Linking Abuse Or Linking Awareness

Blogcatalog Members today are collectively blogging about abuse.

Bloggers Unite

I thought of blogging about all kinds of abuse that affect real people day in, day out, but decided that ultimately that doesn’t fit in with my audience, or really add any authority to the words I would be writing.

As it happens, today part of a 2 hour interview with me was published in the Guardian (Digg Story you know you want to). I honestly didn’t expect any more words in print from the article, because it was so wide ranging, and such an article gains authority by citing multiple sources.

Some things were however a little disappointing, and I thought I would cover that initially, and then add to the end some points.

The Press Doesn’t Handle Linking Well

This comes down to 3 different situations which I will cover briefly

1. Linking To Sources Where Possible

This is for a situation where someone actively played a role and was mentioned in the story. As an example they gave a short or long interview.
In the Guardian article for some reason I didn’t get a link. I am not a blackhat or bad neighbourhood, and I think I made a large contribution to the story. The few paragraphs on paper is the result of a 2 hour telephone conversation.

I know there isn’t really a legal obligation to link to me, but the contact came about because of my online presence and blogging in various ways, and how can I prove that the Andy Beard in the article was in fact me without the link? (yes I might one day like to be in Wikipedia)

2. Linking To Junk Without Nofollow

The tone of the article suggests that Danny Bradbury didn’t really approve of some of the worst MFA sites, yet they received links as a pointer so readers could see for themselves. Unfortunately, the links did not use rel=”nofollow” (known in SEO circles as a “link condom) which was introduced 2 1/2 years ago to fight comment spam, but since then is recommended by Google to use on links to untrusted sources, spam sites etc.

Those sites linked to could most likely rank better in search results now, compared to other content – it is not for me to judge whether in the eyes of the author that was his intent, but that is the effect.

3. Reusing Other People’s Content Without Link Attribution

The press sometimes also regurgitate other people’s quality content without any useful attribution, though they might rewrite the content by hand. I am not a lawyer, but in my opinion that is still stealing traffic and search results by repurposing and replacing an original work with their own.

In this particular case with the Museum of Hoaxes the museum missed out on a massive front page story on Digg, which can lead to lots of links. Social media sites want to vote on the original article, and not something which is a cut down rewritten version, but without a link, who is to know.

Invisible Links in Plain Sight

This is really a separate section of the article, but is still regarding linking. I don’t regard this as in any way abusive, it is strategic.

Whilst Matt Cutts worries about hidden links the same as or very similar to the background colour, such that they can’t actually be seen by a human, there is another kind of hidden link, or invisible link.

Here is an example taken from Dana’s excellent rules of social media, which she learnt in kindergarten.

Fair Play Hidden Links

Could you see the links? Didn’t think so… well here they are a little more visible.

Fair Play Hideen Links 2

The links are now underlined, but they are not hidden, so they might receive some clicks. It should be noted that many people are reading your content, especially on large blogs, in an RSS reader.
That does however depend on the source of the traffic – if traffic is from a social media site such as Digg, Stumbleupon, Reddit, Propeller, or Sphinn, then the visitors will see the content on the page.
You need to determine why you have the links on the page, and how you want your readers to interact with the links.

Here are some more “click happy” alternatives

Classic Blue Text

The classic blue encourages readers to click, which is why it is also so highly recommended for blending Adsense to increase CTR.

Glaring Red

Red links are becoming a lot more popular in blogging circles, popularised by Copyblogger and Problogger.

There Is No Quick Fix

The press and bloggers really need to be aware of how they link and attribute. If you are giving a link to someone, think about how that link can best benefit them.

Take another look at the article on the Guardian (and possibly give it a Digg), I have emailed them hoping they will adjust the article so that is is more link friendly and unfriendly where a link might have to have a “link condom“.

Linking Awareness is what is required to avoid linking mistakes

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Comments

  1. says

    Interesting article Andy, although it does make you sound like a bit of an MFA spammer, I felt. They should have chucked in a link to you, though.

    Funnily enough, just yesterday in another piece in the Gruaniad:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/sep/27/guardianweeklytechnologysection.mobilephones

    There are no links to their sources and seventh paragraph could very well have been collated from a few searches of my blog…

    The question I really have, though, is how do you become sufficient of an authority (for whatever definition we take of that) and get the press to ask you for interviews? I’d love to be asked, but barring Al Jazeera asking me to do a video blog on Japan, I’ve heard nothing. Actually, perhaps that is one answer to my question; if I’d taken that offer I could have got more?

    • says

      Ken I am not sure whether I was given a specific referral or that a link was followed from the PPP site and PPP was what I was expecting the interview to be about.
      However after I heard the background, I realised that this wasn’t really about PPP and I needed to “fill in the chasm” of information in between.

