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September 12, 2007

Internal Linking On Some Tech Blogs Is Out of Control

It seems the more major bloggers tend to ask for the same rights, privileges and respect given traditional journalists, the more frequently I'm seeing some of them violate best practices for information sharing and news gathering. One major issue I see is that some of the most popular blogs, including Engadget and Mashable, prefer to lead readers deep into their archives rather than linking out to the true sources of the story.

What do I mean by this exactly?

In real-world journalism, a reporter impartially offers up the news, as well as balanced commentary from individuals involved, whether they be the subject of a story, witness, or interested party. All efforts are taken to introduce the reader to the source of the information. On the Web, a story on Apple's iPod would link to the Apple Web site or directly to the iPod page. But if you look at Engadget, a hyperlink you would expect to take you to Apple would instead either take you to a previous story about Apple, or to search results within Engadget on the term Apple.

And now it seems Mashable, one leading Web log which follows the hot tech news of the day, is taking the same approach, much to the detriment of readers - many of whom likely find themselves clicking first, and asking questions later.

For example, from tonight's story: "Obama On LinkedIn"

The reporter writes:

"Sen. Barack Obama now has a LinkedIn account. We all knew that Obama is making the most of Internet culture, launching his own social network, gaining a larger-than-life presence on MySpace, YouTube, and even Twitter. He’s at the top of his game, according to a recent Nielsen study. The only surprise about Obama’s LinkedIn account is how seemingly late it is."

Being a typical reader, I would expect the three links in this paragraph, to LinkedIn, Twitter and Nielsen, to take me to those services' respective sites, as my links do. But they don't. Instead, the links go to related prior stories from Mashable, in an effort to keep the reader locked into the site as long as possible, either to increase ad revenue, or to possibly make the reader think the site more valuable due its deep archives and previous history.

In June of this year, Yuvi Panda analyzed Engadget and found that more than 40% of all links from Engadget were back to itself, "about 25 times the number of links of it’s closest competitor (which incidentally happens to be EngadgetMobile, an offshoot of Engadget)." Engadget, an unquestioned leader in gadget and tech news, should feel confident enough to send readers off site and expect them to come back.

When I link internally, I introduce the link as a previous post, and when I link to Engadget, you'll know the link goes to Engadget, not a previous story I wrote on Engadget. I believe the practice of hotlinking keywords instead to internal stories is sneaky and doesn't serve readers who are looking for the true sources of information. I hope we see the practice's growth stop cold.

Update: Robert Scoble calls the practice "double linking", while Joe of SurfLizard proposes a new term for this practice: "masterblinking".