learn from this?"

    It's all gathered up in a white paper now: http://fasterfuture.blogspot.c...

  • Mark puts it well. If you give your customer what he wants (even if it isn't on your site) he'll come back to you because he knows you put him first.

    If you try to keep him but don't give him what he wants, he'll go somewhere where he will get what he wants. ... and not come back to you because he knows you'll try to play him.

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