The Sleazy Practice of Internal Linking

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It’s a small bugbear but I find it increasingly irritating, and I think it reflects a cynical intent to mislead on the part of the people who do it, so I’m going to vent my spleen on it: websites which turn links in their content, not to the site itself, but to another page on their own website.

An example: TechCrunch reviews Helium, a directory of user-generated articles. But click on the word Helium, and it doesn’t take you, as you might reasonably expect, to the website Helium, but to a TechCrunch page about Helium. If you want to actually find a link to the Helium page, you need to go there first.

I find this misleading, annoying and cynical on the part of the websites that do this. First off, time-honored tradition of the net would dictate a website name which is linked to something would be to the website itself. Secondly, clearly TechCrunch and its ilk are trying to keep eyeballs by forcing readers to go to another internal page, with all the ads, before finding the link itself. Thirdly, because I’m a PersonalBrain user and I like to drag links into my plex (that’s what we PBers call it) it’s a pain.

Fourthly, it’s clearly a policy that even TechCrunch has trouble enforcing. In the case above, the original post had the word Helium directly linking to the website itself, but which was subsequently edited to link to the internal TechCrunch page (as noticed by a reader of the site). If you subscribe to the TechCrunch feed, that’s what you’ll still see:

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TechCrunch isn’t alone in this, by the way. StartupSquad does it (a particularly egregious example here of five links in a row which don’t link to the actual sites). For an example of how it should be done, check out Webware, which has the word linking to the site itself, and an internal review as a parenthetical link following. Like this, in Rafe Needleman’s look at companionship websites. Click on Hitchsters and you go to the site; click on ‘review’ and you go to a review.

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It’s a nuisance more than a crime, but to me it still undermines a central tenet of the web: links should be informative and not misleading. If you are linking to anything other than what your reader would expect, then you’re just messing around with them.

Forbes Quietly Drops The Misleading Link

Forbes has dropped its controversial embedded ad links, discussed on Loose Wire a few months back.

DMNews reports that Forbes has quietly removed the links “after editors objected to the appearance of advertising influencing editorial decisions”. Forbes says that the perception of a problem was more in its journalists’ minds than in those of the public.

The service, provided by Vibrant Media’s IntelliTXT, works like this, according to DMNews:

IntelliTxt links typically are double underlined and in a different color than non-paid hyperlinks. When a user hovers over an IntelliTxt link, the listings display a pop-up box with a “sponsored link” heading and site description. Forbes.com includes a “What’s this” link in the pop-up box directing users to an explanation page that offers the ability to turn off IntelliTxt for that site. Vibrant Media said fewer than 1 percent of the site’s users chose to banish IntelliTxt.

The article is worth reading for a more general debate about these contextual ads. My feeling is that unless the links are actually really contextual and intelligent — for example providing a link to something that that is clearly related to the text, is clearly marked as an ad and an ad that is exactly the same as the word it is next to, these things will quickly annoy and alienate readers. Sadly, so far, this has not been the case.