External linking: How are we doing?
Last year we at the News website were tasked with doubling the number of click-throughs to external sites by 2013, as part of the BBC's Strategy Review.
This was something I discussed at a panel session I was taking part in at yesterday's News:Rewired conference, organised by Journalism.co.uk, and I wanted to write briefly here about our ongoing efforts to improve the ways in which we link externally from our news articles.
Having asked for the figures from our research team for my presentation, it was great to hear that we appear to be well on track to achieve the goal set for us.
Looking back at the third quarter of 2010, we had an average of around 2.9m external click-throughs per month from UK users. That period - last year's July, August & September - was around the time of the redesign of the News website. That meant, among other changes, that the 'From other news sites' and 'Related internet links' sections moved from the right-hand side to the bottom of news stories. And we have also been doing more linking to external sources from within the text of story pages.
The figures for the third quarter of this year show that all this has had an effect, and it looks as though we've been getting something right. The monthly average is now around 6.1m click-throughs i.e. more than double what it was last year. One caveat is that there have been some big news stories over this period, including the August riots, Norway shootings and Amy Winehouse's death. Another caveat is that we are using a different method to measure the figures now, so whilst the comparison should be pretty accurate, there's a small margin for error.
It's interesting too when looking at the figures, to see where the traffic goes - who are we linking to? Around one-third goes to other news sites via 'Moreover' - the technology behind the 'From Other News Sites' box which is included on many BBC News stories. The top destinations for external click-throughs in any month depends largely on what the top stories are for that period, for example in February this year there was news of the street-level crime maps being published (www.police.uk) , ITV footage of an elderly lady confronting armed robbers (www.itv.com) and stories about tickets for the Olympics in 2012 (www.london2012.com). Those sites all showed up high in our list of onward referrals.
And just to be clear, it’s not that we don’t want you to stay with us - we do, of course . There’s lots of great content around the BBC site, we're proud of it and want you to explore it, but helping you to find relevant and useful information , whether on other news sites or from non-news sources, is also a key part of what we should be doing as a news provider. From this latest snapshot of where we are with external linking it does look as though we are getting better at doing that, but there’s always room to do more, so if you have ideas on this, let us know.
Update, 10:49: Tuesday 11 October: Thanks for all the comments on this post, I wanted to reply to a few of them briefly:
Kit Green: No reciprocal agreements, we are assuming that by and large if we provide a good link, people will come back – at some stage.
Christina, Whitefall: Yes, point taken. We are acutely aware of the benefit and value of linking to source reports, and will continue to aim to do this whenever we can. There are sometimes practical issues which make this difficult such as when the report is under embargo at time of writing, or there is a paywall. But in principle I quite agree it is the right thing to do.
Horsenanny: Very glad you have found the site useful and informative.
Bluesberry: I don’t have a reply to hand on your South America query, but if you get in touch I can seek one.
Eddy from Waring: Yes – quantity is a crude measure, but it is a start. Relevance and quality are clearly key. We measure clickthroughs, so the fact that someone has followed a link does at least imply some value.
Pratish: I have passed your correction on to WHYS.
Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.