It Ain't The Link, It's What You Do With The Traffic

from the sigh dept

A media consultant, Arnon Mishkin, has a post up at Paid Content supposedly about The Fallacy Of The Link Economy, where he suggests that those of us (he links to us at Techdirt, for example) who are insisting that aggregators aren’t a problem and that news sites should be happy about getting linked to, are wrong. But he seems to have gotten the basic argument wrong. He seems to think we’re saying that the all you have to do is get linked to, and you should be happy.

But that’s not what we’re saying.

The link is a vote of confidence, but it’s just a start. From there, you then need to actually do something with that link. Mishkin dismisses the value of the link by noting that most people who visit those aggregator sites don’t click through. That’s not news. That’s the way it’s always been, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value there. On this, I can speak from personal experience. Over the years, we never worked that hard at building our own traffic (we never built a business that depended on traffic), but our traffic kept growing. Any time we were linked to from larger sites, some people clicked through, but we always knew it was a small fraction of the overall traffic to that originator site. But, so what? It’s still new traffic that wouldn’t have found us otherwise. On top of that, we knew that most of that traffic would visit us just that one time and not think to come back — but again, that’s fine. Because what did happen is that we started to build up our reputation.

So, no, getting a single site to link to you isn’t that meaningful, and won’t drive that much traffic initially (or even repeat traffic), but as you build up your reputation, and get linked multiple times in multiple places, and then build up credibility based on your content and your community then people start to come back. So, getting linked from a certain site once is meaningless. But as we would get linked multiple times, we’d start to notice that then our traffic would increase. It was a case of that other site helping introduce others to us, not because of a single link, but the combination of being linked to multiple times, along with having good content and good discussions — and then people would realize that it was worth visting us regularly (or adding us to their RSS reader or whatever).

It’s an ongoing process, but the fact that most people don’t click through on a single aggregator link is meaningless. Those people wouldn’t have seen the story anyway, but it may help build up the brand of the original site. And, I can assure you, over time, if you keep providing quality, that pays off.

The problem here is that Mishkin and others seem to think the value is in the single atomic story. It’s not and never has been. Being unable to view the larger picture and the overall process misses the point. It’s not the link alone that has value or the story alone that has value, but the overall process of building a community.

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Comments on “It Ain't The Link, It's What You Do With The Traffic”

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14 Comments
Joe (profile) says:

Exactly

I found this site linked numerous times from other sources, found the articles well written and with a lot of thought. The community discussions are generally intelligent, and eventually became a regular.

The point Mike makes in this post is exactly what the AP, etc. don’t seem to grasp. I dare say this is one of the best posts I’ve read here simply because it so clearly explains the linking culture mentallity.

Anonymoose says:

I have to echo my anonymous friend above — my first visit to Techdirt was because of a link in a post made by someone who’s opinions I value – and I found the content to be smart, the topics relevant, and the community and comments to be thoughtful and value add.. Been a daily regular ever since. Have even thrown a few clients this way when they were seeking outside consultation on a few issues.

Simple chain, but the link itself wasn’t the value; it was the connection, and all that implies.

some old guy (user link) says:

I got your link...

I am a regular cause I found your site on igoogles widgets… altho I killed off all the other crappy news feeds I had on igoogle, I cant get rid of this one. It’s an important reed for me.

It wasnt the fact that google linked to you. They linked to alot of sites.

It was that I saw your content, and knew I wanted to keep up with it.

The initial exposure was important. But of far greater importance was the inherent value of your site.

Ilfar says:

Re: I got your link...

Exactly the same thing here, the iGoogle widget was the only news feed that had stuff I was interested in, AND had a site that was usable on a low bandwidth setup.

Being able to read the articles and comment without ever needing an account is great too. I hate doing that, I just stop using a site if it requires me to register an account for anything I do.

Jerry Leichter (profile) says:

Following the logic through..

then advertising is a waste of money. Having a Yellow Pages listing is a waste of money. Those movie previews? A waste of money. Getting the name of your business mentioned positively in the newspaper? Theft by the newspaper.

In all these cases, you’re *giving away* some of your value without being compensated for it. And only a tiny minority of those who view your ads, or your Yellow Pages listing, or the preview, or the paper, will actually end up being customers. Those aggregators owe you for that!

xzorter (profile) says:

hard work

Yes, It’s the same with building any business.You have to chip away at your potential customers.Here a little, there a little, always honest ,persistent,creative !There are no shortcuts, most all successful individuals have a few things in common.They work there butts off, and then they work some more !The ones who are honest, and Love people , rise to the top, over the long haul.

Jack says:

True, with conditions

All that the OP and commentators say above is true for the most part. But, some aggregators are abusive in that they scrape not just the headline, but large parts, often more than half of the linked to article or post. See for example Mark Thoma’s “Economist’s View” (http://economistsview.typepad.com/), who reprints so much of a piece that there is little or no need to click through. If this kind of thing were to become widespread, then the OP’s arguments would lose a lot of their force. Fortunately, most bloggers are, unlike Thoma, honorable people with some notion of journalistic ethics.

Mike (user link) says:

Re: True, with conditions

All that the OP and commentators say above is true for the most part. But, some aggregators are abusive in that they scrape not just the headline, but large parts, often more than half of the linked to article or post. See for example Mark Thoma’s “Economist’s View” (http://economistsview.typepad.com/), who reprints so much of a piece that there is little or no need to click through. If this kind of thing were to become widespread, then the OP’s arguments would lose a lot of their force. Fortunately, most bloggers are, unlike Thoma, honorable people with some notion of journalistic ethics.

I don’t see what’s wrong with what Thoma is doing. It’s a great way to introduce people to the sources he reads, and if people consistently like some of them, they’re likely to then go and start following them directly.

mike (profile) says:

why not??...

People click into an aggregated link and usually return to the prior page to look for more aggregated links….

why don’t sites simply check WHERE the person came from….and as well as showing the main story, they can link to other relevant stories they also have, thus keeping visitors on their own site?
i.e. if you just came from techdirt, make sure to have plenty of copyright/legal type things to visit…if you came from fark.com make sure you have weird/freaky news stories at the side, even though the MAIN story remains the same….

What news sites fail to grasp is that you can have the same story, but surrounded with completely different (contextual) information based on the user…and no I don’t mean ads….

Rosedale (profile) says:

How I found Techdirt

So way back when I used to frequent slashdot. It was the best, especially before wide spread use of RSS. From time to time, probably not all that often, techdirt would be mentioned or an article that linked to techdirt was mentioned. I don’t remember how many times I clicked through, but eventually I figured out that the topics covered here were near and dear to my heart. So instead of relying on Slashdot I started coming right to the source. It was the same process for Ars Technica. They kept getting linked and every time I liked what they have to say. Actually now I don’t really ever go to slashdot because I kept finding that everything they had to say was either a link to sites I already went to or I found out the information from another source. So in my story the aggregator got surpassed by the actual information.

Josh (profile) says:

Re: How I found Techdirt

Exactly my experience. Like many other previous commenters, the story is exactly how I found Techdirt. Linked to from somewhere else, but once I was here, I stayed because the content here is personally relevant to me.

It’s been long enough ago that I don’t remember what site linked me to Techdirt, and I may not even read that particular site any longer, but I read Techdirt every day.

I read through many of the posts on places such as Wired and Gizmodo most days as well, and follow the link in those stories. However, it is rare that I’ll go back to any of those linked sites unless I find what the site offers compelling to me beyond that one story. If I do find that I’m consistently going back to a particular site, I bookmark it or grab the RSS feed and go to that site first before I head to any of the aggregator type sites.

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