Thanks For The Link, Mainstream Media — Now Let’s Have More!

I’ve been publishing online about search for nearly 11 years now. My work, or my comments, have been quoted in mainstream publications on the topic of search for virtually the same time. Much more often than not, those references never include a live link back to my web site, not from the websites of those same mainstream publications where links are totally possible.

Over the years, I’ve watched others in similar situations get upset about this. For me, it wasn’t a big of a deal. I was glad to be mentioned, and not getting links from mainstream publications just seemed part of the territory. They don’t link. But earlier this month, something different happened. I got a live link from a New York Times article. Seeing the traffic made me want more.

I’ve been quoted many, many times in the NYT. Heck, I was even profiled way back in March 2000. Not once do I recall seeing a link to my site or any of my work. That changed on March 15. Google Adds a Safeguard on Privacy for Searchers was an article that cited me at the end, including a link to Search Engine Land.

I don’t know if there’s a policy change there are not. All I know is that I quickly noticed visits coming in. Hundreds. To date, 645 visits in all. A lot of people read that article — and hundreds were interested enough in what I said or in my site to click through from the link.

To me, that underscores why for the mainstream media, enough is enough, when it comes to not linking. You need to be linking out to sources. For one, it’s the right thing to do in the ecosystem of the web, where people link back and forth between each other. Plenty of blogs and other sites point at mainstream media articles. The mainstream media needs to support the ecosystem by linking back.

For another, it’s the right thing to do for readers at these sites. As I said, plenty of people clearly were interested enough in my site to want to visit. Old school mentality is that outlinking means these people are then lost. They aren’t. They are people who will appreciate that the New York Times (or other sites) have provided them with information and made it easy for them to find out more.

Here’s an example of how not outlinking can be very bad. This week, Photobucket got profiled in a Fortune article carried by CNNMoney. But the CNNMoney version didn’t link to Photobucket at all in the story. The entire story is about Photobucket, but no link to the service? That’s a bad user experience.

Now, I’ve been guilty of the same thing. Often we’ll write about Google or Yahoo or Ask but not link to them, simply because we figure our audience pretty much knows how to get to them. But still, even with these service, we often link. But in a profile about a service headlined "The biggest Web site you’ve never heard of," no link to this unknown service? C’mon.

I’m not expecting a situation where every word becomes a link, that every reference to any company has to get hyperlinked. But it’s probably overdue for more linking to be happening from the mainstream media sites in particular. I’ve written before that I have seen spikes even from non-linked press mentions. I understand that being mentioned has benefits even without a links, and I’m grateful for those (which, by the way, often come from spending long amounts of time answering questions from reporters, nor do you always get a mention — again, that’s part of the territory).

Still, I want to see more links for everyone. I hope they’ll come.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building: General


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • tzd123

    Right on!

  • SEOrefugee

    Danny, congrats on the link. I hope it IS a change in policy at the NYT and elsewhere. As “traditional media” becomes more and more tech savy, I would expect to see more and more outbound links from their sites. Whether it helps the sites or not, it’s just SOOO much more convenient for their readers as you pointed out.

  • Matt Cutts

    I recently found Laurence Gonsalves’ “Linkify” bookmarklet, and I’ve been linking a lot more just because it’s easier now.

    More details:

  • Grant Barrett

    The biggest traffic burst any of my sites ever had was from David Pogue mentioning it on the Martha Stewart television show in the fall of 2001. More than 10,000 people hit it in an hour. Compare: a link to my dictionary site from William Safire’s NYT magazine column a couple of weeks ago generated 542 click-throughs.

    So, in my experience, in the short-term television is better for reinforcing a connection to sources and the stories they’re quoted in. In the long-term, however, online print could be better than television, because the content could be persistent. It’s not, though. Many papers, like the New York Times, put their content behind paywalls in a week. Even if they have good outgoing links, they become invalid (except to paying subuscribers–though I never see links to my content from behind paywalls) and the relationship falls out of search indexes quickly. Some papers put their content behind a paywall in one to three days. That’s no way to reinforce a connection.

    Only slightly better is where news stories link to a source’s site, but to the main URL rather than directly to the URL of the site’s relevant content. Slate does it right, as do most online-only magazines. If you’re linking to a dictionary in a story in which you reference a specific entry, doesn’t it make sense to link directly to the entry?

