September 13, 2007

Backlink Backlash Could Bring Forth Change

My post-midnight ramblings on the questionable practice of overly relying on internal links certainly hit a nerve in the blogosphere, drawing attention from all corners, as we saw comments from Ryan Block at Engadget and Robert Scoble of Scobleizer, while representatives of TechCrunch and Gawker Media also weighed in on whether or not they found issues with the rapidly-growing model of preferring links to their own blog as opposed to the outside world.

Some reactions:

Surflizard: Sneaky Links
"The key to reading Engadget is to know that only the last link in a post is usually relevant to the post’s subject, and every other link is usually self-referencing spam."

Kent Newsome: Evening Reading: 9/12/07
"The problem, of course, comes down to the prospect of money. Rather than double linking, I'd call it double ad-serving. I'd love to know the average duration of those internal link page views."

The Last Podcast: Internal/Double Linking is a Bad Practice
"I am glad others are picking up on this, as it is annoying the heck out of me and keeps me from enjoying some of the best blogs out there."

Ryan Block of Engadget did a great job illustrating why Engadget favors self-referential links over external links. He notes that stories that reference other sources do contain an external link at the conclusion of the story, but he disagreed with my belief that tags should lead to referenced companies instead of prior coverage. In a post he titled On backlinking (or “internal linking”), he said:
"At Engadget, our MO is to offer a compressed, editorialized edition of technology news. Sometimes we can go as long (or longer) as any big-name newspaper on an important story, but because we do (and must!) have greater respect for our readers’ intelligence and attention, generally speaking we expect them to understand the jist of what we’re talking about when we start to geek out."

Essentially, he said Engadget readers already know the URLs for companies like Apple, Google, or Microsoft's XBox, so to link their way wouldn't add much value. Fair enough. But he did say the site will reevaluate their frequency for backlinking, adding, "I’m sure we could use additional fine tuning in what and how often we backlink, which I’ll be evaluating closer starting today."

His comments mirrored those from Mark Hendrickson of TechCrunch, who wrote in a comment on this blog, "We often link to CrunchBase pages rather than company websites because we think that our company profiles often give readers better corporate overviews than they would get by going straight to company websites," adding, "We do realize that many readers find this linking behavior undesirable, so we are actively looking into ways we can refer to both corporate websites and CrunchBase pages from the main blog."

Elsewhere, Nick Denton of Gawker Media wrote that the network has recently changed how they handle internal links versus external links, writing, "We have changed the style of internal tag links. They are no longer underlined. So the emphasis is on the external links, but regular readers know they can get background on a name or a product by clicking the text."

In 24 hours, we got an excellent cross-section of some of the tech blogosphere's most influential and most respected blogs. With the exception of Mashable, all sites I referenced, or commenters referenced, provided reason and updates as to why they operate the way they do.
(UPDATE: Mashable checked in this morning, saying "We have a verbal policy that the first link should go to the site in question, so that one is human error," and "I can guarantee that we'll try to avoid the LinkedIn type screnarios. As for linking to reference material...possibly we'll find a way to offer the user a choice.")

That's why, even when I see things that raise my eyebrows, I have faith in the direction blogs are going, and how we can continue to enable conversations. It should be interesting to watch and see how after the post ran through the Scoble/TechMeme gauntlet, if we see changes.