Should You Link Outside of Your Web Site?

By: Steve Outing

One of the strengths of publishing on the World Wide Web is the ability to link to other organizations' content. I do this all the time in this column, providing a link to a site that I may be writing about. Many online sites that accept advertising place links in their pages to an advertiser's message that resides on another server.

There's a down side to this system, of course. When you click on a link I've placed in this column and go off to see another site, I may have lost you unless you are motivated enough to click on the "Back" button of your Web browser software. You're off perusing content on another company's server, and I may never get you back to see the rest of the column and -- I hope -- check out the other content on Editor & Publisher Interactive. When you click on an online advertiser's site, you're no longer registering hits on the publisher's server.

The question, is, then, should you as a policy link to external content? While most online newspaper services sprinkle links liberally throughout their own content, a handful have opted to direct their customers only to original content., the McClatchy Newspapers new media arm, has a policy on its Web service of originating content only. Vice president George Schlukbier says NandO wants to keep its visitors clicking on its server. When the Unabomber's manifesto became available online recently, for example, NandO managers chose not to link to Pathfinder, which was one of the first Web sites to offer the full text of the terrorist's document online. Instead, Schlukbier waited until his staff acquired their own copy which was put on the NandO server.

While I do not believe you need to go to the extreme of never linking to outside content, I see NandO's policy as prudent. If you have the choice of linking to a public document that resides on a government server, or making a copy of the document and placing it on your own site, choose the latter. This strategy simply reduces the chance that a reader of your site will slip away to someone else's online content. Clearly, there will be times when linking to external resources is the only option. That's fine, but you may want to limit the number of external links on your Web pages. Put in too many, and you're asking for people to leave your site.

I've heard a number of online publishers express concern about advertiser's sites. Wouldn't it be best, the argument goes, to only allow advertisers' messages to be on the publisher's server. Allow an advertiser to buy a link on your site that points to the advertiser's server, and the publisher has, again, lost the visitor when he/she clicks on the "ad."

Unfortunately, this flies in the face of reality when it comes to online advertising. Most advertisers that are online today have their own Web sites; they are more interested in purchasing links to their sites in appropriate venues than buying "online ad space." In the Web environment, restricting ads to only those that reside on your server would be suicide.

My advice: Limit links to outside content, but don't ban them; when possible, put copies of external resources on your own server. Accept the fact that many advertisers will have content on their own servers. Actually, you can make this to your advantage by selling Web site design and construction services to businesses, then also selling them links on your online newspaper service to the advertising site.

Multicast Transport Protocol has online newspaper applications

The Kyodo news service reported last week that Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT) said it has jointly developed with IBM Japan, Ltd. a new system to deliver large quantities of information via computer network to thousands of subscribers simultaneously. The system is called Reliable Multicast Transport Protocol (RMTP) and will facilitate new businesses such as online electronic newspapers, NTT said.

Currently, computer communications are conducted through a one-to-one connections; if data is to be sent to multiple subscribers from a single server, the one-to-one communication procedure must be repeated over and over, which takes time. By using the RMTP, Kyodo reports, a 32-page newspaper, which would take three hours to send to 5,000 subscribers by conventional means, can be sent in 3 minutes, according to NTT.

The company says the system is suitable for the Internet and is also applicable to cable TV and satellite communications.

Movin' on

Kevin Cooke is joining the San Jose Mercury News as head of software development for its Web service. He leaves Newhouse Newspapers New Media.

Steve Got a tip? Let me know about it

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This column is written by Steve Outing and underwritten by Editor & Publisher magazine. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at

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