This week the UK government released a report into social mobility. While mainstream reporting focused mainly on the broad picture, I wanted to read the original government report itself. Which publishers linked to it?
- The Telegraph: fail. Not one of the 4 articles I could find linked to the report.
- The Times: fail. Alan Milburn’s own piece about the report fails to link to it. These articles don’t either.
- The Independent: fail, despite having more articles on the issue than other websites.
- The BBC: links very clearly to both a summary (PDF) and the whole report (PDF). Curiously, however, both are hosted on the BBC’s own site.
- Sky: fail. Oh, and an appalling search facility – top result for a search on ‘Milburn Report’? From 2002.
- ITN: fail.
- Reuters: fail.
- Channel 4 News: no link on the video report, but there is a link below a line at the end of this story. You have to scroll to see it. Although it’s labelled as an ‘external link’ the PDFs are hosted on C4’s own site.
- The Guardian: mixed. This article didn’t and nor did this; but this one did – albeit in par 5, three pars after the report is first mentioned. Notably, 2 pieces on their blogging platform Comment is Free did – both in the first paragraph, no less, and to the Cabinet Office version.
I’ve written and spoken extensively on the importance of linking, but it comes down to 2 core reasons:
Firstly, Google will rank a page more highly if it includes more outgoing links.
Secondly, people will return to your site more often if they know they can expect useful links.
So, get your act together, please what are news organisations doing to address this?
I think we had this run in a few years ago but I have to question “Google will rank a page more highly if it includes more outgoing links.” It just doesn’t make sense.
If I have an address book full of names and phone numbers that might be an indication that I have lots of friends and contacts but it’s not proof. I could very easily have transcribed them from the phone book.
Google’s PageRank works, I believe, because it measures how others rate your page – the number of links from external sites out of your control. If it were to measure things under your control then it’d be wide open to abuse. So it doesn’t make sense. Unless I missed something…
What’s interesting is that The Guardian had several articles about it, mostly by different people. Does the Guardian still multiply commission hacks on same subject? A few years ago you could pitch ideas to three or four sections and the website and get bites from several. They all paid different rates too!
Obviously no one knows precisely what Google uses for its algorithm – the biggest element, as you say, is inbound links and the ranking of the pages linking to you. But the number of links in a page is supposed to influence its ranking – presumably Google has ways of detecting abuse of that, but the basic principle is: if it has links, it’s useful and probably more valuable than a similar page without links.
Pete Ashton – it ranks you better if you link to relevant things. So if your article was discussing this report on social mobility, and linked to the original report, it would mark you up for providing your readers with more information. If you just spam-linked to things at random, it would mark you down. So you can’t “abuse” it all that easily – the idea is that it forces you into creating a better web experience. That’s how I understand it anyway.
The London Evening Standard can’t even link to a blog they’ve actually written a full length feature on:
Yet they were able to sprinkle the piece with utterly useless keyword driven internal links.
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You’re implying that reporters and editors are too lazy/dumb/sloppy to link. But have you emailed any of the media sources above to ask them why they don’t link more? You might be surprised to learn that it’s probably a technical issue. The newspapers where I’ve worked manage print editions through design and word processing software while running their Web sites on unrelated CMSs. The two pieces of software usually don’t communicate very well. Every night, the newspaper where I work now transmits several dozen local stories from its print software to its Web CMS. There are no links, obviously, as reporters don’t code links into print. The stories are posted automatically on our Web site. The CMS we use – which is a common brand among newspapers – hasn’t even bothered to include a create links feature because of this. So if we were to create more links, we’d have to do it by hand-coding every story. And we have just three people in our online department, so hand-coding the site could easily take all day. We’d have to cut way back on our other multimedia content.
This is why you’re more likely to find linked stories on a television or radio Web site – where there are no print software issues – as well as in the blogs of the very print reporters who write the stories that contain no links on newspaper Web sites.
I wouldn’t be surprised at all – in fact, I am pretty sure that’s the reason in most cases: I’ve seen the CMSs. This just highlights why news orgs need to look at that side of their CMSs. Good point about broadcast CMSs – hadn’t thought of that aspect.
Not just their CMSs, but their print software as well. And the print software is where it gets complicated, because you need a system for word processing and page design that can communicate with the press. Ideally, we’d have one piece of software that includes word processing and page design and can correctly communicate with a press and a Web site. Perhaps it would allow reporters to wrote a linked Web version, then automatically delete the links for print.
Can anyone provide an example of software that can do all of the above? I’d love to hear more about it.
write a linked Web version, stupid iPhone.
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Ian Hill’s experience is exactly the same as my own. I’m certain that print-to-web workflows and software are to blame for this long-standing gripe about news websites.
But that’s an explanation, not an excuse. Most readers don’t know about the complexities of multi-channel publishing, nor should we expect them to have any sympathy for the constraints we work under. From the online reader’s perspective, these are just stories that aren’t particularly web-friendly.
But since the issues are (in most cases) technical and therefore outside individual journalists’ control, “get your act together” isn’t particularly helpful advice. I’d love to hear more about solutions or workarounds that news organisations can use to preserve links when faced with less-than-ideal legacy software which can’t be quickly replaced or improved.
‘Get your act together’ was addressed at news orgs, but fair point. Will re-write.
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Why care about Google? Google wants _quality_ for the user in their search results. This is a basic web usability issue.
If you’re writing about something chances are the person reading might want to know more, so make life easy for them. I’ll bet there’s some thinking in the newspapers you mentioned that linking out is bad because it means they loose visitors. I’ve heard that same reason for not linking out a hundred times, but guess what? Visitors will leave *because* you haven’t made life easier for them.
As for the print vs web CMS issue I believe that print and web deserve separate attention. Too often mistakes made on the web are down to offline practices being applied online. Business (and newspaper) owners need to realise that the web is a completely different animal that needs a completely different approach. Build a new CMS!
Sorry, I’ve ranted 🙂