Why external links are the only realistic answer

There’s been some discussion on the practice of linking internally within a site, kicked off by this piece by Tim O’Reilly, and spreading to places like JP Rangaswami’s Confused of Calcutta. JP references the Cluetrain, and the idea that links subvert hierarchies, and break the broadcast model and walled garden approach.

Which is entirely true.

But I think there’s more we need to understand before we can cure the problem of non-linking or just internal linking, and I think some of it is down to ideas which are rooted deeper than even traditional publishing.

I think some of it is down to ambition and desire. There’s an interesting passage in the Michael Moore book, Stupid White Men, where Moore explains the lack of taxation and control of the rich in the U.S. as a product of ‘The American Dream’. The majority of people don’t want to heavily tax and control the top 5%, because the American Dream tells everyone that they can make it, with just the right amount of hard work and luck. And who wants to restrict their dream life before they’ve even got there.

Of course, it’s incredibly hard to accumulate that kind of wealth – Moore points to Europe as having a more realistic approach where people generally want to achieve a comfortable life, rather than one of incredible wealth. And while that may be a huge generalisation, the fact there’s a Swedish word, ‘lagom‘, which is used to sum up the culture and approach as being ‘just enough’ suggests there’s some basis in fact.

And the same division applies to websites.

If you believe you can cover everything on a topic, or that’s your ambition, then you’ll think internal linking is enough. Wikipedia limits or deletes external links (particularly to commercial organisations) – yet I know for a fact that thousands of people happily follow those links for more information every single day.

And unless you’re one of the big 1% of websites that can match Wikipedia, or the BBC, or even established names in relative niches like Techcrunch and Robert Scoble, you need to re-assess where your aims are taking you. It’s not impossible to become one of the top five tech bloggers in the world, but it’s highly, highly unlikely.

The best thing to do is to be realistic and accept that unless you’ve got a lot of backing, a lot of time, or are incredibly lucky, then you’re not going to become an overnight millionaire – and whatever success you have will take a lot of work. That means you won’t be able to quit your day job, or spend all your time organising a crowd-sourced army of contributors. So you have to be realistic about it, go with the strengths you offer in particular, and link to the rest.

Hence why I’d recommend some highly qualified people to talk about link journalism, like Scott Karp or Jay Rosen. And there’s the more grass roots approach of Pat Thornton (no relation). And there’s more on how journalism and publishing can save itself by linking and changing it’s aims from Howard Owens.

These ideas apply whether you’re an individual blogging alone, or a Mega News Corp, or anywhere in between.

There’s a great Stowe Boyd quote:

“I am made greater by the sum of my connections, so are my connections.”

So make yourself great by making relevant connections. Google will reward you for it, your readers will see you as a filter for all relevant knowledge rather than an annoyance when they have to search for the context of what you’re written, and the world will be a far better place.

Comments

  1. As a practical matter, your page rank improves if you link externally.

    And I read somewhere (where?) that comments reduce your pagerank so you should move some popular posts to pages – don’t understand that fully.

    As far a I figure it, outgoing links give you pagerank and your comments on other blogs give you traffic.

    Does that make sense?

  2. As a practical matter, your page rank improves if you link externally.

    And I read somewhere (where?) that comments reduce your pagerank so you should move some popular posts to pages – don’t understand that fully.

    As far a I figure it, outgoing links give you pagerank and your comments on other blogs give you traffic.

    Does that make sense?

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