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Outbound Links and their Impact Upon Your Blog

Late last night I was about to head to bed and was doing my last stats check (I have a little routine I go through at the end of the day) when I noticed on my ProBlogger stats two incoming referral links that caught my eye. They were from Slashdot.org.

They say that before a Tsunami that there are telltale signs of the onrush that is about to occur – and with Slashdot the signal of masses of traffic is about 15 minutes where a tiny trickle of visitors come over before the post with your link goes live on the front page.

Sure enough – 15 minutes after the first couple of visitors came an onrush of traffic to this post. Since that time around 40,000 visitors have passed through this blog.

Interestingly I noticed a couple of distinct differences between this time and the last time that ProBlogger was Slashdotted.

  • Last time despite getting very similar levels of traffic – the post in question was inundated with 91 or so posts – this time there has been very little response from Slashdotters (most of the comments on it came before the linkup).
  • Last time was a record level earning day from Adsense – this time there is a small rise in my daily earnings (it was double normal levels last time in comparison to a 5% increase today). This is despite ads being in the same sorts of positions on the blog.

Why the difference? Here’s my theory.

Last time when I was slashdotted it was to a post that had no outbound links in it at all. It was a post that was completely about my experiences. This time around the post being linked to had an outbound link in it in the first sentence and while it was about my experience – it gave readers an opportunity to leave my blog early on.

I track how people leave my site using MyBlogLog Stats (affiliate link – see my review here) and can see that around 25% of the visitors to ProBlogger left via the link in the first sentence.

Of course perhaps the Slashdot visitors were just not in the mood to comment or click ads or perhaps it was because there was some other reason – but to me this illustrates just how much outbound links can impact upon both the interactivity on your blog and Adsense ads.

I know of numerous Adsense publishers swear by not giving their readers any links to click on their sites unless they go to another page on the site or unless they have some money making ability.

I personally don’t mind other competing outbound links. Most of my blog have many of them and seem to do well – in fact I believe they are part of the reason my sites build traffic (a story for another day) – but I suspect if I took them all off today my Adsense CTR would go up and that I’d probably grow my page impressions. I guess it’s about making choices to do with your blog’s priorities.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. james says:

    Relevant outbound links can add incredible value to a post by causing people to link to it because it’s a “hub.” Yes, we lose traffic, but I suspect it’s traffic we wouldn’t have otherwise received.

    Case in point — several weeks ago I crosslinked to someone’s blog because he was running a story on a topic I’d just covered in depth. He added an update to his post that pointed back to my original story.

    Gizmodo picked up his story later that day, and a lot of traffic flowed right through his post and through my site. Everyone wins.

  2. Darren Rowse says:

    thats my philosophy too James and part of why I think I’ve built some traffic through outbound links despite the loss of traffic. Kind of a paradox.

  3. Bob says:

    Very interesting, Darren. I wonder, based on what you have learned through this incident, will you try to move links lower in your post, instead of in the first sentence? It would seem that if you want to maintain your practice of providing a lot of links to outside sites, by at least moving those links to the bottom of your post, people will have to read the post before clicking.

    What do you think?

  4. HostingDiary says:

    target=_blank (open new window)
    Andrew

  5. Darren Rowse says:

    guess it depends what the links are pointing towards.

    As I said to James – I think there are some benefits to sending traffic away. I know its one way to get your blog noticed and get links back :-)

    Also if the link happens to be an affiliate link (which in the case of the slashdot post it was) it can be quite a lucrative thing also.

  6. HostingDiary says:

    I don’t understand why more bloggers aren’t doing it either Stuart. Its an easy second chance at an adsense click.
    Andrew

  7. Darren Rowse says:

    I personally don’t like it when sites use it. I like the option of opening new windows at my own discretion and avoid doing it on my blogs for fear of annoying people.

    Not sure why I feel that way – just the way I am.

  8. Ben Helps says:

    HostingDiary: From memory when I used it, it broke my nice XHTML Strict compliance ;-)

    As Darren says, most people who want to have new windows spawn, will do so themselves – I don’t know what I’d do without my middle-click-opens-in-new-tab functionality on Firefox.

  9. Many bloggers care about usability and accessibility and don’t open links in new windows for that reason. Others use XHTML 1.0 Strict which does not allow the target attribute.

    Opening links in new windows is a good way of annoying your visitors.

  10. Stuart says:

    I thought it must have been an etiquette thing – but then I’m fairly plain and vulgar so new windows don’t bother me much.

  11. Oyvind says:

    I never use Target Blank. I think it annoys users, making it a little bit less possible that they come back.

    After tabbed browsing came around, I never just click links anyway. I always Option-click them (in Safari). That way they open in a new tab, and I can switch back and forth with Option-Command arrow left/right. So much more efficient.

  12. Athomemama says:

    Target blank annoys me, personally. If I wanted it to open in a new window, or new tab, I would just right-click and open it in a new tab.

