How Good Is The Mainstream Media At Linking Out?

The mainstream media has come under fire many times in the past for failing to link out to sources from their stories. However the problem isn’t with the entire industry and it’s wrong to make generalisations when a good number of online news websites are very good at crediting sources with the appropriate link.


Some websites have adopted a half hearted approach of linking to lots of websites, but only from blog posts – the main articles in the site only contain internal links.

We believe that linking to useful websites doesn’t “leak” traffic – quite the opposite in fact. Offering useful links actually makes visitors more likely to return to see what other interesting websites they might find in the future, a model that sites such as Digg and Fark are built around.

Of course as a blogger it’s sometimes hard to appreciate the fact that mainstream media websites are, with the exception of the BBC, business entities with shareholders and an obligation to maximise profits. It’s understandable that they are reluctant to send valuable page views elsewhere. We spent some time researching the issue to see if there was a correlation between the frequency a site links out and the number of links it gets in return.

The results below might just surprise you.

Links out Links
Newspaper Main stories Blog posts Domain Strength Incoming Outgoing
The BBC Links out Links out 99% 29,629,082 1,730,000
CNN Doesn't link out Links out 99% 18,415,777 970,000
The New York Times Links out Links out 88% 25,667,372 1,940,000
Washington Post Doesn't link out Links out 97% 15,114,877 1,600,000
Wall Street Journal Doesn't link out Links out 87% 14,421,388 722,000
Reuters Doesn't link out Links out 98% 11,986,781 729,000
USA Today Doesn't link out Links out 99% 11,867,676 1,080,000
The Guardian Doesn't link out Links out 97% 9,968,336 1,360,000
CBS News Doesn't link out Links out 92% 7,862,887 254,000
LA Times Doesn't link out Links out 97% 7,038,634 474,000
Fox News Doesn't link out Links out 92% 5,980,262 275,000
The Times Doesn't link out Links out 83% 5,434,310 357,000
Time Doesn't link out Links out 88% 4,121,583 144,000
Telegraph Doesn't link out Links out 93% 3,995,969 330,000
The Independent Doesn't link out Links out 97% 3,709,030 1,460,000 Doesn't link out Links out 96% 3,667,889 169,000
Daily Mail Doesn't link out Links out 83% 3,233,951 12,600
Forbes Doesn't link out Links out 92% 3,087,518 226,000
Business Week Doesn't link out Links out 90% 2,452,153 211,000
The Sun Doesn't link out Doesn't link out 88% 1,001,791 16,800
The Mirror Links out Links out 78% 552,930 196,000
Metro Links out Links out 74% 408,462 60,700
The Daily Express Doesn't link out Doesn't link out 60% 183,570 14,500
The News Of The World Doesn't link out Doesn't link out 60% 164,586 3,960
The Daily Star Doesn't link out Doesn't link out 58% 94,804 878
The Sunday Mail Doesn't link out Doesn't link out 48% 31,356 337

By entering all the incoming and outgoing link values from the table above into an Excel spreadsheet we used the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient to determine whether there was in fact a correlation between the number of times a website links out and the number of links it gets back in return.


The resulting figure of 0.842733801 shows that in general there is a strong relationship between news websites linking out and getting links in return.

Comments from the media

In order to make sure this article was as balanced as possible we contacted a number of mainstream newspapers to ask what their linking policy was. The responses are below.

It appears that a number of newspapers have a policy of linking out, but in practice this doesn’t always happen for many reasons.

Tom Happold, Network editor Guardian Unlimited

“It has always been our policy to point our readers to whatever we think is of interest on the web.”

James Montgomery Editor,

“What I can say, regarding attribution by the FT to non-FT sources, is that one needs a clear distinction between “attribution” and “sourcing”, journalistically speaking. Citing a non-FT source would not, generally speaking, meet the FT’s required standards of verification. (Just because something is reported by the New York Times, say, doesn’t make it true, however much we implicitly believe what we read in that newspaper – we have to check for ourselves.)

Obviously, we are more inclined to believe some sources (Reuters) than others (chat rooms). Many blogs might be regarded as inherently unreliable because they don’t reveal their sources or uphold traditional journalistic/MSM standards of reporting (eg, double sourcing, on the record or whatever). But there is nothing intrinsically untrustworthy about blogs as a genre.

So when it comes to linking out on, a link does not constitute sourcing for us. But as a general rule, if we do acknowledge some third party content, then best practice would be to carry a link to it.

For example, if we write: “Yesterday’s statement by the prime minister appeared to represent a climbdown from an interview to the BBC last week in which he pledged….”, then we would link “interview” to the BBC article. That’s a service to the reader, who may want to follow the link to learn more; and a confirmation that we have accurately reported the earlier quote.

Do we also live up to this best practice? No, because of some technology issues to do with persistent hyperlinks in text in our CMS, and newsroom training. But we are improving.

