Three rules for self-linking

by Jason Preston on August 19, 2008

It’s no secret among bloggers that the mainstream media tend to be terrible about linking out from their articles even when those links would be enormously helpful to readers.

But the practice is spreading. Yesterday Tim O’Reilly called out TechCrunch for using CrunchBase as an intermediary to avoid linking out to other companies (and therefore external web properties).

While I’m sure that’s not the main reason CrunchBase was created, it probably occurred to Arrington as a benefit.

But as John Gruber points out, self-linking can be a very damaging strategy:

It’s a crummy practice, and in the long run, sites that succumb to this temptation are doing so at the expense of their credibility. Readers learn, remember, and resent when links on a certain site tend to be a waste of their time.

As a general guideline, your linking strategy should align with pointing users to the best possible value, regardless of where it is.

Ask yourself three questions

O’Reilly already proposed two basic guidelines for anyone deciding to frequently self-link. I think he relies to much on number of links (at least 50% outbound) and not enough on practicality, especially for big operations like the NYT.

Self-linking is a good strategy for web properties that rely on pageviews for revenue. It can improve your bounce rate (user time on site) and raise your brand engagement. There are tons of good reasons to self-link.

With that in mind, whenever you are linking to yourself, here are three questions you should ask:

  1. Is this the only article available? – if not, you’d better make sure nobody else has important information you’re missing.
  2. Does this link create a narrative? – one of the best user link-experiences can be successfully following an interesting narrative. Creating interconnected topics and linking them together is a great strategy.
  3. Is this an intermediary? – are you linking to a landing page or to the actual content? In other words, don’t link to the Digg page, link to the actual post.

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Self-linking and conflict of interest — Eat Sleep Publish
10.10.08 at 10:39 am

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