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Proof That Linking Out Actually Engages Readers

Written by and published

There are many reasons to link out from your website. Sometimes it’s to link to a trusted partner or to a sister website. If you’re a search engine optimizer, you link out because it helps your website perform better on search engines (I’m not talking about link exchanges). However, there are still many websites, especially news oriented websites, that refuse to link out to external websites.

There’s an unfounded, but seemingly logical fear that linking out will lose the visitor. The formula seems simple enough; If you make a way for the user to escape your website, they will. Scott Karp, of Publishing 2.0, reveals that the opposite is true.

External links actually function paradoxically. Instead of losing readers, linking out produces the highest engagement from readers.

First, the top site has twice as many sessions per person. Second, the top site has nearly twice as much time spent per person. So users of this site find it indispensable, and they are highly engaged.

But the most important difference between the top site and all the other sites, is that this top site — Drudge — has nothing but LINKS.

That’s right folks. Drudge beats every original content news site by a two to one margin.

Drudge is also one of the largest news sites that isn’t built on an offline brand or a communications portal.

Still think sending people away with links is not a good strategy online?

Scott Karp combed through the top news sites and found that sites that link out the most — and in some cases linking out is all they do — capture and engage readers the most. The fact is that news sites that send readers away with links have the highest engagement.

It’s a paradox that actually does make sense. News organizations are in the business of editorials, while users are more interested in content aggregation. Users want aggregation and editorial, but they don’t necessarily want editorial exclusively. Instead, they’re interested in the interchange of the two. They want a website like Digg or Drudge that’s going to aggregate news. They also want the ability to trust editorial that is going to help them explore even more stories and websites.

If news outlets would start linking out from their content, then they too would get a reputation as a source of relevant information beyond themselves. Thus, paradoxically, they would produce a higher level of engagement through return visits. And as shocking as it might seem, most users know how to bookmark websites, enter URLs and click the back button. They will return if you offer them what they want, which is not your fear of losing them.

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