    You know Darren, yes you didn’t get the revenue from the slashdot you expected, and that is a bummer, but you got 40K hits to your site and that was 40K opportunities to gain new loyal readers. It will be interesting for you to watch and see if those slashdot-ters (i have no idea how to write that) return on their own.

  13. Darren Rowse says:

    very true Athomemama – not complaining about it – thats for sure :-)

  14. Spnksay says:

    Interesting that a link on the front page of slashdot only gets you around 40,000 visitors, especially when it’s as emotive as it was.

  15. Darren Rowse says:

    yeah – although you’ll see that the story in question had four links in it so we probably shared the traffic.

  16. Spnksay says:

    You say 40,000 was a Tsunami , so do you mind if I ask you how many unique ips you normally get on a working day? I’ve never seen this site before, but I’m one of the slashdot crowd that might end up staying. Just curious..

  17. Paul Short says:

    Also Darren, if you take a look at Slashdot itself, their format is basically ALL outbound links in their posts. The people coming from there are accustomed to clicking those links within the content so it stands to reason that they would do the same once they reached your site.

  18. Dave says:

    If a user wants to open a link in a new window, they can right click and ‘open in new window’ – I prefer this method of naviagtion than being forced to have multiple windows spawning each time I click a link.

    I found this article quite enlightening : http://www.sitepoint.com/article/beware-opening-links-new-window

    back on topic, it may be that the last time problogger got slashdotted, there was a lot of fuss over whether the adsense TOS had been breached, this time, that wasn’t in question, but a new income method was introduced, which perhaps caught peoples imagination more than the opportunity to try and stick the knife into someone making a success of themselves on the web.

  19. Amit Agarwal says:

    I think visitors from Slashdot and other tech forums are the smartest lot – they know how to distinguish between ads and content.

    If you get \.ed, expect lot of traffice but very poor CTR.

    Darren, you can always put links and resources at the end of your story.

  20. Dan says:

    whats to complain about? it was an affiliate link clicked on by alot of tech savy slashdotters who prob have websites and are likley to used the mini malls!!!!

    long term income coming your way because of that post! (assuming you signed up for long term refferal income or something)

  21. Guys, you forget that there are still an awful lot of users that don’t know how to use their browsers properly.

    How many browsers know that they can bookmark with CTRL-D?

    Even, when we didn’t have tabbed browsers, users didn’t know that they could open links in new windows.

    I know, because I worked for two of the biggest ISP’s in the UK and would often talk to people that could barely use a mouse nevermind a browser.

    It was very frustrating at times, but I soon realised that it was because it is now much easier to get connected.

    You don’t have to be a computer whiz to get online these days.

    You don’t even have to be very computer literate.

    Recently, I was on the phone to NTL and was really surprised when the agent just assumed that I was using Internet Explorer.

    I asked him if they supported Firefox or Opera.

    No they don’t..

    Well, not in the UK.

    Ridiculous, but this didn’t surprise me, because they were like that when I worked for them.

    They were always reluctant to support browsers that they didn’t supply on their installation disks, because it meant more hassle and training for them.

    I told them that they really need to get with the times, because it was ridiculous.

    Don’t forget that the vast majority of people are still using IE.

    Also, a lot of my clients prefer external links to open in a new tab or window, so they don’t lose track of what they were reading.

    If there is a link in an article, then readers will click on it, just out of curiosity.

    I use the “_blank” attribute as well, it is not ideal (or good coding practice), but if my readers click on a link then they obviously wanted to take a look, so it isn’t like an unsolicited pop-up.

  22. HostingDiary says:

    Sitepoint uses popups and annoying frames so I’m not sure they know what they are talking about.
    Andrew

  23. Brent says:

    I find it annoying when a new window does not open.

    But it looks like I am in the minority.

    If I am clicking on links on the same site then I don’t like new windows to open, but when I am on a good site then I click on something, find myself on a different site and have trouble getting back I don’t like it.

    I know how to right click and open a new window but that is extra work for me that is annoying also.

  24. Darren Rowse says:

    Spnksay – this site normally gets about 3000 unique visitors in a day.

    My total daily visitors varies from day to day but is anything from 30,000 to 45,000

  25. Dan Mossop says:

    Darren, do you think the source of traffic to a blog could affect the decision to provide outbound links? In particular, if most of the traffic to a blog comes from search engines, would it perhaps make sense to minimise the use of outbound links?

  26. If you’re worried about target=_blank being non-compliant, there are javascript solutions (that’s what I use, specifying it with rel=”external”). I only use this on links to other sites — all internal links open in the same window. Also, if I command-click one of these links, it opens in a tab rather than popping up a new window. And with javascript turned off, it behaves like a plain old link.

    Back to the topic at hand… While it may be that links early in a story divert traffic away, it just dawned on me that placing a link at the end of the story (such as ‘Source: LINK’ or ‘Via: LINK’ to attribute the story) might be even worse for CTR. I generally have an ad wedged between the end of the story and the comments and, just as the reader is finishing the story and about to see the ad, there’s a nice tempting link for them to click and take them away. In this case, it might be better to embed the link within the story, as you’re writing is hopefully good enough to keep them with you through the end. Anyway, it’s just a thought.

