October 24, 2013 Last Updated 11:42 am

Links, Aggregation and Re-Posts: it is time to think different about content creation and sharing

Thinking out loud about the value of links, content and web traffic, and alternatives to the standard way of doing business on the web

Bloggers and small publishers tend to chase links and aggregators in hopes that a mention here, or a mention there, will drive traffic to epic heights. It does, but for such a short period of time that it all adds up to nothing.

TalkingNewMedia has occasionally had stories or comments picked up by one of the big tech sites following a story on this or that app. The immediately results are a spike in traffic that lasts 24 hours then recedes. Many bloggers and publishers believe that this OK, the real result will be awareness, that mysterious trait that brings in readers. I don’t buy it.

What really attracts readership is good content, and enough of it to convince readers to return on a regular basis (or to follow the site on Twitter or other social media). The value is in the content, not the mention.

Flipboard knows this all too well. It wants the content from publishers, and then promises a few dollars in return plus awareness. The content, though, resides within Flipboard, and the more of it, from more publishers, the more readers become loyal to Flipboard.

Another new media company that understands this is Vox Media, but they have found a way to make it work for them. SB Nation is a collection of sports blogs under one banner. All the content is SB Nation content, but readers can become loyal to a particular blogger covering their favorite team (my favorite is McCovey Chronicles).

Chart-trafficI’m convinced that chasing links is a waste of time. Instead, small publishers and bloggers should be sharing content rather than audiences. For many who have been in web publishing this is counterintuitive, they are always chasing readers and see content as merely one of the ways to attract them.

In the traditional way to look at this, the publisher has a story on their website and hopes others link to it to drive traffic. Combined with search engines, loyal returning readers, these links will grow traffic. Or so it is assumed.

The problem with this model is that it is based on the idea that a reader loyal to, let’s say, The Next Web, will suddenly become loyal to TalkingNewMedia simply because that site linked to story on the other site. But while that one story will be of interest to the other site’s readers, the rest of the content might not be. The few readers picked up will soon forget to revisit if the site can not feed that reader’s interest on an ongoing basis.

A better approach would be to learn from Vox Media, but implement the strategy in a less corporate way. Instead of institutionalizing the relationship between content providers why not create an informal alliance between websites?

I recommended that metro papers take this approach over three years ago with local bloggers. By working with local sports bloggers a newspaper could get high quality content, drive some ad dollars to the blogs, but keep readers coming back to their pages. Instead, newspapers have put up paywalls while at the same time cut back on the quantity of coverage they are offering readers – a deadly combination. For bloggers interested in the activities of local athletes, this is a big win: a few dollars, and much more attention for the athletes.

Aggregators like BusinessInsider understand the value of content. They rewrite the content of others, and sometimes simply summarize and link back to the original site. This strategy works, to a point, but it doesn’t create loyal readers. I have never, ever gone directly to BusinessInsider but only followed links there (and was more often than not unimpressed once I got there). I will admit that, done to high volume, the strategy works. But it is labor intensive.

The key, as the Huffington Post showed years ago, is to get people to write for you… for free. What the HuffPost offers, of course, is awareness. What the HuffPost gets is content. Lots of it.

Recently I pointed out to another website that I had written a post that might be of interest to them. I said they should repost it, under my byline, but a link was not necessary. They were rather surprised by that. Was the story advertorial? What was going on?

I tried to explain that the story was of no value to me on their site, but it was of value to them. If people thought it good they would return for more. The story was already on my site and while I would get traffic as a result the story may perform even better on their site. (A search with Google proved this to be correct, the same story ranks higher on the other site.)

What is in it for them is content. The link back to TNM is of minor importance, TNM gets very little out for it. But if a story appears on the other site that could perform will on TNM then I would want that story. This sharing of content maximizes the results any one story can achieve, and builds a website far more attractive to readers.

Unfortunately, I know that this view, that content should be shared among related, but noncompetitive sites, is a minority opinion. But doing business the old way has resulted in lots and lots of minor websites struggling to continue to publish.

Maybe it is not the American way to cooperate on the web, so instead we have the link. But it seems a pretty weak trade-off.

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