It’s not unusual for news organisations to publish full transcripts of political speeches – but The Mirror have done something simple with Hilary Benn’s speech on a vote on air strikes in Syria which seems like such a no-brainer you wonder why everyone doesn’t do it.
It is simply this: they have added links.
In doing so they transform a linear, text-only experience which assumes certain knowledge on the part of the reader (actually, listener) into something journalistic: reporting that adds context and illustration.
Here are some of the roles that those links perform:
- Directing the user to broader coverage of the debate as a whole.
- Providing background on criticism of the Prime Minister for not apologising.
- Explaining what Daesh is (Benn assumes the listener knows who they are; The Mirror, publishing his words for a different audience, does not).
- When Benn refers to outstanding speeches, we can click to read a listicle distilling the best of those.
- Linking to reports on the Paris attacks.
This last point bears some elaboration: too often journalists assume that their online readers are as familiar with the publication as print readers used to be.
But online readers are more diverse and read much more widely than a typical print readership: there is no guarantee that a typical user landing on a page on your site has ever read anything else on it; and it’s even less likely that they read everything.
This particular article is a good example: from an SEO perspective it is targeted at people Googling for ‘Hilary Benn speech‘ or ‘Hilary Benn speech transcript’.
Can we assume they read The Mirror’s coverage of the Paris attacks? No. It is much more likely that they heard about the Paris attacks through social media and broadcast bulletins.
Online, it’s more likely they checked the BBC site than the Mirror.
There’s also a point to make about international audiences: what may have dominated the news in Europe for days may have been missed by readers elsewhere in the world. Never assume your audience knows what you do.
The SEO role
The ‘Carnage in Paris’ link isn’t just about driving internal traffic: it is also about SEO. Internal linking helps Google to find and understand content better.
For the same reason the word ‘Daesh‘ is linked not once but every time it is mentioned: the Mirror is trying to strengthen the link (in Google’s terms, the relevance) between that word and their post explaining what Daesh is and why the term is being used instead of ISIS or Isil.
Unfortunately, this also means that other opportunities to serve the reader through links can be missed.
The speech, for example, mentions a United Nations resolution, but there is no link to that. It mentions debate about the ‘70,000 troops’ figure, but does not link to any factchecking on that figure. Both of these might involve linking outside the site, and sadly this isn’t a priority.
This is something that needs to change in news organisations. In some cases, external linking is discouraged in the mistaken belief that it will ‘drive traffic elsewhere’. In fact, there is evidence that it leads people to return to your site (it’s even been linked to evidence of digital progress). This is like a TV producer arguing that they should not film on location in case people decide to go there instead of watching TV.
There is even evidence that suggests it makes a small impact on your SEO; and no evidence that it is a negative factor.
The fundamental role of linking
Links are as fundamental to online journalism as pictures are to TV, and yet we are not there yet: still you will find articles published online with no links at all.
The Mirror’s approach is a great example of this. To see why, you only have to imagine if television had no footage of Benn speaking (as would have been the case 30 years ago). In that situation TV would not simply run audio on a black screen: they would add pictures to illustrate what we were hearing. Likewise, if radio only had a transcript they would find aural ways of bringing that to life and adding context.
Links, of course, can do both. And embedding – essentially a form of linking – can do. In fact, that’s the approach the Express adopt on their transcript, alongside images and a gallery. And it’s also useful to note that the Mirror still embed the video of the speech at the top of their piece, even though they have devoted a separate post to the video alone.
Because: why not?