What you absolutely must know about linking before you launch an aggregator

by Jason Preston on September 23, 2008

Scott Karp stirred a few things up when he noted on the 15th that the Drudge Report beats out the New York Times and all other news sites for reader engagement.

While working at the Parnassus Group, I’ve talked to plenty of people who get it and plenty of people who don’t get it. The people who get it have been on the front page of Digg or seen their story hit the top of Google News or had a link from the Drudge Report.

The people who don’t get it don’t even know if they’ve been there or not. But slowly, they’re waking up to the fact that aggregating content can be a powerful way to drive traffic and ad revenue.

Pretty soon everyone is going to want to be the online portal for [insert topic here]. The Washington Post is launching a political aggregator as we speak.

But before you jump on the bandwagon, here’s what you absolutely need to know about linking.

Why do bloggers link?

If you’re going to jump headlong in the link ecosystem of the internet—especially if you’ve been trying your best to avoid it for some time—the first thing you should probably understand is why bloggers are so obsessed with linking the first place.

Speaking as a blogger (since 2001!), here are the top five reasons we love to link:

  1. Attention – other bloggers tend to notice when you link to them, and link love often begets link love, or at least brings new eyeballs to your site.
  2. Sharing – the very essence of blogging is to digitally tap your neighbor on the shoulder and go “hey, look at this!”
  3. Conversation – as a blogger, probably the only thing cooler than a comment is an inbound link from someone who disagrees with you. This is that “conversation” that everyone always talks about, and it can be a really big traffic win for both bloggers involved.
  4. Money – we like our affiliate revenue, and you should too. When you have an opportunity to make affiliate revenue on a product, you should take it. But make it company policy to include the link everywhere the product is mentioned (good or bad), and to always disclose the fact that it’s an affiliate link.
  5. Laziness – outbound links are a great substitute for additional work.

With that in mind, remember why you’re linking out, and make sure you’re ready for the conversation if it happens.

Abandon content at your own risk

Scott Karp would have us believe that the promised land (of news revenue) is only reachable by sending people away:

First, the top site has twice as many sessions per person. Second, the top site has nearly twice as much time spent per person. So users of this site find it indispensible, and they are highly engaged.

But the most important difference between the top site and all the other sites, is that this top site — Drudge — has nothing but LINKS.

That’s right folks. Drudge beats every original content news site by a two to one margin.

But I happen to think there’s a business model for online news, probably even a paid model through metering content. Content aggregation works very well for Google, but less well for Yahoo! and Microsoft.

It works great for Digg but less well for…oh right, Netscape.com was the only competitor for the same niche and they’re not around anymore.

It works great for the Techmeme but that’s a one-gorilla-jungle just like Digg.

Do you see a pattern here? Aggregation only makes sense if it helps the reader save time by not having to make the rounds on the hundreds or thousands of other news sites. If there are thousands of aggregators…well we’re back to the same problem now, aren’t we?

Building an aggregator will work well for the early adopters and the papers that can dominate their own niche (for many papers, this will mean a geographical niche), but aggregators have to point somewhere, and don’t forget that there are other ways to make money besides hoarding page views.

Note: I expanded my thoughts on this subject in another post: The other thing you must know before starting an aggregator.

If you’re enjoying Eat Sleep Publish, I’d suggest subscribing to the RSS feed to keep up with posts, or joining the E-mail list for a free mp3 recording of The Pitch.

{ 2 trackbacks }

The other thing you must know before starting an aggregator — Eat Sleep Publish
09.25.08 at 9:13 am
Blogging strategy: editorial aggregation. - Spanking New Media by Scott Jennings
09.29.08 at 8:32 am


1 Tracy @ WSB 09.23.08 at 9:42 am

I’d like to see a post (if you haven’t done one in the past) about best and worst practices for aggregators. The aggregators that scrape our content in a way that has it turn up on Google looking like it’s theirs (even if ours is indexed one line up) are just plain evil. There is one in particular which I’m not going to dignify by mentioning – I have complained to them repeatedly about this practice and told them that to be honorable, they need to switch the way their pages display, including browser title. Deaf ears. And they then had the gall to send me a note the other day declaring that I should be excited they are linking to our site in their new redesign. Uh, no thanks. (I answered that note reminding them I had complained and also requested we be taken out of their system if they didn’t care to honor my suggestion. Also no reply.) Best practice IMO: EveryBlock. If it links to one of our posts and its page turns up on Google, it’s CLEAR it’s an EveryBlock page. OK, off soapbox.

2 Jason Preston 09.23.08 at 10:36 am

Tracy – that’s a great post idea, thanks!

I’ve definitely run into my share of scrapers (I don’t call them aggregators) and at this point I’ve taken their existence as something that can’t be helped.

I think I’ll tackle that subject soon.

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