    I’ve often proposed to journalist friends that they include a bibliography at the end of stories: not raw unlinked, unformatted URLs, but hotlinked site names, buttressed by author, date accessed, document title, location, and other supporting info. They scoff and continue as they were.

    A topic for another time: journalists who do quick-rip rewrites of web site entries and include only a “source:” at the end. I see those weekly.

  • JEHochman

    Thanks for the link to that 2000 NYT story, but Danny, man, we need to send you to PR bootcamp. Where’s the page on your site that links to all your news appearances? Let’s say I want more information about you, but from *reliable* sources, like the New York Times, where do I go? There’s a big disconnect here.

    “Hello, Mainstream Media, meet the Internet”
    “Hello, Internet, meet Mainstream Media.”

  • Greg Jarboe

    Danny, many journalists in the mainstream media still have their offline articles “repurposed” for their online web sites. And few of these media companies invests in online editors to “add” links to their articles. However, this is changing. Earlier this year, both The New York Times and The Washington Post started actively adding links to stories — for both the offline and online editions. Hopefully, other mainstream media will follow their lead — especially, now that the Poynter Institute’s recent Eyetrack study ( has found that online readers finish news stories more often than those who read in print. When readers chose to read an online story, they usually read an average of 77% of the story, compared to 62% in broadsheets and 57% in tabloids.

  • Dominic

    If you work a request into the interview from the perspective that it will be useful for readers to be able to click through to the website it usually works e.g.

    “I take it in the online version of the article you are going to want to allow your readers to click through to our website given you are mentioning it… do you have the correct address for our website?”

    If they don’t link to your site a follow up email letting them know you enjoyed the article and suggesting “the online version is lacking because from a usability point of view your readers can’t click through to our website for more information. Can you get you website person to fix that, our website is

    Journalists want content. If you take your time to give it to them (for free mind you) the very least they should do is link to your website or mention it in the radio spot or put it up on the screen for tv viewers.

    Otherwise what are you doing but giving up your time to provide them with content. And mind you it can be hours of time a week.

    The basic standard for news articles should be a website link for at least the main commentator, if not the main two and a link to a stock profile if it’s a publicly traded company.

  • David Dalka

    I agree with this.

    More importantly though I think the major search engines need to put blog search higher in the food chain as content is often being screened in the blogosphere and then moved over to major news sites, I’ve written about this being lame previously – I think it fits into this discussion as it may even be more important:

  • Danny Sullivan

    The page that links to all my press appearances? Well, I left that behind here:

    Here’s the thing. I get quoted a lot. At some point, it simply stopped being useful for me to list all of these.

    Want more “reliable” sources to say I’m an expert? Well, click on my name with any post or on the Staff link in the sidebar, and you get to my background easily enough. I cite a few major places that have used me as a source, so I don’t really see a disconnect.

  • JEHochman

    That “reliable” was a little sarcastic, but the comment wasn’t tendicious. If you want to call out MSM for failing to link, you should link to your major news appearances (but not passing mentions). Reporters wandering in here may not know your history with SEW, so they’re unlikely to find that page. Failing to link to news appearances is a mistake I see over and over again on corporate sites and SEO experts’ own sites.

    I agree completely that outbound links a form of content, and that MSMs failure to provide them reduces the value of their articles. Old and new media need to provide more links to each other.

  • Danny Sullivan

    JE, let me be clear. I’m cited a lot in the mainstream press. That’s because after 11 years of doing this, I’m fairly well known with many of the reporters out there. They generally don’t come to the site to research and decide if they should contact me. I’m already a contact they’ve had for ages.

    Eventually, I’m sure I’ll build up a new page listing major press cites. But I’d rather focus my energy on doing my own reporting, which I think self-evidently speaks of me being an expert that the MSM might want to cite. And as I said, they do.

  • Philipp Lenssen

    Germany’s biggest online news mag Spiegel learned to link quite a while back. You’ll get immense traffic due to it (Google Blogoscoped had been there), something like 20,000 referrers IIRC.

  • Philipp Lenssen


    67,290 referrers from Spiegel, and that was on a *Sunday*. The article in question covered Google Blogoscoped and linked to the blog + one app on the blog.

    I believe this was the highest referrer traffic Google Blogoscoped ever received, much higher than what Slashdot or Digg or even CollegeHumor do.

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