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.

Traffic

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
FT.com 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.

Correlation

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, FT.com

“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 FT.com, 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.