      This isn’t the first time I have been in the press, but it is regarding things to do with SEO. Previous times have been related to the computer games industry.

  2. says

    Wow, really makes you think about the two hours you spent. I did notice the unfortunate wording they used in addition to the lack of link. “maintains links” seems a poor choice considering the topic. I hope they do get back to you and throw a link your way considering the amount of traffic your name is bringing them!

    Then again, maybe they’ll be seen as a bad neighborhood considering where their links are pointing!

    As for the rest of the story…thanks for the link :) What an appropriate section for this particular post! I’m still in a CSS transition period until I can get a few hours to really get things straightened out.

    Now, the links are much brighter blue, but not underlined. I think this is a weekend project. I kind of like the red ones though. I might just end up with rainbow colored, underlined flashing links with a little autoplay on hover audio file that says click me, I’m a link ;)

  3. says

    Would not having the underline for links be a less than good practise? I just wondered about the aesthetics of it. Then again, I guess the latter should be less important than making sure people knew where the links were and helping others be heard.

  4. says

    Andy

    I think it’s pretty poor form not giving you a link.

    In general, I think mainstream media are probably concerned about sending traffic off their site. What they don’t realise is that the readers begrudge having to ferret out the content – when it could have so easily been linked to.

    • says

      There is a chance the link was in there, as during the interview I did mention I always appreciated the Guardian because they link to sources.
      Who knows maybe the editor thought the reference suggested I was a bad boy and shouldn’t be linked to.

  5. says

    I don’t know Andy…I don’t necessarily think that they should link unless they are using a particular post that is relevant to the story.

    After all, if I was doing an interview for an article about pets, would it be necessary for them to link to my site on affiliate marketing? I am not taking their side but can understand why they didn’t bother with a link. If they had quoted you, I would think that that would definitely warrant a link.

    Also, did you give them a place to possibly link to? Perhaps it would have been much easier for them to have placed, “Andy Beard, owner of…” kind of link to reference your site.

    I imagine that the print media look at things alot different than most of us who live and breathe the internet. For instance, if I was going to be interviewed for a story for my local paper, the chances of them mentioning anything at all other than my name (what I do for a living, where I work, ect.) is pretty much slim to say the least.

    • says

      Leo it is complicated, and I suppose if it was a 10 minute phone call I might not have worried about it at all.

      You might like this article on the subject of press phone calls

      It wasn’t an email conversation, so it was impossible to structure a response in such a way, though I did provide a number of supporting documents after the phone call.

      I haven’t actually seen a printed copy, I will get to see one when I get to the UK tomorrow, but the UK press often includes URLs in the print edition as well, albeit using tinyURL.

      If I was looking to build up my “credentials” as a speaker, I suppose there is some rudimentary value in gaining press quotations. As I mentioned, the only real value to me is to eventually be “notable” enough for Wikipedia… big deal.

      You might also like this post by Michael (he is a Chiropractor)

      When someone is a professional, their time is money, and the biggest value in press attention at least until they become a big name is the potential for traffic and links.
      I had 2 search visitors in the last 22 hours who used the term “Andy Beard” – that is actually less than normal – a typical day is 4 or 5

    • says

      First time I come across this post. I think they should CERTAINLY have linked to Andy. He was a major source of information for the article. He deserves the credit and, thus, the link.

  6. says

    all the points you talk about are daily fights for all of us bloggers, but I guess more and more people is behaving properly about linking ok and so on, however I still find my content in other blogs without even a mention :-(

  7. says

    I’ve worked in the newspaper and magazine business for decades, and in web news publishing since 1994.

    I’d say the Guardian is quite progressive in its use of relevant contextual links, even though you were shut out in this case. Europe has long been ahead of the U.S. in connecting print and online.

    Print operations and their web sites always are in competition with other publications, of course — in big cities “newspaper wars” are the rule. The mentality is always offense/defense. That’s why so few link to other sites in the context of news.

    It took me several years to convince my publishers that linking was a good thing. The suits had a lot of trouble grasping that. Why would we send people to other web sites? We want them to stay here and view our ads. That sort of thing. When I told them we should link to direct competitors, they freaked.

    The AP has loosened up a good bit, but major U.S. newspapers almost never link out except in listings, “service” stories and the like.

    Expecting newspaper web sites to be savvy enough to use “nofollow” in a just fashion is really hoping for a lot. Unfortunately.

    Copyright law goes like this: You can copyright the presentation of facts, but not the facts. Lowlifes can rewrite as they please.

  8. says

    Hi there Andy. Sorry that you were disappointed with the linking strategy in the article. I hoped that you largely liked the content, though.