Last, and this is probably what you really want to know, when do we acknowledge third-party content? This is tricky – lots of facts/information/articles written in the FT, or any other publication for that matter, existed earlier somewhere else. But so what? That doesn’t mean we have to credit every snippet of information to another publisher. We do “hat tip” our competition, in print or online, for a genuine clean scoop; and best practice would therefore require a link.”

Drew Broomhall – Search Editor, Times Online

“Times Online has a policy of linking out to third party sites where editorially appropriate, such as products, organisations, reports etc mentioned in articles. Some sections do more than others, it depends on the section’s editor. Our outbound link count might even have been higher before the relaunch, a lot of links were lost due to html being stripped out of inline links when they migrated to a new CMS.”

Credits: Mark Woodbury, Trifecta Tool Set, Yahoo Site Explorer and Live Search.

Posted in Link Building News By David Eaves a UK search engine optimisation specialist.

49 thoughts on “How Good Is The Mainstream Media At Linking Out?

  1. This is an excellent post. Like the graphics you setup to show who links (and does not link out). Also looks as though it may be better to focus on getting mentioned (and linked) from big media blogs vs. the traditional news channel.

  2. Great stuff… really useful.

    I’d add one caveat: there’s more to linking out than the link existing. The link also has to be put in a place where it is most useful and relevent such that it adds most value to the user.

    By way of example, I get very frustrated that hides external links in the RH column – even when external links are the core of the story, they’re never in the body text. The BBC really has no excuse – it’s part of the explicit role of the BBC’s website to act as a trusted guide to the Web…

    Despite needing to make money in order to survive, The Guardian is much better behaved wrt external links: on they frequently put relevent external links directly on the homepage, as well as in the stories.

  3. This is such a great post – thanks for thinking of the concept and putting it together.

    Its also great to see that the mainstream media is actually starting to link out. I worked for a pretty big media brand several years ago, and we could only link to other pages within our company sites – supposedly because we didn’t want to send users to pages where we couldn’t control the content. Nice link hoarding policy on the company’s part!

  4. I think that what it comes down to is that media sites need to put the work in to get to grips with the diversity in blogs.

    I’m not absolutely convinced by your numbers, since I think you may not be taking account of – for example – that media sites usually preserve links for a long time (the BBC and Guardian are full of links more than 5 years old) while smaller sites they linked out to are more likely to have gone. That would reduce the “inbound” links and go against your hypothesis.

    OTOH the Independent broke all the links to their news section when they redesigned 6 months ago.

    I may post in response – but good investigation.


  5. There’s quite a contrast here, compared with bloggers. We stopped linking to big media sites (by default) recently because:

    a) the favour is very rarely returned
    b) it’s not brilliant for Google
    c) there are no commerical incentives for us to do so
    d) we’re not obliged to link

    I agree that the Guardian is one of the more forward-thinking sites in terms of outbound links, within the body text.

  6. Hey,

    pretty interesting research!

    Did you take into account that the engine is not the most accurate one, especially when doing the linkfromdomain command for “smaller” sites ?

    we’ve done quite a lot of work with the command in our Authority Link research tool recently

    I could imagine the DailyStar or Sundaymail at the bottom of your table simple got the low linkouts simply due to MS doing a bad job with their engine and Yahoo and Google not offering anything comparable


  7. Thanks for this great bit of research!

    I was just wondering – do you control for the number of pages in each site? Otherwise, it could simply mean that websites with more pages have more links and get more links (kind of what Matt Wardman was saying), with no correlation between the in- and outbound links per page.

  8. Hi Nicolas, there are other factors like: sites that produce more content, link out more get more and get more links in return. But that still means that they are linking out more. The Guardian is the best proof. They are a great example, they link out professionally and they get rewarded in return.

  9. Very intersting that there are correlations here – there will of course be other measurables at play which will have a big impact as well, but that would need to be the subject of a really big study I guess.

  10. Rand F has made more general musings on linking out too.

    Since most of my work comes from promotional and e-commerce sites my view is one of keeping the juice flowing internally. I follow a strict code of nofollow on most external links.

    I think much of the benefit of linking out is really in the numbers. The bigger the number of outgoing links the bigger the benefit. Smaller to medium sized sites should really steer clear of it in my opinion.

  11. Ofcorse if the outgoing link has some real value in it, It will be beneficial fir you too. Plus if you are giving some real value links to people than why won’t they come back to your site?

  12. So much has this changed in the few years, what were the figures before, how much did these news site point out. I mean I dont link to them and would not think of it, I would much rather link to a great blog. Its simple you dont link to us, we wont link to you. And their are millions of bloggers, we are the people that that sell your advertising too.

  13. Its also great to see that the mainstream media is actually starting to link out. So much has this changed in the few years, what were the figures before, how much did these news site point out.


  14. Mainstream media is very strict while linking to other sources of news,events,etc. They apply very strict rules to qualify for linking. But I think they should become more liberal to good websites, because if a reader finds some interesting link in media site, s/he will definitely come back for these type of more links. It will create more trust in readers. Passing a value to quality sites can never harm any site.

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