BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones recently started an online discussion about whether news sites linking to commercial organisations that they mention turns them into just another advertising channel. I can see the argument that if you run a news story about a new product launch and link to the manufacturer’s site, it makes the news story look like an advert. But as a journalist, I also think it does a disservice to readers. If you’re telling readers about something, isn’t it also helpful – or even your duty – to show them where they can find out more?
Of course, the real problem for journalists is the deluge of requests from PR folk for links from their published work. This is an absolute chore for them, and is the inevitable result of the importance of search engines, and – in turn – the importance these place on links. We shouldn’t be surprised if journalists see providing links as something to avoid as a matter of principle.
Google and Bing, of course, have both been working hard to get around this, and the idea of giving value to ‘implied links’ (non-linking citations) has been around since at least 2014. They claim it’s a mature idea, but I’m still skeptical that it works for small brands. The numbers will be too low and the noise too high. Even if it’s true, unfortunately for Mr Cellan-Jones and his colleagues on important news websites, convincing people that a mention without a link will still have SEO value is a long way off.