  27. alek says:

    Darren,

    I’ve been Slashdotted a few times and have some misc. notes at http://www.komar.org/faq/slashdot-effect/ – I also compare traffic to other sources such as Fark, USAToday, and (an attempt) at tracking inbounds from an AP story that went everywhere.

    You are correct about the “early notice” – this is the so-called “mysterious future” where only subscribers can see the story. My experience is that it is about 15-20 minutes … and it’s then REAL obvious when the story hits the front page for all to see. I also have some data on how many inbounds I had from Slashdot and my numbers were a little higher than your 40,000. Yea, I don’t thinik you get a lot of click-thru’s from the /. crowd, but I bet it drives your click-thru percentage way down! ;-)

  28. Cary says:

    Talk about a domino effect…I bet Chitika loved the fact that you got hit by the /.

    : )

  29. Kate says:

    Is everyone’s like or dislike of target=_blank secretly based on their blog stats? It seems like the big bloggers find it annoying, whereas the small time bloggers (or start-ups, like me) are worried about losing readers. It’s also evident that To Use or Not To Use target=_blank is based on your reader base, and the identity of your blog. Slashdot clearly sends outward links without opening a new window because their site is centered on referrals. Blogs on Blogging and other techie news are also more inclined to send people directly out, because their readers are net-literate and prefer to monitor their own window count.

    But what about consumer-interest sites that bring in a larger number of novice internet surfers? Should a smaller, arts-interested blog pay more attention to idiot-proofing traffic by opening outgoing links in a new window?

  30. Kate, I wouldn’t give it that much thought. As long as your internal links aren’t spawning new windows, then the vast majority of people will deal with it as long as your content is good.

  31. ChrisH says:

    I’m in favor of target=_blank. I do feel slightly squeamish about it though – it has a “pop up ad” feeling about it.

    But fact is, I work hard to get people to my site, why would I want to send them away?

    And I don’t trust that readers know all the functionality of browsers to do this themselves.

    What would be nice is if browsers added a right-click option to open the page in the SAME window (currently only new window or new tab) to override the target=_blank directive. Opera my choice of browser now, opens those target=_blank in a new tab rather than new window, which is nice if you don;t want a multitude of browser windows open.

    As far as this article – thanks Darren for another must read.

  32. BJ says:

    I’m like Brent – I prefer to have external links open in new tabs. But then again, I’m using Firefox and find the tabs so handy. I use the plugin that lets me click and hold down on a link and move it aside to open up a new tab, so I actually don’t usually know when a site is using target=blank or not because I almost always open up new tabs. When I click on a link, forgetting to open it in a new tab, I find it very annoying because 9 out of 10 times, I’ll close the tab – and close the original site as a result.

    As for linking out, it seems to me that outbound links go with the territory when it comes to blogs. It’s all a huge massive give and take, kind of like universal law – you know, give and you get. Or at least, that’s been my experience.

  33. hustler says:

    Do email addresses count as outbound links? If anyone knows, I would appreciate an email back. Thanks!

  34. outbound links is the polar alternate of inbound links. I agree that outbound links are not bad at all. Based from my reading and small experience, it actually helps a site when it is linked to a related site moreso if the site linked to has a high ranking.

  35. The web is supposed to thrive on links. Bringing you to a relative subject from another site. This method enables the reader to have a broader selection of articles about the subject. However, this has been at some extent abused by some to gather pr rating by buying links. Google doesn’t like the idea of selling links for PR so they opted to penalize those that sell links, along with it are some legit sites that provide links to other sites. So this pushed web authors to limit the external links going out of their sites, This is so just not to be mistaken by Google as link seller and be penalized.

  36. Gazzali says:

    outbound links is for site which has a reasonable traffic but for site which has no or little traffic. Can it bring traffic Darren?

  37. Gazzali says:

    Outbound links for site with good traffic but can it bring traffic in the first place?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Our success with stories on other blogs is testament to the value of outgoing links, as discussed here by Darren on Problogger. If you read through the comments, there’s a very interesting debate on whether or not outgoing links should open their own window (target=_blank). His article got me thinking about how networking strategies differ for each blog. Highly frequented tech blogs draw a different reader base than small-time arts blogs, so it follows that they would have a different approach to attracting readership. [...]

  2. [...] Darren at ProBlogger.com seem to have the same struggle in this matter: I know of numerous Adsense publishers swear by not giving their readers any links to click on their sites unless they go to another page on the site or unless they have some money making ability. [...]

  3. [...] There is some anecdotal evidence about outbound links, which common sense would confirm, that readers are more likely to click earlier links than later ones. If you want people to read further down your page, you may want not put links, especially strong ones, in the first sentence. [...]

  4. [...] Outbound Links and their Impact Upon Your Blog Outbound Links and their Impact Upon Your Blog … when I was slashdotted it was to a post that had no outbound links in it at all … being linked to had an outbound link in it in the first … [...]