    I don’t recall you explicitly asking me for a link, (and if you did, and I forgot, then I apologise for not suggesting it to the editor – I had an awful lot to juggle with this story). The lack of a link certainly wasn’t an attempt to single you out as any sort of online villain, and I didn’t put down the phone with that impression of you.

    The final decision on whether a link is included is out of my hands, and so is the format, and whether to include any nofollow tags. Overall editors, or perhaps even production editors or web editors, decide that stuff. I just research and write the text. Coming from a print background, I tend to focus on the content of the copy rather than underlying links. As a freelancer, I’m quite a few stages removed from the final feature on the web or the page.

    I didn’t provide any links at all in the raw copy, and looking at the story online, it seems as if the Guardian took anything that looked like a URL in the original copy and hyperlinked it, which is a reasonable approach on their part. I was talking to you about general PLR and other issues, rather than referring specifically to your site, and so it wasn’t mentioned in URL format. I’m assuming that’s why it didn’t get linked.

    I also don’t think that you should underestimate the value of simply having your name in the paper. I imagine that for those interested in Internet marketing, the impetus is to get as many people to the site as possible, via the simplest means available. But from a journalist’s perspective, the main goal is to increase public understanding.

    The people that really want to find out more about you simply have to search. As I’d expect, given your expertise, you come out top in the Google Results.

    @Ken-Y-N & @Neil Hart: I certainly didn’t mean to make Andy sound that way at all. In fact, I came away with a far more positive interpretation of him than the neutral one I went into the interview with. Andy specifically mentioned that he spoke to the blackhats in the SEO world and emphasised that they were a gentlemanly lot. I took this on board when I was writing the article.

    @Meg: I don’t think media are worried in general about sending traffic away from their sites. Scoble summed it up a while back IIRC, saying that your site is more valuable, rather than less, the linkier it becomes. I don’t see an organised anti-linking movement in the media. Some publications are actually starting to ask me to provide links along with stories, and I’m doing that for those that ask, but they’re few and far between, even now. Again, I think they’re focused more on the underlying concepts than on providing explicit links that are easily findable in two mouse clicks.

    To answer the question about how I found Andy, I was essentially nosing around the story, trying to understand the scope and depth of online content that is closely linked to ad revenue. I was keeping an open mind, and ran across PPP, and via them, to Andy’s site. Luck of the draw, I guess.

    It would be easy to go and speak with three immediately obvious talking heads and get a collection of soundbites and then throw something together without digging deeper, but I prefer to spend more time on a story and try to get into the subject a little further. Consequently, I spoke to an awful lot of interviewees (and tried my best to fit quotes from them all into a finite word length), and covered a lot of closely related topics.

    The problem with digging deep into a story is that it becomes more complex, and there are more stakeholders that have a direct interest in the article, and will be closely scutinising its outcome. I try to treat all my interviewees fairly, but with a subject that’s as contentious as this, you probably can’t make all the people happy all of the time. I hope that, comments like Neil’s aside, I at least hit near the mark.

    Dan

  9. Doug Heil says

    Danny wrote:

    “Andy specifically mentioned that he spoke to the blackhats in the SEO world and emphasised that they were a gentlemanly lot.”

    What does that mean exactly? In my mind, blackhats are NOT SEO’s at all so why have an article discussing them to begin with? I haven’t read the article, but you mention that in here so I am assuming something was wrote about it. Anyone who cheats the system simply because they want their client to get a better position than they otherwise would get is not a SEO at all. They basically are cheating the websites who follow the rules set out by the search engines, by using deceitful ways to make a buck, and all at the expense of other sites who do abide by the rules. It’s called cheating in my circles. Also called stealing.

    • says

      Doug

      I think almost all the blackhats I know don’t work for clients, they earn their keep from affiliate and various CPA or PPC networks.

      In general they don’t break any laws in what they are doing, and are probably more aware about the law than most content producers online.

      I would generally trust them with my email address more than many bloggers who feel quite free to add your name to an email mailing list just because you left a comment.

      I am much more worried about Google Reader picking up content and not following machine directives to prevent sharing, or stripping out sharing and copyright information when an item is shared.

      Google do not set rules, they set fairly vague guidelines that are very easy to interpret for everyone…. which is why I have no idea at what stage that tag cloud at the bottom of my page switches from being a useful usability feature for my users (with SEO benefits) to becoming keyword stuffing.

      Danny, yes I was disappointed. I didn’t ask directly, but I was also aware that The Guardian does give links and mentioned that in the preamble.

      What your article doesn’t really portray is that I frown upon syndicated content from the Associated Press more than rewritten private label rights content.

