I was just a week into the work for my first client when he asked a question that produced a vivid flashback.
“Why should I link to other sites?” he asked, after I suggested his company’s website link to the partners and media outlets mentioned on his homepage. “I don’t want users leaving my site.”
I heard this question all the time in my old career, journalism. After I moved from the Washington Post’s print newsroom to its website, I often talked to reporters and editors about aggregating related news and opinion from other sites on our blogs and in articles.
“You want to give your readers a complete view of the topic you cover, and you can only write so much yourself each day,” I would say. “I know you read the competition. Why not share the compelling things you find with your readers? They’ll appreciate it and come back for more.”
Sometimes those reporters and editors decided to give it a try, and sometimes they didn’t. But the case for highlighting content created by others – even competitors — is a strong one for businesses as well as journalists – here’s why I think you should consider doing it both on your site and in your social media feeds:
- It gives you more credibility. Highlighting articles, posts and videos from other sites shows your users that you are paying attention to the news and trends in your field. If you’re making a claim about your product or service, a link that supports that claim carries great weight, too.
- It’s a valuable service to your users. Few, if any, of your potential clients or customers will know your industry as well as you do. But when they are considering your product or service, they will want to learn as much as they can, as quickly as they can. Helping them can build the loyalty and trust you need to close a sale.(This is a form of digital marketing akin to the type advocated by Marcus Sheridan – answering customers’ questions to earn their business. He advocates original content, which of course is important, too, but linking and aggregating have their place.)
- It helps you connect. This is especially true when you share others’ content on social media. Tweeting about a smart article by someone else in your industry increases the chances they’ll follow and retweet your best content. Whether on your site, your blog or one of your social feeds, “link karma” is real – link to others, and they’ll link to you.(And when other sites link to your site, it also helps search engine optimization.)
It’s worth noting that limiting the amount of your own content that you post on social media is a widely accepted guideline – as Jon Gelberg said on Inc.com:
“If you become a respected member of the Twitter community, you can throw in messages directly related to your products or services, but those need to be counter-balanced by tweets completely unrelated to your sales efforts.” (emphasis mine)
If you’re curious what happened when I was pitching links and aggregation to old-school Post reporters and editors, well, some decided to give it a try. Others continued to sound like my first client with my current company Squarely Digital: “I don’t want someone clicking away from my content.” Or even worse, “We can’t link to a competitor!”
I understand those responses as gut reactions. We all design pages and write articles and post photos in the hopes users will keep clicking on our site, eventually helping us make money by signing up for a service or viewing or clicking on ads.
But one unavoidable truth of the internet is that every visitor to your website is going to leave, and they probably are going to leave soon. If they’re interested in the topic you cover or the product you sell, they’re checking out multiple sites for information and pricing.
You can pretend it’s not happening and never link. Or you can help them find other good sites, and in the process reap these side benefits. I think you’ll be more successful choosing that path.