      Some of the tools I mentioned, such as those produced by David Watson are more akin to CAT (computer assisted translation) tools (I used to help design and develop CAT software) and such tools are used by fortune 500 companies to speed up the translation of documents and software.

      The aim of the content manipulation isn’t to mutate it into rubbish, but to have it appear for search terms that it otherwise wouldn’t.

      I also mentioned products for landing page creation that substitute keywords for a specific purpose, such as meeting Google’s Adwords targeting algorithms more precisely.

      There are many legal reasons to use such private label rights articles, such as translation into another language, and many people use them to compile “white papers” … ebooks for sale.

      Charles, I have always wondered why you use TinyURL and not your own tracking script – you are probably throwing away 7 characters.
      I now know that what I should ask is whether I should produce a “white paper” with links to resources for the article. I would certainly have produced at least an article on my front page to try to provide additional information for Guardian readers, with links to resources, but it is a little pointless as none were pointed this way.
      Also, though I don’t want to sound self-promotional, but you will find that any article when you actually link to someone who works in Search Engine Optimization and Social Media Optimization, you are likely to have a concerted effort to drive more traffic and links to the article.

      It was quite funny walking up to David Watson, the creator of Website Content Wizard on Saturday and telling him he was in the Guardian on Thursday.

  10. says

    Hi – I’m the editor of the section. We use a lot of links, but our strategy is that we don’t just point to someone’s web site solely because we’re quoting them; the idea is that a link should add more to the story which there isn’t space to include in the print piece. (We work principally in print, which then gets formatted for online. Without that constraint we could link to peoples’ cats and navel fluff.)

    The question about adding a link is: does it hold information that will tell you more about the story? Even with tinyurl, at 25 chars, links are precious and have to compete against other information.

    The nofollow point is well taken (but hard to organise given that we rarely point to sites that we don’t think people should go to, or that search engines shouldn’t index).

    Here’s how it would have worked: if there were a white paper or similar on this subject which was being quoted from, or which had extensively more information about the topic, on this site, we’d link to it. But we don’t like to peoples’ site just because we quote them.

  11. dining chair says

    I get the distinct impression that some misunderstandings have been blown out of proportion. One mistake by one paper or more likely its staff can not be used to generalize. I have had no such problems so far though Guardian is not exactly a favourite of mine.

    • says

      Yes, after reading these comments (great post by the way), I think some things might have been misunderstood. I think that Charles provides some useful information about how they use links and when they use them.

  12. says

    @Doug Heil,

    Andy specifically mentioned the term blackhats, and I called him on it, because I edit a computer security newsletter and generally think of blackhats in security terms. But he used the term, and stuck to it, and I thought it appropriate to quote him in that context.

  13. Doug Heil says

    Hi Danny, That is fine. I find it hilarious as I’ve never heard the word “gentlemanly” in regards to blackhats. I guess if a blackhat gets caught cheating by Google, it means they are then “un-gentlemanly”. As long as they don’t get caught, it’s just dandy. LOL

  14. Doug Heil says

    Andy; If you think it’s fine that Blackhats steal positions that other sites might have just because they cheat the system, that’s fine. To each his own. It makes no difference whether or not they work for clients or they work for themselves as they are still cheating the system. Would you also say that people who cheat at playing cards are also “gentlemanly” just because they are “nice”?

  15. says

    Andy – I completely agree with your article. Having invested that kind of time into an interview you’d expect that only natural way to “thank a blogger” would be to link to them in some meaningful way. It’s saying thank you online!

  16. says

    I read all the comments to get to the point of view of the editors. Their practice is similar to the one used by US on line press. If it’s something related to a lot of information on the topic (for example, S&P Case-Shiller index) WSJ would link to the relevant S&P site. Otherwise, their blog links to their articles on the subject. In their view, giving attribution in print does not take the person away from the page, on the Internet -it does. Respected bloggers(non-press)would always give the attribution with a link.

  17. says

    I’ve just finished reading over all of your comments and they are quite impressive. Certainly gives a better look into what the world of editing and journalism looks like. After reading through the article it seems that a link would have been warranted in this situation but not required.

Trackbacks

  1. […] post highlighting an example of the Guardian writing an article on the otherwise excellent site but linking out to some very undesirable sites without any protection, not even a link […]

  2. […] Here is what I suggest, since we are no longer allowed to take these people out behind the barn to tar and feather. We must write up a packet teaching them the effect they would have on their sites if we were all to link to their posts. Outline how they need to know who these people are that they reference and what sites they write for and link to them. Also how to determine if the site is a bad neighborhood to avoid linking. An example Andy Beard offers in his post Linking Abuse Or Linking Awareness. […]